The Magazine

Metre Reader

America’s coming-of-age in poetic form.

Dec 10, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 13 • By WYATT PRUNTY
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The Open Door begins with Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” and zooms from there, highlighting 100 years of modern poetry, including that of Louise Bogan, Hart Crane, e. e. cummings, H. D., T. S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and William Butler Yeats. 

William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot (ca. 1925)


Descendants of the modernists are even more numerous: A. R. Ammons, W. H. Auden, John Berryman, Gwendolyn Brooks, Basil Bunting, Seamus Heaney, Randall Jarrell, Donald Justice, William Meredith, James Merrill, W. S. Merwin, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Richard Wilbur, Charles Wright, James Wright. 

The list goes on.

Poetry is a monthly that publishes many more poems per year than quarterlies and other little magazines. Add to that its being in continuous production for 100 years and numbers alone make the case for just how representative the magazine is. This new anthology provides a broad range of practice, extending from formal to free verse (Auden and Wilbur to Moore and Williams), and from a poetry of self- expression (Plath’s occluded fronts, for example) to the dry weathers of Donald Justice and Thom Gunn.

Harriet Monroe founded Poetry in 1912 with the stated purpose that it remain “free of entangling alliances with any single class or school.” The editors of The Open Door, Don Share and Christian Wiman, have remained faithful to Monroe’s principle. That said, The Open Door is nevertheless a child of Poetry magazine, which, in turn, was the offspring of modernism, a movement with many “alliances.” One modernist trait that involved “alliances” is experimentation, and that activity is readily evident in these pages, as the title suggests. 

Over the course of the 20th century, a number of schools experimented with poetry: Imagists to Confessional poets, the New York School to the New Formalists. And while The Open Door emphasizes no one movement, there are numerous examples of innovations which characterized different parts of modernism.

Poetry may have started as a little magazine, but it has grown into an institution. Today it enjoys a large circulation and a generous endowment. It does, nevertheless, still retain the accessibility (one part of which is simply small size) of the little magazine; Poetry’s editors do remain interested in new work and are eclectic in choice where subject and style are concerned. Its century-long run has given the anthology a large net to pull through a modern and late-modern sea of poems, and, facilitated by a thoughtful introduction, The Open Door offers an interesting sample of that sea. (Meanwhile, also in the spirit of accessibility, Poetry keeps all past issues of the magazine online and free to the public.) 

While The Open Door could be larger, the decision to limit it to 100 poems led to careful selection. Share and Wiman have operated in the spirit of Glenn Miller, who said that his band would make it on good arrangements. The first poem is an early version of Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” which appeared in Poetry in 1913. That choice plays in response to what readers are accustomed to seeing in print today. Poetry’s version, reproduced by The Open Door, reads:

The apparition     of these faces     in the
     crowd   :

Petals     on a wet, black     bough  .

Today’s standard anthology reads:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

The vividness of Pound’s description, along with his brevity—and, in the early version, his use of spacing—indicate his interest in exact language and in the power of the image—what Pound famously called “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” 

These are classroom matters today, but they were not so when Poetry published Pound’s poem in 1913. The spacing seen in the earlier printing of “Metro” reminds us of Pound’s restless innovation and of the artistic influence he had on succeeding generations of poets. So, to emphasize the point, while Poetry may have striven to avoid “alliances” and “schools,” the poets who gave purpose to its pages did not.