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Anthology Highlights 20th-Century Illinois Poets

Illinois may be better known for cornfields and conservative values, but a new poetry anthology reveals a progressive literary heritage.

Illinois Voices: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Poetry, edited by G.E. Murray and Kevin Stein and published by the University of Illinois Press, displays a tremendous diversity that spans the 20th century. The book captures the range of poetic styles and aesthetics embraced in Illinois—from the formalist to the avant-garde, the jazz-inspired to the voices of the rural plain speaker, the African American, the Latino/Latina, and the Asian. It includes the giants of poetry—Carl Sandburg and Gwendolyn Brooks—as well as the unexpected—Ernest Hemingway and Ray Bradbury. At least five of the Illinois poets in the anthology won Pulitzer prizes for their work: George Dillon (1932), Archibald MacLeish (1933), Brooks (1950), Sandburg (1951), and Lisel Mueller (1990). Four of the poets included in the book currently teach poetry at UI: Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Laurence Lieberman, Michael David Madonick, and Michael Van Walleghen.

"The state was enormously influential in the development of American poetry in the 20th century, including the literary rebellion that resulted in the modern poetry movement between 1910 and 1925," says Murray, himself a prize-winning poet and author of five poetry collections.

Much of that revolt, he says, was fomented by writers of the so-called "Chicago Renaissance," most notably Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, and Edgar Lee Masters.

In addition, Chicago gave birth to Poetry magazine. Founded by Harriet Monroe in 1912, the magazine "to this day stands as one of the primary and most revered literary journals in the world," says Murray. A few of Illinois' famous fiction writers—Nelson Algren, Sherwood Anderson, and Hemingway—stretched their literary wings in Poetry. Hemingway also managed to get into the new anthology; three of his poems in the book pithily attack literary critics.

By Holly Korab