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In this collection by one of the most respected poet-critics in the generation now around fifty, Alan Williamson's concern is establishing "elusive but real" criteria for assessing poetic merit. He observes that the academy has abandoned the task as hopeless, while the poetry world too often decides merit on the basis of coterie or on political grounds. Williamson examines the competing claims of eloquence and reality, statement and image, meter and free verse. He takes up major American and European poets and provides an assessment of the emerging younger generation of poets.
The book considers the delicate question of political poetry, and argues that the audience for poetry has changed, not disappeared, over the last forty years. Finally, it offers glimpses of the author's own aesthetic journey: his apprenticeship with Robert Lowell; his connection, through his father, to T. S. Eliot; and his friendship with his peers. The book should find a wide audience, as it occupies a kind of middle ground between academic criticism and the more impressionistic writings of poets about their art.
Alan Williamson's most recent book of poetry is The Muse of Distance. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is Professor of English, University of California, Davis.