THE OXFORD BOOK OF AMERICAN LIGHT VERSE by William--Ed. Harmon

THE OXFORD BOOK OF AMERICAN LIGHT VERSE

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

From ""Yankee Doodle"" to the pretentious whimsy of Kathleen Norris (b. 1947), Harmon has chosen over 500 samples of U.S. ""light verse""--and an odd array it is. The obvious contributors are here in force: Nash, Longfellow, Whittier, O.W. Holmes, Eugene Field, Dorothy Parker, David McCord, Phyllis McGinley. And most of the inescapable chestnuts: ""A Visit from St. Nicholas,"" ""Casey at the Bat,"" and ""The Purple Cow"" (with a sequel--""Ah, yes! I wrote the 'Purple Cow'/I'm Sorry, now, I Wrote it!/But I can Tell you, Anyhow/I'll kill you if you Quote it!""). But Harmon adopts a flexible, post-Auden definition of ""light verse,"" so he's able to include ponderous stanzas by John Q. Adams as well as other name-dropping scraps from such as J.P. Sousa, Hemingway, Edmund Wilson (Russian-English limericks), and Nabokov (elegant, black-comic wordplay). And he draws on substantial work of major poets--Whitman, Dickinson, Sandburg, W.C. Williams, Millay, cummings--some of which seems no less ""heavy"" (Harmon's word) than better poems not included. Strongest at resurrecting old charmers (H.C. Bunner), along with a good many wearisome jokers (""Orpheus C. Kerr"" and his punning doggerel), Harmon is weakest in the later 20th century: academia dominates (except for a hilarious Ferlinghetti and some terse Langston Hughes); the pick of pop-song lyrics is grossly under-informed (where, for just one example, is E.Y. Harburg?); there's no reflection of ethnic textures or political concerns: and this prim sampling surely would have benefited from some young voices--like that of Ntozake Shange (For Colored Girls. . . ). Ivory-towerish, then, but a generous compilation nonetheless--which will undoubtedly be one jumping-off point for future considerations of American light verse as a genre.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press