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Fast Water off the Bow-Wave

Jeremy Harding: George Oppen, 21 June 2018

21 Poems 
by George Oppen, edited by David B. Hobbs.
New Directions, 48 pp., £7.99, September 2017, 978 0 8112 2691 2
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... We​ had seen bare land/And the people bare on it’: two lines from a retrospective poem by George Oppen that appeared in 1963 in a small magazine published out of New Rochelle, the poet’s birthplace. Oppen (b. 1908) had recently broken a long silence and become a poet of his time – the 1960s and 1970s – however much he may have insisted, as he did in the same poem, that he was ‘of the Thirties ...

Four Poems

Donald Davie, 21 March 1985

... Recollections of George Oppen in a Letter to a Friend ‘This lime-tree bower my prison’                                         Coleridge That lime-tree – no, what is it? mulberry? – bower at combe’s bottom, your Brook Cottage where the light sleeps so evenly in silence one would not say even in summer’s heat it pulses ...

Take out all the adjectives

Jeremy Harding: The poetry of George Oppen, 6 May 2004

New Collected Poems 
by George Oppen, edited by Michael Davidson.
Carcanet, 433 pp., £14.95, July 2003, 1 85754 631 8
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... In ‘The Building of the Skyscraper’, a short poem which appeared in the Nation in 1964, George Oppen wrote: The steel worker on the girder Learned not to look down, and does his work And there are words we have learned Not to look at, Not to look for substance Below them. But we are on the verge Of vertigo ...

Enlarging Insularity

Patrick McGuinness: Donald Davie, 20 January 2000

With the Grain: Essays on Thomas Hardy and Modern British Poetry 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 346 pp., £14.95, October 1998, 1 85754 394 7
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... Bunting, Charles Tomlinson, Ted Hughes, Robert Graves, Hugh MacDiarmid, J.M. Synge, David Jones, George Steiner, Geoffrey Hill, Elizabeth Daryush and the fraternity of poets anthologised by Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville in A Various Art. It also includes a number of Davie’s poems. If we were to read the adjective ‘British’ in the subtitle of the ...

On Michael O’Brien

August Kleinzahler: Michael O’Brien, 16 February 2017

... an academic, rather conservative, literary canon. Then, in the mid-1960s, he became friendly with George Oppen, around the time Oppen began writing again after a long silence. ‘I was still reading, or trying to read The Mills of the Kavanaughs,’ O’Brien later wrote. ‘...


Christopher Reid, 3 September 1981

Some Americans: A Personal Record 
by Charles Tomlinson.
California, 134 pp., £6.50, June 1981, 0 520 04037 6
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... or spurned in the cause of their unfashionable art. Two such individuals are Louis Zukovsky and George Oppen, both American Jews, one-time associates of Williams and so-called ‘Objectivists’. The chapter concerning them is, I think, the least satisfactory in Tomlinson’s book. Not because it is ill-written – far from it. Zukovsky’s ...

This Condensery

August Kleinzahler: In Praise of Lorine Niedecker, 5 June 2003

Collected Works 
by Lorine Niedecker, edited by Jenny Penberthy.
California, 471 pp., £29.95, May 2002, 0 520 22433 7
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Collected Studies in the Use of English 
by Kenneth Cox.
Agenda, 270 pp., £12, September 2001, 9780902400696
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New Goose 
by Lorine Niedecker, edited by Jenny Penberthy.
Listening Chamber, 98 pp., $10, January 2002, 0 9639321 6 0
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... Wisconsiner), Charles Reznikoff, Basil Bunting, John Wheelwright, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert McAlmon, George Oppen, William Carlos Williams and Whittaker Chambers, a friend of Zukofsky’s from Columbia who, among other things, later translated Bambi from the German. Quite a diverse lot, although most of them incorporated key elements of the ...

Poet at the Automat

Eliot Weinberger: Charles Reznikoff, 22 January 2015

... watching the flies on his desk. In the late 1920s he met two younger poets, Louis Zukofsky and George Oppen. The three, all Jewish New Yorkers, shared an admiration for Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and a belief, along with Williams, that American modernism should be relocated from Paris and London to the US. Asked to edit an issue of Poetry ...

Writing the Night

Hugh Haughton, 25 January 1996

Selected Poems 
by David Gascoyne.
Enitharmon, 253 pp., £8.95, November 1994, 1 870612 34 5
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... he appeared in Alida Monro’s anthology Recent Poetry in 1933 alongside Yeats, Eliot, Auden and George Barker. Then, on leaving school, he published a novel, Opening Day, and before long his work could be found in the small magazines of his time such as Geoffrey Grigson’s New Verse and his friend Roger Roughton’s Contemporary Poetry and Prose, Browsing ...

Perseverate My Doxa

Emily Witt: What's up, Maggie Nelson?, 16 December 2021

On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint 
by Maggie Nelson.
Jonathan Cape, 288 pp., £20, September 2021, 978 1 78733 269 0
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... a single page of her introduction contains references to Wayne Koestenbaum, Gertrude Stein, George Oppen, Robin D.G. Kelley, Judith Butler, Fred Moten and Wendy Brown. In as far as this amorphous work can be defined, On Freedom is an example of a recent genre that takes as its subject the phenomenon of mass scolding on the left – you could call ...

Colloquially Speaking

Patrick McGuinness: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945, 1 April 1999

The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland since 1945 
edited by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford.
Viking, 480 pp., £10.99, September 1998, 0 670 86829 9
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The Firebox: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945 
edited by Sean O’Brien.
Picador, 534 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 330 36918 0
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... they engage with a post-Poundian poetic tradition (Charles Olson, Edward Dorn, Robert Duncan, George Oppen) of a kind that gives modern American poetry its variety and experimentalism. Gunn and Davie are included in both anthologies, but to read their collected poems (the next step after reading Davie’s superb ‘Time Passing, Beloved’ and ...

Elective Outsiders

Jeremy Harding, 3 July 1997

Conductors of Chaos: A Poetry Anthology 
edited by Iain Sinclair.
Picador, 488 pp., £9.99, June 1996, 0 330 33135 3
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Nearly Too Much: The Poetry of J.H. Prynne 
by N.H. Reeve and Richard Kerridge.
Liverpool, 196 pp., £25, April 1996, 0 85323 840 5
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Carl Rakosi: Poems 1923-41 
edited by Andrew Crozier.
Sun & Moon, 209 pp., $12.99, August 1995, 1 55713 185 6
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The Objectivists 
edited by Andrew McAllister.
Bloodaxe, 156 pp., £8.95, May 1996, 1 85224 341 4
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... produced something quite unlike the verse he seems greatly to have admired – including that of George Oppen and Carl Rakosi, both driven to lengthy silence, between twenty and thirty years in each case, Rakosi recovering the possibility of poetry as a direct result of Crozier’s intervention in 1965, long after the term ‘Objectivist’ had ceased ...

Like a Manta Ray

Jenny Turner: The Entire History of Sex, 22 October 2015

The Argonauts 
by Maggie Nelson.
Graywolf, 143 pp., £23, May 2015, 978 1 55597 707 8
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... Being by trade a poet of plain language – William Carlos Williams would be another hero, also George Oppen, also Eileen Myles – Nelson finds her artistic focus drawn in two main directions. On the one hand, she crafts her words until she gets them to ‘facet’ as accurately as she can: ‘How to explain that for some, or for some at some ...

Go girl

Jacqueline Rose: The intimate geography of women, 30 September 1999

Woman: An Intimate Geography 
by Natalie Angier.
Virago, 398 pp., £17.99, March 1999, 1 86049 685 7
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Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995-98 
by Adrienne Rich.
Norton, 75 pp., £14.95, March 1999, 0 393 04682 6
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... is no other issue ... to think about politically, but I don’t know how to measure happiness,’ George Oppen wrote to June Oppen Degnan in 1970 (an extract from his letter is the epigraph to Midnight Salvage). How, then, should women see themselves? As mosaics, fractured with the lines of putative and possibly ...


Ben Lerner: On Disliking Poetry, 18 June 2015

... writing. At university in the 1990s the coolest young poets I knew were reading Rimbaud and Oppen – two very great and very different writers who had in common their abandonment of the art (though Oppen’s was only temporary). Rimbaud stops at twenty or so and starts running guns; ...

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