20 20th-Century Poetry Books

For more lists, have a look at this page.

Here is the list of 20 20th-century poetry books that poet and editor CJ Evans put together for me. (I’m posting this because some people asked to see it earlier this week.)

Some caveats: CJ was quick to say that this isn’t a “best of” or “required reading” list. This was simply his response to my question, “I want to know more about poetry–what do you recommend?” Also, I/we know Emily Dickinson didn’t write in the 20th century. No need to point that out.

Ten Classics
Wallace Stevens — Collected Works
Emily Dickinson — Master Letters
John Ashbery — Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
Louis Zukofsky – A
John Berryman — The Dream Songs
Sylvia Plath — Ariel (esp. the “Bee Poems”)
Cesar Vallejo — Trilce (trans. by Eshleman)
Zbigniew Herbert — Mr. Cogito
Lyn Hejinian — My Life
Gertrude Stein — Tender Buttons

Ten Contemporaries
Mary Ruefle — Various
D.A. Powell — Chronic (or Cocktails)
Mary Jo Bang — Elegy
Zachary Schomburg — The Man Suit
Jenny Boully — The Body
Timothy Donnelly — The Cloud Corporation
Sam Amadon — Like a Sea
Inger Christensen — alphabet
Claudia Rankine — Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
Rae Armantrout

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Trilce is a favorite. Published the same year as The Waste Land, it really makes Eliot’s poem look straight forward.

Have you read Joyce Mansour? How about Mina Loy, Anna Akhmatova, Roque Dalton, Ernesto Cardenal, Vicente Huidobro, Raul Zurita, Yehuda Amichai?

Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry: 1945-1960 should not be overlooked. Absolutely essential and a great starting place.

Have you read T.S. Eliot? (Not in school, I mean. But really read him.) What about Robert Lowell? Marianne Moore? Ezra Pound? Allen Ginsberg? If we’re talking MUST read, in order to know where so much of the 20th Century tradition came from… these books are all definitely good. Read them. But read The Cantos before you pick up A; Life Studies and then The Dream Songs. It seems like some steps have been skipped.

And what about Rainer Maria Rilke? There are so many reasons why he inspires close reading and constant new translations in English. He died in 1926 yet in his concerns and sensibility has so much to say that is perfect for these times, especially in regard to a non-religious, non-dogmatic, authentically mysterious and spacious spirituality. He is THE 20th-c poet of “the deepest things”.www.stephaniedowrick.com

I am so happy to see Hejinian on this list.

Please don’t neglect Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets, it absolutely belongs with the other classics on that list.

Also, if you care for Hugh Kenner’s criticism, his book A Homemade World does an excellent job treating the experiments of certain major poets (Stevens, WCWilliams, Moore, Zukofsky, Olson). He also wrote Joyce’s Voices, a short book on Ulysses that helped me tremendously when I took a Joyce class in undergrad.

[…] more “classic” books. He asked me the other day if he could post the list on his blog Conversational Reading and I was at first a little hesitant to let […]

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