In the Parlor with Esq. Geoffrey Chaucer

  • Candace Barrington
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Outside academic circles today, the term “poetry anthology” usually evokes sentimental collections, such as Best Loved Poems of the American People, or it conjures memories of introductory literature surveys and the eight-pound, two-thousand-page books on the frontline of transmitting cultural capital to American students. In either case, poetry anthologies are a maligned breed. Students in literature surveys groan under the weight of academic anthologies; instructors find them inadequate. Progressives charge they resist change; conservatives lament their capitulation to untested trends. If anthologies are not charged as the covert manipulations of overly invested academics, they are dismissed as catering to middlebrow tastes with simpering moralities, such as the ones William Bennett prefixed to each story in his collections for families, The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass1 In her examination of the genre, Rachel Hadas borrows E.M. Forster’s geographical analogy describing the novel to explain that

poetry anthologies tend to be bounded by two chains of mountains: poetry on the one side and reference books of volumes of literary history on the other. Neither the one nor the other, poetry anthologies are liable to the respective kinds of critical scrutiny both poetry and reference books are subject to. As individual books of poems often do, poetry anthologies give rise to queries about their predecessors, their intended audience, their aesthetic, their themes, and the principles of their arrangement. But as works of literary history or reference often are, poetry anthologies are open to accusations of bias, exclusion, falsification of the record, ignorance, and wrongheadedness.2


Cultural Capital Literary History Historical Continuum British Poetry Common Reader 
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© Candace Barrington 2007

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  • Candace Barrington

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