Joining Music with Reason

34 Poets, British and American

Oxford 2004-2009

chosen by Christopher Ricks


440 pp, ISBN: 978-1-904130-40-6, £12.99 (paperback only),  
Publication, July 17 2010

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A note about Joining Music with Reason

In the preface to this marvellous new anthology, its editor, Christopher Ricks, writes: "Dr Johnson couched his high praise of poetry in these terms, and with reason, in The Rambler No. 86 (12 January 1751): ‘The poet has this peculiar superiority, that to all the powers which the perfection of every other composition can require, he adds the faculty of joining music with reason, and of acting at once upon the senses and the passions.’"
Ricks was Oxford Professor of Poetry between 2004 and 2009, and during his tenure arranged for 29 poets – a roughly equal mixture of British and American, established and new – to read from their work when he was in Oxford to deliver his lectures. Joining Music with Reason brings together a generous selection of work by all of those poets:


Susan Barbour
Caroline Bird
Carmen Bugan
Kate Clanchy
Constantine Contogenis
Greg Delanty
Jane Draycott
David Ferry
John Fuller
Mark Halliday
Saskia Hamilton
George Kalogeris
Marcia Karp
Jenny Lewis
Peter McDonald
Jill McDonough
Patrick McGuinness
Andrew McNeillie
Lucy Newlyn
Bernard O’Donoghue
Vidyan Ravinthiran
Ted Richer
Don Share
Jon Stallworthy
John Talbot
Harry Thomas
Rosanna Warren
Rachel Wetzsteon
Kieron Winn

The anthology also contains a coda, which features poems by five Oxford poets of the 1950s:

Geoffrey Hill
Elizabeth Jennings
Adrian Mitchell
Jonathan Price
Anthony Thwaite


Joining Music with Reason not only bears out Dr Johnson's claim for poetry, but also substantiates Matthew Arnold's, that the best of it "will be found to have a power of forming, sustaining and delighting us as nothing else can". It also promises to help dispel the mid-Atlantic fog that in recent decades has obscured all but a handful of the best-known American poets from a British audience and all but a handful of the best-known British poets from an American.


A note on Christopher Ricks

Christopher Ricks was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 2004. He is the William M. and Sara B. Warren Professor of the Humanities, and Co-Director of the Editorial Institute, at Boston University, having formerly been Professor of English at Bristol and at Cambridge. He was President of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers, 2007-2008. For services to scholarship he was knighted in 2009. The editor of The Poems of Tennyson (3 vols., 1987), The New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse (1987), Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917 by T.S. Eliot (1996), The Oxford Book of English Verse (1999), Selected Poems of James Henry (2002), and Samuel Menashe’s New and Selected Poems (2005), he is the author of Milton’s Grand Style (1963), Keats and Embarrassment (1974), The Force of Poetry (1984), T.S. Eliot and Prejudice (1988), Tennyson (1989), Beckett’s Dying Words (1993), Essays in Appreciation (1996), Allusion to the Poets (2002), Reviewery (2002), Decisions and Revisions in T.S. Eliot (2003), Dylan’s Visions of Sin (2004), and True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht, and Robert Lowell under the Sign of Eliot and Pound (2010).



Reviews of Joining Music with Reason


London Review of Books Blog

"Joining Music with Reason ... holds ... som,e wonderful work by relative unknowns ... [L]ike many of Waywiser's other productions ... it is overtly traditional: plenty of poems use rhyme and metre, and many make even more explicit links to older traditions, since they are translations, or adpatations, of poems a century or a millennium old. (Such adaptations themselves have a long tradition: Catullus’ Sappho, Wyatt’s Petrarch.) John Talbot, once of Boston University, now of Brigham Young University in Utah, braids classical learning with snarky modernity:

Tityrus, we are getting kicked
Flat on our taxes. We are getting shown
The low road out of Sudbury, thank you three
Car garage and vaulted great room new
Construction in executive neighbourhood
Neighbourless horse property. The rich
Plot hurts where I have stooped to its rough kiss.

.Yet some of the best surprises in Ricks’s anthology come from poets who do not much use older forms. Caroline Bird won some fame for poems about teenage life written when she was in her teens; I didn’t much like them then but she has either improved or selected well from her own work. In ‘Grand Finale’ she mocks lust, love, ambition, tradition and herself: ‘What starts in a husky voice must end with an email./I smoke on this dry stone wall and wait for the saxophones.’ Bird ends another poem with a slogan that might, for good or ill, apply to many anthologies: ‘It’s as if no one’s listening except us.’ Mark Halliday records more serious doubts about what poets do these days: ‘Down Here’ records a conversation with an ex-girlfriend, or an ex-wife. ‘Poems are not what I care about,’ she tells him,

to me what counts is for people to notice how other people are feeling
and to respond to that right then and for people to give each other
little surprise presents and to phone someone and say ‘How are you doing’
in a real way and to talk to people about what matters to them
outside your own little world of crystal treasures.
That’s what I look for in a person and what happens is,
we do our best and ultimately a few people visit us in the hospital
and then we die.

It seems hard for any poet (avant-garde, traditional, what have you) to mount a defence of poetry after that; and yet Halliday has done it – modestly, paradoxically – and done it well." Stephen Burt

To read the whole of this review, click on the link below



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