Poets and the Ways We Think about Poetry in the Late Days of Modernism


In this lively book presenting six of the most influential poets of the late twentieth century, Jan Schreiber argues convincingly that the strongest and most lasting poems were written in meter, rather than the free verse that dominated the scene for much of the period.


With fresh looks at the work of Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Howard Nemerov, Anthony Hecht, W. D. Snodgrass, and Richard Wilbur, these essays give readers new insights into the strategies poets use to fuse sound and sense together in memorable ways. Later chapters take a close look at the work of additional poets considered important by influential editors and critics, and offer a re-evaluation of some reputations that have suffered from neglect in recent years.


Enlivened with plentiful quotations and supported by close and perceptive readings, this book is an invaluable guide through the challenging forest of twentieth-century poetry in the postwar period. A model of evaluative criticism, it also offers illuminating essays on artistic judgment and on the functions of poetry in a diverse, contentious, and changing society.

“Parts I and II of the book, ‘Six Poets of the Late Twentieth Century’ and ‘The Aspirants,’ deal with poets whom Schreiber considers important to varying degrees; they cover both specific poems and general tendencies of each poet, in every case illuminating the work discussed. His remarks on each text have invited me back into poems I love and thought I already knew thoroughly, and – better still – coaxed me to revisit the work of two or three poets I now suspect I’ve misjudged. Some of the poets on Schreiber’s list may never hold as high a place on mine. Nevertheless I propose to read them differently now, with more attention, with the same kind of honesty, patience and justice he exhibits even when exploring their flaws. He has, in other words, made me a better reader, and I am grateful for that.

“But it is Part III that I keep returning to, because in it the author does, out in the open and in print, what the critical mind at work does consciously and alone, but that the rest of us do, if at all, only in passing and in bits of disparate intuition that never permit a whole picture of the process to take shape. It was an intellectual discovery to watch Jan Schreiber take apart a complex theme … so that … misreadings and obvious biases, … principles, the value of … standards … are all spread out for the reader to weigh separately and finally combine into a whole. It is a lesson in the need for justice and humility…. I’ve come away from this reading with a new understanding of, and grateful respect for, the role of the critic.”
                                                                                                                                    – Rhina Espaillat

“[T]he thoughtful presentation and the knowledgeable analyses are rewarding to read. Schreiber’s style is lucid and pleasing to the ear. It also avoids being strident, a great virtue in a field, poetic criticism, where stridency is often encountered.”

                                                    – Jim Wilson, on the web site
Shaping Words

“Schreiber's brilliant critical take on these poets – his eloquent love of the best, and his outspoken criticism for those he thinks overrated – make this an excellent primer for people like me, who want to know more and understand more about modern poetry. Through his fine parsing of these poets’ work, I caught a glimmer of how exciting poetry can be.”
                                                                                                     – Susan Quinn, Amazon review