George Oppen once wrote of his aesthetics, "I have not and never did have any motive of poetry / But to achieve clarity." In this latest edition of New Collected Poems, editor Michael Davidson assembles Oppen’s work to reveal the personal and aesthetic changes that marked the poet’s variegated career. No stone of his work is left unturned: readers are witness to both the young Objectivist poet of the 1934 Discrete Series—;just beginning his struggle with clarity and honesty in verse—;as well as the Oppen of The Materials, his first book following a twenty-five year silence. In addition to an extensive backlog of uncollected works, New Collected Poems also provides photographs of Oppen and drafts of his poems in raw form.
Throughout his career, Oppen’s eagerness to speak to human beings honestly in the language of shared experience defined his poetry. He cared less for impacting his audience as an artist than he did for impacting readers on a fundamentally human level. Oppen wrote in "Of Being Numerous":
I too am in love down there with the streets
And the square slabs of pavement—;—;
To talk of the house and the neighborhood and the docks
And it is not ‘art’
This book review originally appeared in American Poets.