New Voices, an Introduction to Contemporary Poetry (New Edition, Revised and Enlarged)/Modem American Poetry (Revised and Enlarged Edition)

by Marguerite Wilkinson. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1921. 8vo, xxii+454 pp. $2.25.
by Louis Untermeyer. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co. 1921. 8vo, xlviii + 406 pp. $2.00.
THE numerous anthologies, coming in on the rising tide of the new poetry, recall those sixteenth-century collections which celebrated the lyrical vitality and variety of the Elizabethans; and the reviewer may well wonder which, if any, of these new ones will have the significance of a Tottel’s Miscellany for lovers of verse four hundred years hence. Will Amy Lowell, Ezra Pound, John Gould Fletcher, take equal rank then with those earlier innovators, Wyatt and Surrey? Will rers libre, and polyphonic prose and imagism enrich and modify our poetical genius as definitely and permanently as have the sonnet forms and blank verse?
Perhaps! The quality of two, at least, of the new anthologies, first published in 1919 and now reprinted in revised and enlarged editions, is high and genuine. Mr. Untermeyer and Mrs. Wilkinson reveal themselves as discriminating interpreters and critics of their fellow poets. Modern American Poetry, as its title indicates, has the wider range, chronologically; New Voices is the richer for including English singers.
Mr. Untermeyer chooses 1830 as the birth-year of the modern American poet, with Emily Dickinson as the singer in the dawn; and there will surely be none to quarrel with his choice. The volume closes with the delicate little lyrics of Hilda Conkling, just the sort of rhythmical magic which Emily Dickinson might have made when she was nine years old; but neither she nor her family would have thought of printing it. Between these two, so close akin, streams a long trail of American poets and versifiers, each preceded by a biographical note and a paragraph of illuminating and careful critical estimate. Here are the brilliant, journalistic rhymesters, a characteristically American product, - as H. C. Banner, Guy Wet more Carryl, Bret Harte, T. A. Daly, – who touched the poet’s level now and then. Here are those others, ‘arriving’ before 1910, who dwell on the heights of poetry — William Vaughn Moody, Anna Hempstead Branch, Sidney Lanier, Edwin Arlington Robinson. Here are the new, and the newest, with Robert Frost in the van. And it is among these newest that we feel most clearly the anthologist’s restraint and sound judgment, along with the genuine distinction and inevitable music of the chosen verse.
Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ‘Renascence,’ and Conrad Aiken’s ’Morning Song from “Senlin,"' which appear also in Mrs. Wilkinson’s collection, touch the high-water mark in this volume, but the whole body of the new verse selected for us by Mr. Untermeyer is impressive in dignity and in lyrical intensity. We may wonder why he should take the trouble to include some of the authors whom he scores rather frankly for I heir defects, as, for example, the one of whom he declares that ’his booklets are a jumble of platitude, passion, bad grammar and exaltation’; that he has ‘absolutely no critical perceptions,’ and ’little control over his music.’ But when we read the poems appended to this critical onslaught, we recognize the acumen and taste with which Mr. Untermeyer has singled out verses representative of a crude young poet at his best.
Despite his inclusiveness, however, we miss certain American poets of reputation and true lyrical poignancy: Josephine Peabody Marks, Helen Gray Cone, whose noble poem on Lincoln would seem to deserve a place among the other Lincoln poems in the volume, Grace Fallow Norton, Fannie Stearns Gifford, Hermann Hagedorn, Katharine Lee Bates. Curiously enough, all these poets are represented in Mrs. Wilkinson’s collection, where we should hardly expect to find them, as they are not new voices. But Mrs. Wilkinson has a fine ear for poets, and ‘new’ is not always a chronological concept with her.
In New Voices, Mrs. Wilkinson attempts, not merely an anthology, but a critique of the new verse. Her book is a series of essays, to which groups of poems are appended as illustrative material. Part I discusses the technique of contemporary poetry; Part II, its spirit. The analysis of organic rhythm, diction, pattern, images, and symbols, will be helpful to readers who know nothing of poets, past or present; but the author makes the mistake of writing down to her audience, and sometimes labors a point unnecessarily, pressing a simple explanation to the verge of the banal.
The inexperienced reader might infer also that only within the past ten years have poets sought the mot juste, and deliberately set themselves to write verse in the speech of everyday. In every century, of course, the true poet is he who discovers the exact, the inevitable word; and the theory that plain speech and everyday life are fit form and substance for poetry was set forth by Wordsworth, in the preface to Lyrical Ballads, as long ago as 1798. The value of the critical and interpretative essays in New Voices is marred by this tendency to belittle the earlier poets. In Part II, Wordsworth’s attitude toward nature is misinterpreted almost perversely; and the fact that a certain type of twentieth-century poetry is in the direct tradition of the great poetpantheists of the Victorian Age is apparently not recognized by the author (nor by the poets themselves, possibly). Where Mrs. Wilkinson excels is in choosing the poetry to illustrate her points. Here her taste never errs, and the two hundred or more poems which make up her anthology are themselves the best defense of the poetry of which she is so ardent an advocate.