20th Century Poetry

A few days ago, Scott Esposito wrote about tackling Louis Zukofsky's A, which he said was part of an informal list a poet friend had given him in response to a question from Scott: "I want to know more about poetry–what do you recommend?" I and other sufferers of 'satiable curtiosity pleaded in the comments to the post to see the full list, and now Scott has gotten permission to share it.

It's a wonderful list because it's diverse, personal, and would allow any reader to expand her or his reading. It also presumes the reader is experienced and curious; it's not a Poetry 101 list, so there are some obvious names missing (Williams, Pound) to make way for ones the list writer is particularly passionate about. And the selections are mostly of "difficult" poetry more than people like Mary Oliver or Billy Collins.

Of course, the list could be ten or a hundred times as long, but that would be much less helpful.

I'm resisting the temptation to offer my own idiosyncratic list, partly because I'm not a poet and am not nearly as familiar with contemporary poetry as Scott's friend, so my likes and dislikes among living poets are deeply idioscyncratic, full of holes and inconsistencies (although I will say, among recent discoveries, Jennifer Moxley and Donna Stonecipher make me happy to be able to read the English language). The only inconceivable lack on the list Scott posted that I see is Paul Celan, but that's just because Celan is, to me, the 20th century poet.

Maybe it's my teacherly inclinations, but I love these sorts of lists, where folks come up with obviously incomplete and personal guides to realms that can seem imposing to people less familiar with them. Modern and contemporary poetry are definitely such realms, so three cheers for Scott and his friend for creating and sharing the list.


  1. I'm throwing three cheers too: for Scott, his friend, and you. (You don't mention Jack Spicer on this entry, but your previous mentions of him were what got me hooked.)

    As for Celan, which translation do you recommend? Or which books?

    Anyway, again, thanks!

  2. It was the Michael Hamburger translations of Celan that made me fall in love with his work, and because those were my first, they still appeal to me a lot. Pierre Joris's translations of entire Celan books, though, are really useful -- not just because Joris is a poet in sympathy with some of Celan's ideas about language and poetry, but also because there's a difference between complete books and selections. But as a place to start, I don't think you can go wrong with either Hamburger's selection or the Joris selections that U. California Press released.

    And yes, Spicer is awesome!


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