American verse is probably passing through a peculiar period when the word disturbing can, unadorned, serve as commendation on a dust jacket. The willing reader, or at least the willing reader of advertisements and blurbs for books of contemporary poetry, is offered disturbing collections and disturbing new voices and disturbing sensibilities.

To this particular reader of poetry, the word seems ironically appropriate. For while the books themselves are apt to prove not so much disturbing in any tonic, regenerative sense as simply dismaying, the state of contemporary verse as a whole does seem disturbing in the prime, portentous connotations of the word—worrisome, unsettling, even destructive.

Anyone generalizing about contemporary American poetry must first acknowledge that given its diffuse, factionalized condition any conclusions must be presented with...

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