What urn?! “Professor Vendler,” WilliamnScammell lashed out in ThenSpectator, “writes in that browfurrowingnpomp-speak beloved of certainnacademics, which ought righdy tonbe set up in gothic type.” For Vendler,nwrote Scammell, seeing is “optic concentration”;nline endings are a “perpetualnself-hating” in which she findsn”the ground” for poetry’s “peculiarnattraction” and a “spooling, a form ofnrepetition, the reinscribing of angroove”; to read is to join “the processionnof forms that give access to annimagined plane of projected existence.”nThe Faber Book of ContemporarynAmerican Poetry is nothing butnThe Harvard Book of ContemporarynAmerican Poetry under another name,nand the British reader was smelling anrat.nIn her introduction to this anthology,nProfessor Vendler dwells on thencontrast between British and Americannpoetry, reminding Britons that hernhomeland was once “an enormousnwilderness only recentiy settied, educationallynand ethnically diverse,”nwith a poetry that was “bound to bendifiFuse, heterogeneous.” Is this merelynan innocent truism?nI found some U.S. Census figuresnfor the sample year 1900. Twelve millionn(or roughly 16 percent) of a totalnpopulation of 76,500,000 weren”foreign-born.” One may wondernwhether this admixture made thatnmuch of a difference in a countrynwhose culture was dominated by annative elite. But let us assume thatnsuch a measure of cultural diversity isnsignificant.nOf a total of 23 living poets anthologizednby Professor Vendler, 17 (ornroughly 74 percent) are professors atnAmerican colleges and universities.nOutiined as an urn indeed! May notnone assume that this measure of culturalnuniformity is just as significant?nIn fact, is it not astonishing that anneditor so visibly preoccupied with “diversity”nshould be so blatant, so cliquishnin her choices? Whatever Americanis or may have been, ProfessornVendler’s vision of American poetry isnabout as “diffuse” as an IQ test and asn”heterogeneous” as a KKK picnic.nThe history of misidentification ofnpoetic practice with academic routinenbegan in the U.S. with the publication,nin 1938, oi Understanding Poetrynby Cleanth Brooks and Robert PennnWarren (still in print after four editions),nalthough Louis Untermeyer’snModern American Poetry (now in itsnseventh edition) had toyed with thenenchanting notion as early as 1919.nAdopted as standard texts at collegesnand universities, these books shapednthe American intellectual’s perceptionnof poetry as a subject of academicnanalysis for generations. When Untermeyer’snanthology first appeared, anbitter Basil Bunting spoke propheticallynof the coming of “the age of poetrynfor commentators.” More recently,nthe academic canon was updated withnDonald Allen’s New American Poetryn1945-1960.nThus Professor Vendler’s anthologynis not a haphazard event but the latestnof many steps toward an Ivy Leaguenorthodoxy of poetic expression andncritical discussion in what Peter Quartermainnhas called “the history of thenpolitics of poetry” in America. Thisnlatest endeavor ought to have beenncalled The Conformist’s Book of ContemporarynAcademic Verse (from thencommercial point of view, however.nHow to Get Tenure: The New Ameri­ncan Poet’s Guide might have beennmore feasible). Accordingly, ProfessornVendler’s introductory article containsnevery critical platitude an aspiring academicnpoet needs to butter up hisncolleagues up and down the hierarchy.nConsider “poets who are women”n(“women poets,” one presumes, is anterm reserved nowadays for the morenrabid kinds of poetess and just isn’tncomme il faut at Harvard). In the oldndays. Professor Vendler laments, theirnpoetry “was limited both in subjectn(love, God, children, death) and innexpression.” But today, she exults,n”art, race relations, cultural mythology,nmetaphysics . . . are now availablensubjects for any younger woman.”nQuite apart from running a risk ofnbeing brought before a university disciplinaryncommittee on charges of agendiscrimination. Professor Vendler isnunashamed in her belief that, as anpoet, Rita Dove is more free to discussnanything, including “art,” in 1980nthan Emily Dickinson was in 1880.nThe truly remarkable thing, however,nis the editor’s deliberate exclusion ofnwomen whose achievement is at leastnas great as, say, that of ElizabethnBlank V4rse UnassemblednannnAPRIL 1987141n