The Poet's Work

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 16)

Being an active poet himself has aided editor Reginald Gibbons well in his compilation of this anthology of statements by some twenty-nine master poets regarding their craft. Gibbons’ own collection, Roofs, Voices, Roads, reveals his keen interest in the why as well as the how of a poet’s work. As a poet of considerable skill and imaginative power, he has faced at first-hand most of the problems and questions dealt with in these essays. His background and experience have enabled him to focus more sharply than most anthologists on the essential ingredients of attitude, education, and discipline apparently involved in the writing of twentieth century poetry. Moreover, Gibbons is a notably sensitive translator and an energetic, insightful, and resourceful scholar. Combined, these skills are formidable, and they enable him to achieve much in a brief space, even though the subject of his volume is an extremely difficult one to treat in a systematic, coherent way. Precise selection and organization is difficult when dealing with materials notoriously imprecise and disorganized, and because poetry writing is a wide and diverse field, a great deal must be left out.

Gibbons is generally thoughtful in his inclusions. Obviously, those readers interested in an accurate representation of the world’s poets will wonder why this work is so overwhelmingly Western, Caucasian, and masculine in its contents; there are essays by Middle-Eastern, African, or Oriental poets and only three by women poets—all white Americans. Except for these deletions, other notable exclusions are defended by the editor. Gibbons only had so much space, and in it, he explains, he wished to break new, “out-of-the-way” ground; this justifies his decision not to include, for example, anything by W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, or Ezra Pound, since he feels their works are “universally available.” Aware of the incompleteness inherent in his selection, Gibbons has helpfully provided at the end of the book “A Very Selective Reading List” designed to supplement and complement the readings in The Poet’s Work. This supplemental list consists of four sections. The first has interviews, questionnaires, and collections of essays from both historical and contemporary sources; the second suggests books by poets on writing; the third lists secondary books; and the fourth mentions key magazines and books series.

The Poet’s Work is arranged in two sections. The first, “Origins: The Sources and Motives of Poetry,” deals with the poet’s sense of his vocation and his understanding of why he writes. The range of rationales is wide. Poets such as Karl Shapiro and Osip Mandelstam, for example, are...

(The entire section is 1113 words.)