The Greening of America

This handsome book, with its dust-jacket reproduction of Hughson Hawley’s Laying the Tracks at Broadway and 14th Street (ca. 1891), is unique in American anthology-making.  While it has long been acknowledged that Irish American fiction and drama constitute what Charles Fanning called, in The Irish Voice in America, “a distinctive and complex literary heritage,” Irish American poetry has not received the same recognition, partly because of its simplicity and stock themes.  That it should be examined is implicit in this undertaking.  Daniel Tobin (who teaches at Emerson College) has revisited and redefined the subject, not by eliding the popular vein, but by going beyond it.  The resulting collection shows how various and abundant the Irish American poetic lineage has been.  The compilation is not, however, a canon but an essay (in the original sense of the term)—an undogmatic and pragmatic attempt to circumscribe the meaning of “Irish American” for literature and assess, collectively, the contributions so identified.  Whether the diverse body of writing associated with this lineage constitutes a true literary tradition, sui generis, or is composed of several traditions, or is simply a gathering without being a whole may be for future critics to decide.  In his Introduction, significantly titled “Irish American Poetry and the Question of Tradition,”...

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