Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Journey of Poems edited by Richard Niebling

A Journey of Poems: An Original Anthology of Verse edited by Richard Niebling was compiled in the 1960s as a student's introduction to both well- and lesser-known poems.

Two things are particularly noteworthy about this book. One is Niebling's choice of divisions. Many introductory literature texts are divided chronologically, which makes sense, but often leaves the uninitiated reader sick of literature before he manages to clear the Renaissance. Niebling's divisions are loosely based on tone and theme, and within each section, poems are carefully ordered so that one idea flows easily into the next. He also lets the poems "be"--not forcing interpretations on readers and keeping explanatory notes to a minimum.

The second noteworthy choice is Niebling's placement of lesser-known poems and poets ("Pitcher" by Robert Francis and "The Gull" by Michael Thwaites) next to ubiquitous classics (Yeats' "Second Coming," Shakespeare's "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day," Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"). Even work by the expected poets is not necessarily expected. (How wonderful to find something by Frost in an introductory collection other than "The Road Not Taken.")

This is not my favorite anthology. I would have preferred more translations and the inclusion of, say, some e.e. cummings, Elizabeth Bishop, T.S. Eliot, etc. But how much can you fit in a poetry volume without making it look frighteningly huge? (A Journey of Poems is a slim 175 pages of poems.) A Journey of Poems also contains poets who interested me when I was younger, but whose over-familiarity has now bred... well, something more like boredom than contempt. Niebling's volume is, however, an enjoyable collection--for both the student and anyone interested in sampling various poetry flavors.

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