Your most recent book is titled 100 Essential Modern Poems. Why are the hundred poems in this anthology essential?
Well, first of all, I should say that they are not THE one hundred essential modern poems. These poems had something to say, rather than just being experiments in style and technique. They address certain perennial issues such as life, death, love, heartbreak, war, and peace, but from a distinctly modern point of view.
I do not necessarily define these poems as modern in the Modernist sense, which is to say that period of High Modernism in the 1920’s which included people like Stevens, Marianne Moore, etc. The modern innovation shook up the stagnant period of poetry preceding their own, which can be termed genteel poetry. The modern world brought fundamental changes in how people lived. The biggest event that defined the modern era was, of course, World War I. This served to sweep into the ashcan pieties about what made the world go around. This new notion of personal isolation brought about from this cataclysmic event inspired a poetry centered around being on one’s own. Also, there was a focus on concrete reality, what things really are, becoming the prevailing interest carried to the fore by these poets. The central idea was not for poetry to take one to a higher realm, but rather to bring poetry back down to earth.
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