Helen Vendler, Rita Dove, and the Changing Canon of Poetry

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The titans are clashing in the world of poetry. Over Thanksgiving, literary critic Helen Vendler published a savage review of a new anthology, "The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry." The book was edited by Rita Dove, a former Poet Laureate. Dove responded to Vendler's scathing review with an equally vitriolic reply. Vendler is white, and Dove is black, which is either tangential to, or central to, the issue — depending on whom you talk to. The incident has many in the poetry world talking about issues of race, aesthetics, and who belongs in the poetry books, and who does not. 

Patrik Henry Bass, editor of books at Essence and a regular contributor to The Takeaway, says that the row brings up a generational shift, and that no matter how much the old guard would like to guard the threshold of poetry, the gates swung open long ago.

Statement from Penguin: "Rita Dove originally planned to include Plath and Ginsburg (along with several other poets) in the anthology, however exorbitant permissions fees prevented their final inclusion.  Ms. Dove addresses this issue on page li and lii of her introduction, as well as in her response to Helen Vendler's review."