A HISTORY OF MODERN POETRY: Modernism and After by David Perkins


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Curiously conservative and unmoving study that deals with very few poets much under age 50. Perkins has evidently read the material, but it is unclear how much of value he has gleaned from his effort. There is a considerable amount of pop biography here, easily digested by even the freshman English student. But some of the criticism makes the reader wish that Perkins had stuck to bios entirely. Auden's poetry after the 1930's is massively underrated. Quoted with disdain is ""In Praise of Limestone (1948),"" generally considered to be one of Auden's finer achievements. Perkins must be one of the only scholars to consider ""Late Auden"" to be after the age of 30. In a similar fashion, this book is far better on Wallace Stevens' enjoyment of fruit and postcards than it is on his poetic contribution. Whoever the poet being dealt with, the author seems separated from his or her work by a glass shield, like a tourist driving through a national park with the windows up. There is no sign of teal contact, exchange, or understanding. The interested reader would be better off with Richard Howard's Alone With America, a book of criticism dealing with much of the same material. Perkins is so deeply entrenched in academia that he cannot conceive of a love of culture motivating a writer outside of Academe; hence, he labels James Merrill an ""academic,"" when what he means is that Merrill loves art, literature, and music. A short-sighted and uninspired effort.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1987
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press