Eratosphere Forums - Metrical Poetry, Free Verse, Fiction, Art, Critique, Discussions Able Muse - a review of poetry, prose and art

Forum Left Top


Thread Tools Display Modes
Unread 10-04-2012, 12:12 AM
Tony Barnstone's Avatar
Tony Barnstone Tony Barnstone is offline
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 692
Default Best 100 Poetry Books of the 20th Century?

So, here are the rules of the game: nominate a book to be included in the "Best 100 Poetry Books of the 20th Century" list.

1) You can only nominate one book. Don't take time to apologize for the poets whom you didn't select.

2) In order to nominate a book, you must write a short, pithy paragraph about what makes this book so distinctive, and you should title your reply with name of the book + author plus its number in the list. Check the list before posting, so you don't cross-post and mess up the math!

3) Books of translation can be included, but you must indicate which translation "wowed" you.

4) Since the idea here is to share some of our private gems and spur others to purchase these books for their own libraries, you must find a place on the Internet where this book is for sale and post a link to that website.

5) Criteria for selection are up to you, but the book has to "wow" you for some reason.

6) If you really, really, really, need to put more than one book in the list, you can do so only once, but you need to do so in another "reply" so each book gets its own page.

7) Once the list gets to 100, the game is over. No more books may be added.

I guess I'll start, to show what I mean in terms of format.



Last edited by Tony Barnstone; 10-04-2012 at 12:32 AM.
Reply With Quote
Unread 10-04-2012, 12:31 AM
Tony Barnstone's Avatar
Tony Barnstone Tony Barnstone is offline
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 692
Default 1. James Wright, The Branch Will Not Break

I've loved James Wright's The Branch Will Not Break ever since I was a teenager. It was one of the books that made me fall in love with poetry. Wright quoted Frost, who said that "If you have 24 poems in a book, the book itself should be the 25th." This is what Wright did in The Branch Will Not Break--he wrote a book in which every individual poem is terrific, but in which they share a symbol system of recurrent images-- the caves, graves, Ohio Rivers, and coal mines where jewels hide in the coal seams, which are the places of death into which we descend in order to be reborn; the horses and mysterious dark women who are spirits of nature meant to usher us into the sublime; the slag heaps and factories and the dead moon that drops its feathers on the desperate Rust Belt; the green butterflies of innocent spring beauty; the ghosts of the massacred Native Americans and slaughtered animals haunting us with the violence of our history; the darkness which is tender and a place of grace; the light which is glaring and that seeks to destroy that tender dark. These gorgeous, difficult poems are surreal, but not senseless--they are based on ideas of the "deep image" derived from Jung, the idea that one must bypass rational thought and dive into the unconscious in order to break through what Blake called our "mind-forg'd manacles." It is a book that rewards dozens of rereadings.

Here it is:

Best, Tony

Last edited by Tony Barnstone; 10-04-2012 at 12:49 AM.
Reply With Quote
Unread 10-04-2012, 12:35 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Lazio, Italy
Posts: 5,319

Fun game!

This Branch Will Not Break is one of mine, too.

A question, Tony: do you mean just U.S. poetry books or any in English?

Also, I assumed Collected or Selected Poems don't count?
Reply With Quote
Unread 10-04-2012, 12:48 AM
Tony Barnstone's Avatar
Tony Barnstone Tony Barnstone is offline
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 692

Hi Andrew,

Any book of poetry published in the 20th century, in any language, anywhere in the world!

Collected and Selected are fine, so long as they are good as BOOKS. In other words, I love William Carlos Williams, but would choose Journey to Love over his Selected and his Collected in terms of its integrity of vision and the level of accomplishment, poem by poem. On the other hand, I did say in the rules that the criteria for selection are up to each individual poster.

Have fun!


Last edited by Tony Barnstone; 10-05-2012 at 04:13 AM.
Reply With Quote
Unread 10-04-2012, 03:09 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Lazio, Italy
Posts: 5,319
Default Yeats, Collected Poems, #2

Well, I don’t know what I’d do without Yeats’s Collected Poems, so although it is a predictable choice here I still have to nominate it for the list. No modern poet takes me more to the place I most want to be taken by poetry. The language and craft in Yeats pull me in every time, I never tire of rereading his poems and I've learned many by heart—even the slurpy early ones, but especially his great poetry from Responsibilities on, after his cauterizing by Pound. Poems like The Second Coming, Sailing to Byzantium, Easter 1916, The Wild Swans at Coole, and on and on—they’re permanent places to return to. This is all way too generalized, so I’ll briefly comment on just one of his poems to explain why Yeats is the poet for me. “Byzantium” is an incantation:

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the starlit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.

Talk about semantic density! Imagination, insatiable longing, gravitas, and (pace the “sensible” postindustrial world) magic—it’s all there. The poem ends:

Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

For all the archetypal imagery and fervency, that closing image comes from real life. The dolphins are from Orphic imagery that depicted dolphins as the carriers of souls into and out of this world. At the same time, Yeats says somewhere that the image of the gong came from his hearing fishermen in western Ireland banging on iron sheets to attract fish their nets. Yeats was the whole man: politics and Golden Dawn, real world and dream world—one reason why his Collected has something for everyone and are an inexhaustible source of insight and pleasure.

I forgot to post the link to the book: it's the standard Collected, which has some useful notes in it by Richard Finneran.

Last edited by Andrew Frisardi; 10-04-2012 at 04:41 AM.
Reply With Quote
Unread 10-04-2012, 04:10 AM
Nigel Mace Nigel Mace is offline
Join Date: Apr 2012
Location: The Borders and Italy
Posts: 1,479
Default 3. The Idle Demon by R. P. Lister

The book and poet who have been my vademecum ever since student days and whose rediscovery by members of the Sphere was what first made me aware of this site. The volume also has the teasing pleasure of being wrapped in a dustjacket designed by the 'spy novelist-to-be', Len Deighton. This may at first sight seem to be a collection of light verse whimsy but lying behind the easy wit and deft constructions is a breadth of culture and a warm and humane intelligence - exactly the person that Richard Lister turned out to be when I met with him, aged 97, this year. His poetry gently mocks guilt without losing human regret ('The Idle Demon'), relishes life without losing sight of its evanescence ('The Gardens of the Morning') - and bears its reflections with civilising humour ('The Owlet and the Gamekeeper', 'Before the Ball'). Even its rare moments of anger are touched by wry good nature ('The Old Peasant') and its flashes of hurt ('Three Triolets') are bared with touching humility. He evokes the natural world with a sympathy which retains a proper sense of its contrasts with the human ('The Robin', 'The Snail') and dwells on human destiny with a shrewd awareness of history and with lyricism ('Pinkerfly', 'The Troubadour', 'Freedom's Mansion'). He makes me smile, renews my faith in the happiness of life and makes me reach, as he does, for other works of art - music, pictures and books.

Thanks to the Sphere's rediscovery of him the volume has now become a bit pricey - but worth every penny or cent at
Reply With Quote
Unread 11-15-2012, 09:57 AM
Patrick Foley Patrick Foley is offline
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Athens, Georgia
Posts: 116

Originally Posted by Tony Barnstone View Post
Wright quoted Frost, who said that "If you have 24 poems in a book, the book itself should be the 25th."
This was not an "official" criterion for nominations, although I think a lot of us wanted to find books that met this standard, that our selections be good as books. I'm struck by how difficult this was to achieve, how rarely this ideal is reached. Even the Frost selections I recall being chosen for which individual poems they contained. Frost certainly wrote books that have gems mixed in with lesser ores.

Somehow we need the poems to cooperate in the effect they produce as a group, though some tend to stand out as greater than others, just as within a single poem particular lines or phrases stand out, but we still want the poem to do something taken as a whole. (Nicholson Baker's anthologist, I recall, imagines going in the opposite direction, collecting single words from poems he loves.)

Anyway, food for thought. I can think of books that achieve Frost's ideal, but now I'm not sure if it's truly so rare, or if it's that I read books much differently than I read poems...

Reply With Quote
Unread 11-15-2012, 10:39 AM
R. Nemo Hill's Avatar
R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is online now
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Halcott, New York
Posts: 9,351

That's the way I was viewing my choices, Patrick, although the end result was usually thus book length poems. I think a poet who was very good at molding his 'collections' is Thom Gunn: each of his books seems to me to have a distinct shape.

Reply With Quote
Unread 11-15-2012, 06:15 PM
Tony Barnstone's Avatar
Tony Barnstone Tony Barnstone is offline
Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 692

[i]Hi All,

First off, Barbara, would you please edit your post to make your choice # 73, not 72? That'll help the math.

Second, ,Nigel asks:

- I don't think this point was covered in your original - or revised - 'rules' for this thread, but is it really intended that there should be more than one book of any given poet on the list? Rilke is now in twice and Phillip's last choice is trailing the notion of additional Eliot.. where would this stop? I feel that the spirit of the original, which was about individual books of poetry, is already getting lost with a number of 'collecteds/completes/selecteds' and it is going to be further diluted by adding extra items from well-known 'big' names - with the door now also apparently open to any language in translation. It's your thread so can we have a 'ruling' please?

My feeling is that rules, like rulers, are made to be overthrown when they oppress. If the Spanish king is off in Africa secretly poaching endangered elephants, do away with the silly notion of royalty and let the silly royals go get a job like the rest of us. The same applies to my rules: if a poet is so terrific at crafting books that he or she MUST be in twice, so be it. If a poet in translation is so amazing that the damage the poem suffers in transmission isn't enough to keep him or her from the list, so be it.

I will say that, yes, this thread is meant to highlight great books of poetry, not great poets who perhaps never wrote a great, unified, amazing book (as compared to some wonderful poems thrown in with lots of bathos and junk, so you have to pick the good stuff out of the mess).

Thanks, TB

Last edited by Tony Barnstone; 11-16-2012 at 01:38 AM.
Reply With Quote
Unread 11-16-2012, 01:29 AM
Bruce McBirney Bruce McBirney is offline
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: La Crescenta, California
Posts: 317

Great thread, Tony. 'Been enjoying it!

In defense of those who suggested 5 titles, though, you're actually the one who set the limit at 5. (See post 101, top of page 11.)

But who's counting?

Best, Bruce
Reply With Quote


tony barnstone

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump

Forum Right Top
Forum Left Bottom Forum Right Bottom
Right Left
Member Login
Forgot password?
Forum LeftForum Right

Forum Statistics:
Forum Members: 8,157
Total Threads: 20,483
Total Posts: 260,163
There are 153 users
currently browsing forums.
Forum LeftForum Right

Forum Sponsor:
Donate & Support Able Muse / Eratosphere
Forum LeftForum Right
Right Right
Right Bottom Left Right Bottom Right

Hosted by ApplauZ Online