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The Early Excitement About The New American Poetry 1945-1960

Series: Donald Allen and The New American Poetry 1945-1960, Part 1

September 14, 2017

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The popular British poet Roger McGough remembers that when Donald Allen’s revolutionary anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960 with its famous red and white jacket design first appeared in Liverpool, “everybody in town who was interested in writing seemed to have a copy of it, and they were shouting poems out of it to one another across crowded pubs.”

It seems every member of the 1950s generation who was coming to awareness about literature and the Beat Movement remembers when or where he or she first encountered The New American Poetry. Hettie Jones, former wife of LeRoi Jones, in her memoir How I Became Hettie Jones, recalls her initial reaction to the appearance of The New American Poets, spending long hours absorbing the poems she already knew so well from having published them in Yugen. The anthology inspired her own writing. Similarly, Joyce Johnson, Jack Kerouac’s lover, wrote in Minor Characters of the day The New American Poets came out.

More recently, Ron Silliman in his blog considers, “Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry, unquestionably [to be] the most influential single anthology of the last century. It’s a great book, an epoch-making one in many ways. If you didn’t live anywhere near a location that might carry the small press books of the 1950s & early ‘60s, the Allen anthology was the place where you got to hear what all the fuss was about with the Beatniks, the New York School, the Black Mountain poets & so forth” (Silliman’s Blog 11 June 2007).

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Paul Varner

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