Reviews for Walt Whitman : Selected Poems

Library Journal Reviews 2003 May #1
These inaugural volumes in "The American Poets Project" series form a useful introduction to the evolution of modern American poetry in loose historical progression. The volume on Whitman, father of modern American poetry, restores the voice of a poet who initiated free verse to speak of a growing America and thus takes us into the 20th century and beyond. Fortunately, editor Bloom ignores all of the psycho-social-sexual labels doled out to Whitman and lauds him simply as "the principal writer that America...has brought to us." Selections include some of Whitman's best, e.g., "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" and the spiritual bridge between Whitman and his future readers, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry." Millay, one of America's strongest female poets, is similar in her metrics to 19th-century poets, but her flamelike intensity is pure 20th century. When she died in 1950, her poetry almost died with her; not until after the women's rights movements did her once acclaimed verse resurface. Editor McClatchy provides a generous sample of her poetry, highlighting her early years ("Renascence," "A Few Figs from Thistles"), the lesser-known poems never before published, and the posthumously published "Mine the Harvest." World War II sliced the 20th century in half and forever changed the American way of life as idealism and self-reliance ceded to franchising and instant gratification. The poets appearing in the World War II anthology-compiled by Harvey Shapiro, himself a poet of the war-portend this major mind shift by their tone, which questions rather than sanctions patriotism, valor, and the values of the 1940s. Arranged by the poets' birth dates, the poems include Robinson Jeffers's cynical nod to violence as a natural cause of earth events; Randall Jarrell's graphic depictions of airborne death; and John Ciardi's whimsical renditions of horror. Lastly, Karl Shapiro, one of the more influential voices of the late 20th century, displayed complex and contrary tendencies in both his life and his poetry. Editor Updike notes that Shapiro's experimentation with voices and forms alienated those who admired the metrical dexterity of his early poems. This commanding new series, which the Library of America will expand each spring and fall season by adding two or three titles, is a worthy addition to all libraries.-Nedra Crowe Evers, Sacramento P.L., CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.