This of course after Perkins had just finished his massive (I mean big – maybe 1300 pages) 2-volume History of Modern Poetry, which I'm also winding up, after reading maybe 20 pages at a stretch over the last 15 years. So there's a sense of post-praxis theoretical summing-up in Is Literary History Possible?, that the guy's just finished devoting heaven knows how many years to his big project, & is now figuring out the balance sheets on his effort. (I feel a similar brief volume on literary biography urping around Alien-like in my guts, & wonder whether I should just write the damned thing or go in for surgery.)
And I'm also reading Andrew Duncan's rich, convoluted, & often infuriating The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry (Salt, 2003), and dipping guiltily into Humphrey Carpenter's Geniuses Together: American Writers in Paris in the 1920s. And in the background is this year's probably most pleasant read: Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise, a dazzling & compulsively readable anecdotal history of twentieth-century "serious" music.
Now I'm young enough & saturated enough in post-structuralism & natively cynical enough to assent to Perkins's various laments about the oversimplifications, foreshortenings, & downright shortcuttages involved in literary history (& most of them apply to biography as well, mark you). But I'm also professionally foolish enough to wonder why there aren't more folks deeply invested in twentieth-century poetry studies who want to write lively, readable, compelling histories of the genre's fortunes over the past 100 or 50 years. Am I missing something? There've been a number of quite readable accounts of modernism (the one that sticks in my mind is Julian Symons's Makers of the New: The Revolution in Literature 1912-1939), but no-one's done anything similar for postwar poetry, except David Lehman's The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (which I haven't read, alas).
I'm leaving aside such scholarly studies as ML Rosenthal's The New Poets, & other thematic studies that do a bit of literary history along the way, like Paul Breslin's The Psycho-Political Muse. But why isn't someone doing for postwar avant-garde poetry what Alex Ross does for 20th-c. "classical" music?
Yes, having written a massive foray into the institutional radioactive zone of biography, now I'm casting about for a next project (or maybe an after-the-next-project project). But I'd love input: What books have you found useful as baseline histories of postwar American & British poetry? Is Lehman any good? Are you writing this book right now, so I can stop wondering & sleep better?