The Magazine

Rhyme without Reason

There's 'something-nasty-in-the-greenhouse' about this anthology.

Jun 12, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 37 • By EDWARD SHORT
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Meanwhile, readers will question Lehman's erratic editing. Why give so much more space to Kenneth Koch than John Crowe Ransom? Why give 10 pages to Billy Collins? Why give any space at all to Robert Bly? Why include W.H. Auden? If residency makes foreign-born poets eligible, why not include Joseph Brodsky and Seamus Heaney? And if one insists on including Auden, why dredge up something as waterlogged as "In Memory of Sigmund Freud"? For all the Britons convinced that Wystan lost his groove when he moved here and became, in Larkin's words, "too verbose to be memorable and too intellectual to be moving," this poor poem could be Exhibit A. Why an American would want to include it in an American anthology is baffling. And there is no justification for giving 26 pages to John Ashbery's "snapped-off perceptions."

In the preface of his recent Oxford Book of English Verse, Christopher Ricks reaffirmed the special place of anthologies in our lives: "Each of us remembers what, once upon a time, an anthology did for her or him. I shall not myself ever forget the anthologies that--an age ago--gave young me such pleasure, and affably trained me to find new pleasures for myself." It is impossible imagining Lehman's book having any comparable effect on the young today. Or on anyone else. It is an ill-conceived, incoherent, unrewarding book. Lovers of poetry deserve better.

Edward Short is at work on a book about John Henry Newman and his contemporaries.