New Collected Poems

One thing this new edition of Stephen Spender's poems does is amplify and showcase his 1930s work. It was a prolific period for him and many of the oldest poems included by editor Michael Brett are from small magazines or pamphlets. His poems from that decade veer from awkwardly flat to brilliant, sometimes overshadowed by a political concern raised almost to panic.

An aspect I see in these 1930s poems and in Dalton and Bolaño's novels is the introspective direction of their narrative voices. Spender repeats a singular voice that builds from its estranged consciousness, familiar with failure and often imitative, turning that very imitation into an asset, a camouflage.

One such early poem is an Auden imitation published in Poems (1934), ending with these lines:

"After the frozen years and streets
Our tempered will shall plough across the nations.
The engine hurrying through the lucky valley
The hand that moves to guide the silent lines
Effect their beauty without robbery."
("New Year")

The crucial 1930s text in this edition, within the context of Spender's conscious effort to write political poetry, is the book-length poem Vienna (1934). The poem might fail as a single project but much of its evocation of political violence and dissent is true to a historical moment, the years of the rise of fascism in Europe. These 1930s poems reflect Spender as an important minor poet.

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