Professor revamps postmodern poetry anthology
When Paul Hoover revised his sweeping anthology of postmodern poetry, first published in 1994, he knew he would have to make some tough choices. The first? Dropping himself from the collection.
"I knew I was going to have to accommodate the young, the new," said Hoover, a professor of creative writing. "It's painful for a poet to be dropped, but I only had so much space."
Clearing out the old to make way for the new is inherent in piecing together the definitive overview of a cutting-edge cultural change. The second edition of Hoover's "Postmodern American Poetry," published in March by W.W. Norton, includes 534 poems from 114 poets, more than half of whom were not featured in the original edition.
"After 19 years went by, it became clear it was time for a new edition," said Hoover, who added that his anthology is the only one that includes all of the divergent schools of postmodern poetry.
Hoover describes postmodern poetry as that which challenges the status quo in both its form and its content. In form, it eschews traditional styles like sonnet and iambic pentameter for more avant-garde concepts. One group featured in the book, called Flarf, builds poems by means of Google search results. Another poet wrote a poem called "Vowels" in which all of its words contain only the letters V, O, W, E, L and S, such as "love" and "wolves." A third built a poem from a year's worth of weather broadcasts, and a series mundane, everyday meteorological broadcasts is interrupted by a report about the weather in the Middle East, where U.S. soldiers are fighting.
"Postmodern poetry awakens us to political situations and controversy, as the Beat poets did in the 1960s," Hoover said. "It pushes the envelope."
Peotry naturally reinvents itself every generation or so, he added, and what was once considered avant-garde or even offensive eventually becomes the norm. That reinvention necessitated updating the anthology to remove poetry now considered part of the mainstream and add newer poets Hoover believes represent the future. The two-year process involved going through the old edition page by page to decide what to keep as well as reading and selecting a sizable amount of new poetry. The new table of contents was submitted to a trio of experts for their feedback.
"This is the book that dares to look into the future, and of course there is risk in that," Hoover said. "What if you're wrong?"
The collection also includes an introduction explaining the postmodern poetry movement and headnotes for each of the poets, in an effort to make the massive volume more accessible to the casual reader.
"The book tries to take a literature that can be complicated and surprising and help people understand its motives," Hoover said. "It's designed to be read by everybody."