Rita Dove, one of my favorite contemporary American poets, former U.S. Poet Laureate, and author of Thomas and Beulah, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, recently sat down with journalist Bill Moyers to talk 20th Century American poetry. Dove recently edited The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry. In the interview, Dove talks with Moyers about some of the selections in the book, which include some of the most well-known poems of the last 100 years, including T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Ginsberg’s “Howl,” Lucille Clifton’s “Homage to My Hips,” and some lesser known selections.
The interview is worth a watch and can be seen here. I love Dove’s readings of some of the poems in the collection, including one of her own. I also like her commentary on some of the poems, including Eliot’s “Prufrock” and all of the uncertainty and dread the poem captured about entering a new century. The interview also features archived clips of some of the anthology’s poets reading their work, including Lucille Clifton and Stanley Kunitz, both deceased now.
Dove was also asked what she would do if she was made director of education for the United States. She replies that she would make teachers end the day by reading one poem. Students would not have to analyze the poem, but simply listen to it. That way, poems will become a greater part of their lives and they will get accustomed to listening to poetry daily. Pretty good idea, eh?
If you aren’t familiar with 20th Century American Poetry, and its different movements, everything from Modernism to the Harlem Renaissance to Confessionalism to Neo-Formalism, then you should consider picking up Dove’s collection because it does seem like she did a good job selecting poems that accurately represent the most important poetic movements of the last 100 years. The only other anthology I can think of that did so is 20th Century American Poetry, edited by Dana Gioia, Dave Mason, and Meg Schoerke. But Dove’s collection may be a little more diverse.