August Kleinzahler at the London Review of Books:
For what then seemed a lengthy spell, from the late 1950s well into the 1970s, the standard-bearers of American poetry were a group of manic depressive exhibitionists working largely, if not exclusively, in traditional metre and rhyme schemes, analysands all, and with self-inflating personae that always reminded me of those giant balloons of Mickey Mouse and Pluto associated with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. They published and reviewed one another in journals like the Nation, Partisan Review, theKenyon Review and Sewanee Review, with a good deal of auto-canonising. Robert Lowell, almost by default it seemed, was ceded pride of place, the ‘most important American poet now at work’. Lowell and Randall Jarrell, roommates at Kenyon College in the 1930s, and to a lesser extent Berryman too, were big on rating and ranking: the top three poets, the top three oyster houses or second-basemen, the three best Ibsen plays – they seemed especially to like the number three.
How do they rate now? It all looks a bit different fifty years on – it always does – after all the theatrics and hyperventilating, the crack-ups, ECT, Pulitzers, heart attacks, suicides, obituaries, followed hard on by biographies, critical appraisals and reappraisals, canonisation and decanonisation. This is the group sometimes known as ‘confessional’ poets or ‘mid-century’ poets: Lowell, Berryman, Jarrell, Delmore Schwartz, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop and Theodore Roethke. The last two were more peripheral, both less overtly confessional, especially Bishop, and not so much on the scene, New York or Ivy League (though Bishop turned up briefly, and memorably, at Harvard).