As a deep reader of poetry, I'm confused by a recent finding: Auden's "Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue," and the fact of it being (relatively) little spoke of, championed, praised. Maybe I'm wrong, but I have read little to really buttress and strongly recommend this long poem. I recently read it, I think inspired by Auden's large role in Merrill's "Mirabell's Books of Number." Another inspiration for reading it, I think, was Auden's role in Hollander's long poem I'll refer to as "Cupcake" ("Reflections on Espionage: The question of Cupcake," is the full title).
The Age of Anxiety, I think, reaches peak-poetry - the equivalent height reached by Shakespeare and, IMO, the lyrics of Donne and Dickinson, and the exceptional "essays" of Pope; I'd probably consider Wordsworth's Prelude there as well. The Age of Anxiety includes the full depths and richnesses of Shakespeare and Pope's essays. Moore is too mathematico-intellectual and Stevens too exotico-surreal to quite match the all-encompassing strongly Anglo-traditional poetry that extends from Shakespeare to Auden's Age of Anxiety; I mean this in terms of sound and sense. Bishop's lyrics may reach that realm, and Lowell's stronger pieces. Hollander and Ammons too, though Ammons leans the direction of Moore, reaching into the language of logic, science, the dialects and lingoes of specialists. Hollander, I think, is very tongue-in-cheek poetically; he's kind of Stevensesque, whereby he acknowledges the beautiful things he says are "supremely fictive," that is, he says it with a playful wink, but plays by the rules -- he just doesn't toss out unusual, alien sounds (Francoish?) the way Stevens does.
Sadly, about 3/5s of the way through Mirabell's, it really starts to bore, stagnate. It gets too stuck on colors and numbers in the other world, where the voices come from. At times it fascinates, but ceases to enthrall. Sorry Merrill :(
Hollander, at least the long poems, ought to be talked about more. More people ought to read them, as they really extend - in the Stevens vein - the English tradition of music and quizzical figures. Powers of Thirteen is really really spectacular fun.
Ammons' "Sphere: the form of a motion" was really enthralling, and several portions really resonate. I think Ammons succeeds very well at inserting some genuine insights or feelings betwixt obvious nothingness, so that these phrases of sincerity are able to pass in and out without disturbing the trance -- those (what I believe are) authentic, sad truths have rang in my mind (sort of refrain) in past days, long after I finished reading the poem.
In paraphrase, what has stayed with me is he said something about being able to see all sides of an argument, which ultimately demonstrates the lack of truth in a lot of human activity and opinion, politics; both sides build airy castles on baseless foundations. Or both sides are true. Dissatisfaction reigns in, or reins in, the mind of that perspective, what F Scott Fitzgerald would call "first rate." Anyway, the other thing he said is, once a poet gets the accolades they long sough and longed for, all the people he'd (or she'd) hoped to impress or prove themselves to are gone, so poetry as redemptive in the minds of familiars is a moot aim or goal, hope etc.
Something non-poetry that's really enthralled is Michael Pollan's "Second Nature." I highly recommend it - at times it IS poetic, and the reason I took it up again (I've read it off and on for almost two years in iBooks) is because Michael Pollan was referenced by Paul Muldoon in his Oxford lecture series, "The End of the Poem." I figured if Pollan was included in Muldoon's reading (the New Yorker's poetry editor, now) and I liked him, that maybe my fascination was well-founded. Pollan strikes me as an Ammons-type mind - able to see both sides, through the metaphors, into the facts, trying to find a compromise without compromising what's real.
Riffing on my drive to work a few days ago, I realized how many F-words (some four letters) can describe a good poem:
"Formicating, fornicating, forlorn forms; feverishly fictive and fantastically figurative; funereal and fun; self-effacing fathoms, faithful and facetious; farcical on the surface, folly and filial; follicular and foolish; philo-x-ical... furthering the farthings, far-reaching fortnights" ha ha ha
Main point being:
Auden's Age of Anxiety is Shakespeare-level poetry
Hollander and Ammons are your children's Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moores
Michael Pollan is beautiful non-fiction / botany
Merrill's Changing Light at Sandover epic is proving a bit uneven, but I'm not giving up
Otherwise, Jay Wright's Transfigurations is on the way - I discovered him recently reading some Harold Bloom essays, and was incredibly impressed! Looking forward to reading him.
Still enjoying Don Quixote, and wondering whether Moby Dick or Ulysses will be next...