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American Epic Poems of the 20th Century

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We proclaimed Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You “the great US epic of the last half of the 20th century” and were immediately accosted: “It’s the ONLY epic poem!” Wrong! we said. May we recommend....

The Cantos, by Ezra Pound

The Cantos of Ezra Pound
New Directions (cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
(New Directions, 1996 reprint) Begun in 1917, the complete Cantos were published in 1970. Pound’s time traveling polyglot history of the universe is the birth of modernism.
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The Maximus Poems, by Charles Olson

The Maximus Poems, by Charles Olson
University of California Press (cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
(University of California Press, 1995 reissue) Olson creates a myth out of the U.S., gives voice to the land of Gloucester. When it was out of print, a tragedy—kudos to UC for printing The Maximus Poems again.
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Paterson, by William Carlos Williams

Paterson, by William Carlos Williams
New Directions (cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
((New Directions, 1995 reprint) While the Cantos’ beat is universe, history as literature, and Maximus is mythologizing America and open field, the Good Doctor never has to leave New Jersey to get the epic to sing. Newspaper clippings, found poems, et al....
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The Bridge, by Hart Crane

The Bridge, by Hart Crane
Liveright Publishing Corporation (cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
(Liveright Publishing, 1992 reprint) Crane’s lyrics pull you beyond sense, into the singing cables and the deadly seduction of the bridge. Shorter than most epics, and somehow both dense and flying.
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The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, by Frank Stanford

The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, by Frank Stanford
Lost Roads Publishing (cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
(Lost Roads, 2000) As we’ve said before, this is the epic of the last half of the 20th century. What else can you say about a 400-page book that is not only a single poem but a single sentence? Seeing through the eyes of a mindreading poet-type Ozark kid who hangs out across the race line is like discovering a new language.
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Testimony: The United States 1885 - 1915, by Charles Reznikoff

Testimony: The United States 1885 - 1915, by Charles Reznikoff
Black Sparrow Press (cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
(Black Sparrow Press, 1978 & 1979) Subtitled “Recitative,” this extraordinary work by the great Objectivist poet comprises two volumes of straightforward narratives of crimes and punishments from U.S. court records—damning and brilliant.
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The Descent of Alette, by Alice Notley

The Descent of Alette, by Alice Notley
Penguin Group USA (cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
(Viking Penguin, 1996) Rejoice! The ugly device of punctuating with quotation marks easily gives way to a myth that is Dante from Beatrice’s perspective. No. From a modern U.S. woman’s perspective, a view of the nature of nature as seen from a giant snake that may be a subway. An astonishing, invigorating book.
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The Lost Lunar Baedeker, by Mina Loy

The Lost Lunar Baedeker, by Mina Loy
Farrar, Straus & Giroux (cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
(Noonday Press, 1997) A lost treasure of surrealism, recently back in print.
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Desperate Characters: A Novella in Verse, by Nicholas Christopher

(Viking Penguin, 1989) Christopher’s tour de force is a full noir novella. Amazing.
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The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse, by Vikram Seth

The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse, by Vikram Seth
Vintage Books (cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
(Vintage Books, 1991) Jingling rhymes and high wit in this tale of California dreamers. Seth takes on a cross-section of the Bay Area, and archly dissects the scene.
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