Edited by Stephen Burt and Nick Halpern
University of Virginia Press, 2009
Helen Vendler may be America’s most important poetry critic. A winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Vendler has remained a key figure in the academy while also teaching a much larger public how to read and enjoy poems and poetry through her many articles for the New Yorker, the New York Times Book Review, the New Republic, and the New York Review of Books.
With Something Understood, some of the most important poets, critics, and scholars in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Ireland pay tribute to five decades of Vendler’s work. Included here are new poems, written especially for this volume, from such luminaries as Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove, and Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Wright. The essays, also exclusive to this book, address a spectrum of issues, from the vastness of the poetic tradition to poetry’s irreducible building blocks. Elaine Scarry considers what poetic vocation has meant to Heaney, Thomas Hardy, and to Vendler herself. Deborah Forbes asks what the poems of John Keats have to say to the people of Zambia. Jahan Ramazani provides arguments and advice that any teacher of poetry can use.
All the contributors have learned from Helen Vendler or been inspired by her work. The result is not only a celebration of Vendler’s critical powers but also a major compilation of poems and essays representing contemporary American poetry as it is practiced and debated.
John Ashbery * Frank Bidart * Lucie Brock-Broido * Stephen Burt * Eleanor Cook * Bonnie Costello * Rita Dove * Heather Dubrow * William Flesch * Deborah Forbes * Mark Ford * Roger Gilbert * Albert Goldbarth * Jorie Graham * Nick Halpern * DeSales Harrison * Seamus Heaney * August Kleinzahler * George S. Lensing * Christopher R. Miller * Carl Phillips * D. A. Powell * Laura Quinney * Jahan Ramazani * Elaine Scarry * Dave Smith * Willard Spiegelman * M. Wynn Thomas * Charles Wright