Amazing, that in 30 years of proliferating MFA programs and professional tracks, a poet now breathes the wholly different air of an insider. This is less a clearly evil fact than it is a myopic one–given much of poetry’s history as outsider art. It’s easy to forget the poet was once less an academic-circuit celebrity than a seer.So to pore through the pages of the newly released issue of Asheville Poetry Review–an homage to 10 great neglected poets of the 20th century–is like having a treasure hunt come to you. The cover art is disarming and gorgeous, and this edition tops out at 251 pages, but glorious packaging aside, the collection is faithful and responsive to its 10 subjects, and is both solid and varied in tone.
As managing editor Keith Flynn clarifies in his introduction, his is not a top 10 for the obscure, or a final word on the matter, but a studied reflection “on 10 who deserved better than they got.” Of this lot, there are Southerners and not-, academics and street preachers, artists and jazzmen, language-mongers and clipped condensers of the word. Each poet’s work is bridged with essays, both biographical and analy-tical, and we receive a nimbly sketched portrait of each artist’s life and poetics.
Most uncanny about this collection is its allowance for fence-sitting. Mina Loy, Paul Reverdy and Kenneth Patchen lived equally in the avant-garde art world, while Jack Spicer and Bob Kaufman shared their lives with folk and jazz. What this anthology again and again makes clear is that these poets largely escaped notice because of their essentially unpinnable selves. Of age in an era dumb to notions of the professional poet–or of the lauded “one-trick pony”–as Flynn dubs it, these 10 souls careened in and out of marked lanes. Close to disaster, maybe, but well worth watching.