Getting America Right

American novelists no longer write about America. That, at least, was the judgment of many foreign writers who attended the recent PEN Conference. It would be hard to make the same complaint about our poets. In fact, it is hard to escape the feeling that a good many American poets are engaged in an exploration, a rediscovery of the terra cognita of American history.

These four volumes cover at least three regions of the U.S.: New England, the South, and the Midwest. Norman Williams appears to be the best traveler. His verses take him to Vermont, Kansas, Virginia, and indeed, all the way to Spain and Portugal, but his most striking pieces are Midwestern, as "The Genius of Small-Town America":

Each spring another crop of debt is sown.

And, though agencies attach the land.

Outbuildings, crops and unborn young, still

The beak-nosed men walk head-up and proud.

Convinced, against all evidence, that what

They've planted, built or reared is theirs.

And that, come the plague or Democrats,

They will die as they have lived, that is

In their good time, just when and how they choose.


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