To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

America a Prophecy redux

Celebrated, controversial, influential, this highly unconventional and ground-breaking anthology of American poetry was widely read and taught throughout the 70s and early 80s. Treating the visionary and the experimental as essential American values, America a Prophecy maps diverse poetic forms and literary (and nonliterary) milieus, bringing together poets from all styles and schools, men and women equally; innovative poets (Beats, Black Mountain, etc.) academics, Native Americans, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics. This pre-PC multi-cultural perspective does not push ethnic difference or sameness but explores deeply common concerns and equally valid visions. True to its Blakean title, America a Prophecy is prophetic of openness to unfamiliar voices and new paths of the poetic art up to 1973 as well as being a timeless primer of poetic possibility.

Spring 2012 Reissue

List Price: 34.95

Further information at

[As George Quasha and I wrote then, at the beginning of our Introduction]:

Poetry over the past hundred years has not only changed radically, it has transformed our idea of what poetry is or ever has been.  In this century, especially since World War II, conscious experimentation has shown us the great range of language possibilities at our disposal.  And we have learned to look for that “language charged with meaning to the utmost degree” that reveals new powers of communication at the center of our lives.  The reader who opens the pages of this book and no more than scans them will come (even before getting to the deeper issues) on a picture of poetry that would have been impossible a hundred or even fifty years ago and hardly probable as recently as twenty years ago.  This is not only because this collection includes so much contemporary poetry, but because as editors and poets we have deliberately applied the expanded sense of poetry in our time to the history of poetry on the North American continent.  Only in this way can we start to see how rich that history is: how much more there is than most of us had previously imagined.
               Every important change in poetry opens the way for new work in the future and for a redefinition of the past.  The 1855 Leaves of Grass, for example, is a Declaration of Independence from the “bondage” of British and European conventions that both heralds the 1950s – Charles Olson’s “projective verse” or Allen Ginsberg’s Howl – and frees us to see and express the structural particularities of archaic and tribal poetries at a similar remove from those conventions.  All these developments share the sense of poetry as an act of vision, charged with the immediate energies of authentic speech and shaped by its moment in history.  Any truly new work, such as that of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Louis Zukofsky, or John Cage, is an invitation to read, think, and speak differently: it permits a reader (or hearer) to experience, as nothing else quite does, new “levels” of consciousness and verbal meaning.  After the Surrealist experiments with “dream” states and “automatic writing,” we are more attentive to what used to be called the “irrational.”  Similarly, the efforts of Dada poets of the 1920s to make use of “pure sound” link up in our minds with the wordless poetries of pre-literate societies (once thought “meaningless”), the meditative chants of the East, and certain ritual, magical, and mystical texts of the West.  So, too, the partly or wholly visual devices of concrete poetry have reminded us that the separation of the verbal and the pictorial is comparatively recent; it did not exist for the Egyptians, Mayans, and Medieval Europeans, or for William Blake.  In many such ways – some subtle, some extreme – the domain of poetry has been extended to include virtually any use of language.
               Yet anthologies and literary histories have mostly failed to take notice of these extensions and have thus ignored the power of a live tradition to “make new” whatever in the past can grow in the present.  When we understand that tradition as an active force, we are able to make genuine use of the discoveries of archaeologists, linguists, anthropologists, historians, and translators who have brought to light whole bodies of poetry and whole cultures long lost to us.  (American Indian poetry, going back to pre-Columbian times, is a case in point.)  The spread of information about the past and the culturally remote has made the present generation, in Gary Snyder’s words, “the first human beings in history to have all of man’s culture available to our study” and to be “free enough of the weight of traditional cultures to seek out a larger identity.”  But for these acquired meanings to be more than a burden of information, we must put them to active use – must employ them, that is, to bring about an actual change in our modes of perception.  In this process, present and past will continue to shape each other through a contemporary poetry that creates new means of reawakening and refining our attentions.
               This collection attempts to “map” some of the lines of recovery and discovery, of the old and the new, as they relate specifically to the place we inhabit.  A map is a guide to unknown terrain, and American poetry remains largely just that – a vast region of which we’re not yet fully conscious.  The title, America a Prophecy, comes from the poem “printed by William Blake in the year 1793”: first, because today Blake seems more than ever to have “prophetically” initiated so much of what this poetry is about; and, second, because his poem projects the image of an American revolution whose demand for freedom would evolve long obscured poetic, sexual, and visionary powers.  If we can begin to map our native poetry in the light of that prophecy, we may also contribute to the high end of which Pound wrote: “Yeats ... long ago prayed for a new sacred book.  Every age has tried to compound such a major anthology.”


Bryan Sentes said...

GREAT news! I've been waiting for this book to come back into print for years. And now 80+ students will get to know it, too, in the Fall!

Sissy said...

Awesome, will be picking this up too...