Anthologies of Anthologies

In the comment stream to Linh's "Birth of the Cool" post, Linh observes in response to my mentioning Rodenko's "Met Twee Maten" Dutch anthology: it would be very instructive to find out about all the more unusual anthologies worldwide, their unconventional, even eccentric criteria for picking works.

To work! I decree that this post shall be an Anthology of Anthologies! If everybody would just leave their favorite eccentric anthologizing strategy in the comment stream? Thank you for your cooperation.


Samuel Vriezen said...

I'll start with a repost of my description of Rodenko:

Paul Rodenko's ground-breaking early '50s anthology of Dutch writing Met Twee Maten (Using Two Measures), where he anthologized the 50 years or so before that in two different ways, choosing different poems for every poet - in the first half based on a "Good/Bad" distinction (choosing poems that were "good" poems according to some timeless idea of poetic quality) and in the second half, based on a "Hot/Cold" distinction (where he chose "hot" poems - poems that seemed to address what he called the "echec" of poetry, meaning the slight film separating the world of normal experience from a world of transcendent insights or something like that - and which meant to him, in fact, the more "experimental" poetry, closer to the concerns of the 50s experimenalists themselves)

The whole concept itself of providing multiple visions on the same body of poetry in one 2-sided anthology still strikes me as incredibly audacious.

Murat said...

My favorite -and in my view for our times the most cogent- anthology in English is "The Technicians of the Sacred"; by means of interchanges between essays and translations, it is built to pursue the possibilities of American poetry through the mirror of the "other."


Linh Dinh said...

I second Murat's choice of "Technicians of the Sacred" as a favorite. It certainly helped me tremendously in my development as a poet. I'd like to mention two unusual anthologies, both out of print. I have these books, but they're sitting in boxes in my brother's garage in California, so I'd have to recount them from memory:

-an anthology of insane writings, published by Four Walls Eight Windows. All the writers were amateurs and institutionalized, many of them very strange, some truly excellent, though none of them produced enough works to be considered major or important in any way. In short, there was no Adolf Wofli among them.

-"Lustmord," an anthology of writings by mass murderers, around 700 pages if I remember correctly. These are diary entries, taunting letters to victims' families, poems and confessions written with blood on walls. Having crossed all social, moral and psychic boundaries, these mass murderers and cannibals had no hangups about telling the truth about themselves and what they've done. There is amazing clarity in most of these pages.


Murat said...


Lustmord seems like an amazing collection.

I would like to mention three other anthologies:

a) Charles Reznikoff's "Testimiony," not an anthology of poems but of court documents. The book alters one's concept of what a poem is.

b) Ezra Pound's "Cathay." More than specific poems, Pound here is translating his concept of an ideal Chinese language, within the framework of which the distinction between original poem and translation disappears.

c) Kent Johnson's "The Miseries of Poetry."

An anthology is usually associated with some kind of canon building. In the anthologies I mentioned, the reverse occurs. Each,in its way, undercuts prescribed orders, distinctions.


Morton Hurley said...

Is the Lustmord anthology related to the artist Lustmord... or just a funny coincidence?

Keeping to the morbid tone, I could easily see works by Joel Peter Witkin published alongside of the Lustmord anthology.

Although Witkin published a book compiling photos and letters from mass-murders and insane persons (called Harms Way).

I second the Reznikoff note mentioned in the above comment as it's truly brilliant in concept and execution.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Morton,

The anthology has no relation to the artist. Lustmord is German for "sexually motivated murder." Joel Peter Witkin is amazing. I've seen many of his photos but am not familiar with Harms Way. I'd love to check it out.