A new collection of John Kinsella's poems, edited by Harold Bloom for Norton, is reviewed in the latest Jacket by Brian Henry. A US reviewer who spent two years in Australia on a Fulbright scholarship in the late '90s, Henry is disappointed in the collection, arguing that Bloom wishes to see Kinsella as a 'solitary Orphic poet' and is trying to fit Kinsella's work into his own canon instead of introducing him to the US as a formidable poet in his own right.
In an apparent attempt to present Kinsella as a lyric poet in the tradition of John Clare, Hart Crane, W.B.Yeats, Robert Frost and John Ashbery - all of whom Bloom mentions in relation to Kinsella in his introduction to the book - Bloom omits almost all of Kinsella's linguistically innovative and collaborative poems as well as his most politically oriented poems. Bloom's editing of Peripheral Light distorts, dislocates and diminishes Kinsella's achievements....
It is clear that Bloom is slotting Kinsella into his canon as the first and only Australian poet to deserve inclusion - an odd gesture considering his enthusiasm for Kevin Hart's poetry and Kinsella's own championing of Australian poetry, particularly that of Hewett, Tranter and Dransfield.
Them's fighting words, Mr. Henry. Elsewhere Bloom is accused of 'editorial violence', and of diminishing the 'formal range of Kinsella's poetry'. Henry ends by pronouncing Peripheral Light to be 'a bittersweet achievement', after reflecting that it presents a lop-sided collection of later work to the American public as Kinsella's first collection published there.
But here's the rub, to my mind: Henry claims that Kinsella's poetry has been collected only once before, in an English publication, The Undertow: New and Selected Poems (1996): however, Poems 1980-1994 is available in the US (order online through Powells).
Not only that, Norton also has another Kinsella collection,The New Arcadia:Poems, coming out in June/July. So perhaps Kinsella, himself a founding editor of a poetry press of international standing, has had more influence in the selection process for publication in these collections than Henry was able to assess while reviewing Peripheral Light:
The most apparent solution would have been to allow the poet himself to decide which version(s) of himself - which "John Kinsella" - to present to readers in his first book published in the United States.
Do we know that he didn't? I'll wonder on.