Modern Poetry After Modernism
Oxford University Press, 1997. 209 pages.
This book takes the word postmodern as literally as possible, writes James Longenbach. A professor of English at the University of Rochester, he uses the word postmodern “to describe any poet who writes with a self-conscious sense of coming after modernism. “
From his perspective, poetic form has no inevitable relationship to any ideological position. “Consequently, the cast of characters most often associated with postmodernism is not prominent here,” he writes. “A variety of postmdernisms must be discriminated, since the terms of one will not always account for the development of another.”
Longenbach wants the reader to appreciate the variety of poetries written in our time, without necessarily having to choose between them.
Chapters discuss the work of Elizabeth Bishop, Randall Jarrell, Richard Wilbur, John Ashbery, Amy Clampitt, Richard Howard, Robert Pinsky, and Jorie Graham.
What ever their similarities, Longenbach writes, these poets are also highly idiosyncratic. He shapes each chapter of this book, except for the first, “in response to the distinctive problems of a particular poet’s career.”
Like most readers, Longenbach prefers certain poets to others. His goal, though, “is to offer an account of American poetry after modernism that allows us to choose from among a variety of poetic practices, not between them.”