New Collected Poems
George Oppen first burst onto the literary scene with the publication of his collection, Discrete Series, in 1934. The craftsmanship and spare precision of his poetry made him one of the preeminent Objectivist poets. It was always his desire to write honestly about what he knew, to “say as much as I dare, as much as I can....” Clarity of voice was paramount to Oppen. He did not waste words, always looking to strip down his poems to the core. Oppen wrote very little else but poetry. His selected letters were not published until 1990, which was six years after his death. During the 1930’s, Oppen became active in various political causes, including labor organizing. He would not publish another poetry collection until 1962. His second collection, The Materials, finds Oppen coming to grips with the world that had been torn apart by World War II. He had fought as a U. S. Army infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge (1944), and was later wounded by German shrapnel.
Oppen no longer had any illusions about what people were capable of doing to one another. In his 1965 collection, This Is Which, he comments on the necessity to face the human condition straight on, to recognize the “terror/ the unsightly/ silting sand of events.” He published his most important collection in 1968 with Of Being Numerous. This collection was awarded the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Always willing to be true to his singular voice, Oppen had become one of the most important American poets of the twentieth century. In 1975 New Directions published the first edition of The Collected Poems of George Oppen. Oppen’s last collection, Primitive, was published in 1978.
New Collected Poems serves as a marvelous gathering of Oppen’s published collections, as well as his uncollected published poems and a selection of his unpublished poems. Michael Davidson also must be commended for his instructive introduction.