This epoch-marking anthology presents a map of poetry from Britain and Ireland which readers can follow. You will not get lost here as in other anthologies – with their vast lists of poets summoned up to serve a critic’s argument or to illustrate a journalistic overview. Instead, Edna Longley shows you the key poets of the century, and through interlinking commentary points up the connections between them as well as their relationship with the continuing poetic traditions of these islands.
Edna Longley draws the poetic line of the century not through culture-defining groups but through the work of the most significant poets of our time. Because her guiding principle is aesthetic precision, the poems themselves answer to their circumstances. Readers will find this book exciting and risk-taking not because her selections are surprising but because of the intensity and critical rigour of her focus, and because the poems themselves are so good.
This is a vital anthology because the selection is so pared down. Edna Longley has omitted showy, noisy, ephemeral writers who drown out their contemporaries but leave later or wiser readers unimpressed. Similarly there is no place here for the poet as entertainer, cultural spokesman, feminist mythmaker or political commentator.
While anthologies survive, the idea of poetic tradition survives. An anthology as rich as Edna Longley’s houses intricate conversations between poets and between poems, between the living and the dead, between the present and the future. It is a book which will enrich the reader’s experience and understanding of modern poetry.
The anthology covers the work of 70 poets: Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats, Edward Thomas, D.H. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon, Edwin Muir, T.S. Eliot, Ivor Gurney, Isaac Rosenberg, Hugh MacDiarmid, Wilfred Owen, Charles Hamilton Sorley, Robert Graves, Austin Clarke, Basil Bunting, Stevie Smith, Patrick Kavanagh, Norman Cameron, William Empson, W.H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, John Hewitt, Robert Garioch, Norman MacCaig, R.S. Thomas, Henry Reed, Dylan Thomas, Alun Lewis, W.S. Graham, Keith Douglas, Edwin Morgan, Philip Larkin, Ian Hamilton Finlay, John Montague, Thom Gunn, Ted Hughes, Geoffrey Hill, Sylvia Plath, Fleur Adcock, Tony Harrison, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Douglas Dunn, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Paul Durcan, Tom Leonard, Carol Rumens, Selima Hill, Ciaran Carson, James Fenton, Medbh McGuckian, Paul Muldoon, Jo Shapcott, Ian Duhig, Carol Ann Duffy, Kathleen Jamie, Simon Armitage and Don Paterson.
‘By far the best anthology of 20th-century poetry (and so easy to read, all the poetry is laid out on generous, roomy pages). Edna Longley nimbly picks the best and most fun stuff to read from one of poetry’s greatest eras; there are gems from WB Yeats, Stevie Smith, Basil Bunting, Philip Larkin, Patrick Kavanagh and many more. Probably the best anthology there is to help you to discover the works of poets you have not read before.’ – The Times newsletter, April 2020.
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