Davidson Professor Helps Define "Who's Who" In World of Poetry
April 2, 2001
Alan Michael Parker shows no concern that readers may argue with him over his latest book. In fact, he welcomes their disagreements as one possible sign of the success of the book, Routledge's Who's Who in Twentieth-Century World Poetry.
Parker and his co-editor, Mark Willhardt of Monmouth College, write in their introduction to the book, "Resistence presents one measure of the book's success: if those most engaged with poetry contribute to the conversations begun here then such a colloquy can only further understanding of poetry itself."
With biographical entries detailing in 500 words or less the lives and accomplishments of approximately 900 poets from around the world, the volume is the first of its kind. Parker served as editor for entries on the 180 North American poets. Several of the book's entries were written by four of his Davidson students and one faculty colleague--R. Victor Brand '99, Allison K. Dolph '00, Cintra Pollack '99, James D. Stuntz '00, and Troy Williams, visiting instructor in Russian.
"It was great to be able to include Davidson students," Parker said. "It was a valuable experience for them to meet the rhetorical demands of these very short, scholarly articles, and see how they get edited. Plus, it's terrific that they're in print as scholars before most of them enter graduate school and start down their career paths."
Parker emphasized that the book is intended as a reference work for scholars, rather than a judgment on the "top 900" poets of the last century. Entries are not strictly biographical. Each of the 75 contributors took a critical look at the subjects, so that entries are opinionated as well as scholarly. Each article's author is also identified, so that those opinions are not anonymous.
Parker's job was two-fold. In addition to editing the articles about North American poets for clarity, accuracy, and consistency of style, he made the decision about which poets to include and which to omit. "There were many struggles," he confessed. "We decided not to include Bob Dylan because his poetry was expressed almost exclusively in song, while we did include Leonard Cohen, because much of his work is published as verse. I also didn't include representatives of some contemporary poetry movements like Spoken Word, because they're just too new for a volume covering the entire twentieth century."
Fully two-thirds of the entries in the book are poets who write in languages other than English. Many of the poets' works have yet to be translated into English. Parker said. "We hope that by including them we will inspire additional scholarship and perhaps translation of the poems."
Andrew Motion, poet laureate of England, alluded to the value of that aspect of the book in his preface to the volume. Motion wrote, "Some entries will be questioned; some omissions will be lamented; some judgements will be doubted. But these responses only serve to endorse the premise of this book, which is to illustrate the extraordinary range and vitality of poetry written around the world during the last hundred years."
The project took Parker three years to complete. It represents another entry in Routledge's extensive catalogue of biographical guides to a broad range of subjects from the arts, history, politics, religion, and mythology. Routledge chose Parker as editor as the publisher for his previous scholarly book, published in 1996, The Routledge Anthology of Cross-Gendered Verse.
Parker is a poet and critic whose first book of poems, Days Like Prose, was named a "Notable Book of 1997" by the National Book Critics Circle. His second collection, The Vandals, was published by BOA Editions in May of 1999. Since 1995, his book reviews have appeared regularly in The New Yorker. His awards include fellowships from the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Councils on the Arts and a 1999 Pushcart Prize. He has recently been nominated for another Pushcart Prize, and is completing a fifth book, another volume of poetry to be published by BOA Editions in 2002.
Under 350 pages, about 125-500 words per poet, the book includes the late Randall Jarrell, a former resident of Greensboro.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.