Proposal for an anthology, The American Tradition of Poetry

This would represent a radical reinterpretation of excellence in American poetry. In contrast to, say, Jerome Rothenberg’s America a Prophecy (Random House, 1973), which collects the prophetic tradition, or The New Oxford Book of American Verse (1976), which pretends to reprint everybody important, or The Treasury of American Poetry (Doubleday, 1978), which is an incoherent compendium, The American Tradition of Poetry would focus upon those native works which realize technical invention in the history of poetry. It is my thesis that the principal American tradition in poetry, as in music and in painting, is one of formal invention in the machinery of the art--a tradition of doing technically what had not been done before, either in Europe or here. Therefore, The American Tradition of Poetry will emphasize the more inventive poems of John Wilson, John Fiske, Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Vachel Lindsay, E.E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, Eugene Jolas, Melvin Tolson, Bob Brown, Charles Olson, Jack Kerouac, John Ashbery, John Cage, Jackson Mac Low, as well as those contemporaries extending this indigenous tradition--in sum, a succession of selections that will, like innovative art itself, surprise as it persuades. The American Tradition of Poetry will also contain a substantial introduction similar to those in other anthologies of mine; this new essay will develop ideas initially presented in critical essays collected in my book The Old Poetries and the New (Univ. of Michigan, 1980). Because the theme of this proposed anthology is so particular, I expect that it will be considerably shorter than the competing anthologies of American poetry (and thus more reasonably priced, especially in paperback) and that it will be particularly successful with students of American literature, not only as the principal book in more advanced courses, but also as an alternate selection in the standard surveys (because it collects poems that are not in the other anthologies). The American Tradition in Poetry could be delivered within a year of contracture. If interested, please contact me. Thank you.