American Poetry Since 1950

Eliot Weinberger's anthology, which attempts to establish a certain poetic lineage which he terms the heirs to the "great Modernists (William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound and H.D.)" was originally published in Mexico for an audience mostly unfamiliar with American poetry of the mid- to late twentieth century. It presents generous selections from thirty-five poets in chronological order, starting with Pound and H.D. and ending with Michael Palmer and Susan Howe. Weinberger favors the longer poem and the unexpected choice over each poets' more commonly anthologized pieces, so this particular selection of poems can be rewarding for the reader otherwise familiar with these writers.

The debate surrounding American Poetry Since 1950 after its American publication was sparked by a scathing review of the anthology in a 1994 American Poetry Review by John Yau. Yau declares Weinberger’s allegiance to Pound, especially in the attention paid to Pound's "Cathay" in the closing essay of the anthology, highly problematic, considering Pound's treatment of his Chinese subjects as stereotypically "exotic". Yau also dismisses Weinberger's selection of poets, asserting that he favors male white poets over the diversity of contemporary writers. In an interview for Jacket magazine, Weinberger defends his choices:

At the time I edited the book, in the early 90s, there was no anthology that generally included these poets, and many of them had never been in a major anthology at all.... The problem with anthologies is that they are intended for people who don't know the turf--as a way of pointing them to the books by the individual authors--but they are reviewed by experts, who merely scan the table of contents and read the introduction. Worse, an anthology is the only book that is judged by what it is not. In my case, as there are around 8000 poets in the Directory of American Poets, this meant that I had 'omitted' about 7965 of them. Every single review listed some 30 to 50 poets who should have been included--even if this would have meant a book of 1500 pages... A year later there were two mammoth anthologies--by Paul Hoover and Doug Messerli--whose contents pages made reviewers happier, though I found them reference books and not anthologies. Something to refer to, not to read.

These remarks raise important question for anthologizers--which are more useful to the reader: large omnibus collections or smaller less-intimidating books, even if a smaller selection runs the risk of omitting important voices? In American Poetry Since 1950, Weinberger opened himself up for criticism on many fronts, but he has created an intriguing collection of poems in a more manageable format.

Weinberger, Eliot, ed. American Poetry Since 1950: Innovators and Outsiders. (1993) Marsilio Publishers.