Poems for the Millennium, Volume Three
Poems for the Millennium, Volume Three: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry.|
Jerome Rothenberg & Jeffrey C. Robinson, editor.
University of California Press, 2009.
928 pages, $34.95 (paperback).
Continuing the re-visioning of western poetics in the first two volumes of this series, Rothenberg and Robinson extend their radical lens to Romanticism and Post-Romanticism, a "prequel" in which these poets are re-viewed into a collective foundation setting the stage for Modernist and Post-Modernist poetics of destabilization, revolution, and experiment. The usual suspects—including Blake, the Shelleys, Leopardi, Heine, Mallarmè, Goethe, Novalis, Swedenborg, Wordsworth, Whitman, Rimbaud, and many others—make their appearance, but oftentimes with less familiar works stressing the experimental aspects of their work. But there are also many lesser-known, half-forgotten, or new voices including James McPherson, Dionysios Solomos, E. A. Wallis Budge, G. R. S. Mead, Edward Lear, Rubèn Dario, Joanna Southcott, Cyprian Norwid, Shaker pieces, and Lafcadio Hearn; and a handful of Asian writers such as Issa, Tagore, Ho Xuan Huong, and Yosano Akiko.
The introduction alone is worth the price of this volume, serving as a manifesto. The editors begin their argument forcibly and convincingly: "Lying behind the present gathering is a sense that the most radical and experimental works of our time—in poetry and across the arts—belong to a continuity that stretches back two centuries and more, along with a presentiment of the dark turn the world has again taken in the new millennium opening before us." They claim to seek "to assemble a collection of texts and commentaries with the same polemical abandon" as with the previous two volumes. In truth, the wildness seems even more engaging, the variety more thrilling, because of the surprises within—the choices of lesser-known works of the well-known, the juxtaposition of forms and voices, and the strength of their introductory arguments.
Suddenly the work of the known purifies into rebellious energy. The editors summation of the "contradictory definitions and characteristics, both of poetry and of the identity and function of the poet," too long to quote here, is inspiring—and for a poet like me who has seen himself, for example, as an overlooked participant in the innovations of the twentieth and twenty-first century by virtue of the less noticeable more subtle forms I have employed—I feel for the first time as if I were being included. That my place in the turbulence of our time and work is welcome. This is no mean feat, and I thank the editors.
"If there is a deliberate advocacy in all of this, it is not to propose yet another neo-Romanticism, certainly not a return to a spent or exhausted mode of poetry, but to map a process that the first Romantics set in motion, and that later Romantics and assorted Post-romantics encountered and transformed (often by shattering) to serve their needs—and ours. And it is our further intention to reimagine and to capture what remains vibrant from those times and by so doing to integrate it without apologies into our own ideas-of-poetry."
I think these three volumes represent the most important program to recapture the elegance and frisson of poetry, poetics, and imagination—and the revolutionary capacity of poetry. A lifetime's education lies therein.