We were away this weekend and, as part of our travels, visited a poet friend who had an interesting collection of old Australian poetry anthologies. One, in particular, was edited by Judith Wright and included an essay by her. I was so tired I didn't even have the energy to look through it but Annette read me some poems before I went to sleep, including poems by Nan McDonald (now, who ever hears of her work nowadays?) and Rosemary Dobson. Now, not all of the poems were that terrific but some of them were excellent, including the poems by McDonald and Dobson.
Which got me thinking about old anthologies. I have a few which were, essentially, school anthologies, plus stuff I bought too many years ago to admit to, and Annette also has some as she taught primary kids poetry years ago. I assume poetry as poetry isn't taught in schools any longer (it's all 'themes' and 'relevance' and 'constructs' and, generally, bastardised cultural studies. An issue of Dolly or Cleo anyone?) so I don't know if anthologies are produced for schools anymore. I had something in one at the beginning of the 1990s. But this isn't really my point.
I reached up this morning to browse through my collection and put my hand to one called Voices. edited by Geoffrey Summerfield and published by Penguin in 1968 (was I alive then, hmm, not sure). Mine is volume 3. And what a terrific book it was/is. It included black and white photographs and other illustrations and was handsomely produced with tough paper covers. I note that you can still get copies of the series through second-hand dealers and that it's still referred to in book lists and even in newspaper articles. I got so engrossed tonight that I missed my train (yes, still working late).
Now, I'm not an anthology person. I would rather have the full single author title or put together my own ideal anthology as I go. As Ron said recently, "A larger question – one that hangs over every anthology – has to do with who is included versus who is absent". But revisiting these old ones is eye-opening. Again, it's what's been left behind that's interesting. Some of it should be left behind but some signifies a loss, no doubt victims of fashion and lack of influence.