Book Review: The 20th Century in Poetry

The 20th Century in Poetry by Michael Hulse

The 20th Century in Poetry is an anthology of the poetry describing the 20th Century. With a degree in history and another in international relations I looked forward to reading this collection. I have always liked to see how other fields see history. Art history of the 20th Century is an amazing reflection of the culture. Art Deco completely captures the 1930s. The Pop Art of the 1960s captured that decade’s spirit: from Andy Worhol to the style Janis Joplin’s Cheap Thrills album cover. Many times you can look at the art and know the decade and the origin. I am sure poetry could do the same. I did have one condition in a poetry collection of the twentieth century. It had to have on poem that I felt was, historically, a very important part of the 20th century*.

Historians look at the 20th Century a bit differently than the calendar shows. Historians start the century at the start of World War I, the official end of the 19th century world view. The century not only starts late, but ends early too. The fall of the Soviet Union closes the book on the 20th Century for most historians; the beginning of “The New World Order” and “Peace Dividends.” 20th Century in Poetry takes the reader year by year from 1900 through 2000 with at least one poem from each year. It further divides the poems into sensible groupings.

1900-1914 Never Such an innocence again
1915-1922 War to Wasteland
1923-1939 Danger to hope
1940-1945 War
1946-1968 Peace and Cold War
1969-1988 From the Moon to Berlin
1988-2000 Endgames

From the innocence of Thomas Hardy “The Darkling Thrush” to the great sadness of Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” From Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night” to Jeffrey Harrison’s “Sketch”. From Alan Ginsberg’s “America” to Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”. From John Updike’s “Seven New Ways of Looking at the Moon” to Jeffrey Harrison’s “Pale Blue City”. The highs and the lows of the 20th century are all recorded by the eyes and words of the poets of the time.

This is a suburb collection of the the full range of the 20th century. Usually I will keep my poetry in paper, but the selections are so good and so vast, that it makes an excellent ebook. Not many people will sit and read this through cover to cover and it wasn’t meant to be read that way. Pick a year or a couple of years and enjoy. Keep it on your reader or your phone and when you have a few minutes pick a poem or two, you won’t be disappointed. Of course if you do read it cover to cover, you will get a detailed history of the 20th Century: The events, the people, the achievements, the failures. Perhaps the reader will see that we, as a whole, in this century we have not learned from our previous failings and not learned from advances. A collection like this makes an excellent barometer for where we are and where we are heading, as a people, in the twenty-fist century. Five Stars.

* The poem I was referring to earlier is in the collection: “The Wasteland” by TS Elliott

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Book Review: The 20th Century in Poetry

  1. Do you think there are any significant poets that were missed out (not necessarily intentionally) — as will always occur with an anthology?

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