In 1969, poets Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey captured what they viewed as an emerging trend in American poetry in their influential anthology Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms. They followed up the collection seven years later with a second volume, The New Naked Poetry. Their mission was to collect contemporary poetry stripped of traditional literary forms and devices, especially rhyme and meter (though they sometimes broke their own rules). Mezey and Berg struggled to name this new poetry, rejecting "free verse" and "organic poetry" and ultimately chosing "open forms."
Though they initially sought poems unified by the absence of traditional form, they soon realized that form was not what truly interested them. In their introduction, they explain "Everything we thought to ask about their formal qualities has come to seem more and more irrelevant, and we find we are much more interested in what they say, in their dreams, visions, and prophecies. Their poems take shape from the shapes of their emotions, the shapes their minds make in thought, and certainly don't need interpreters." In short, the unifying theme among this vast array of work is the way their forms develop organically from the content, and the way the content informs the shape and sound of the poem.
Opting for fewer poets and longer selections, the first volume contains 19 poets (including the editors themselves) and the second volume contains 26 poets, the majority born between 1925 and 1935. Some of the writers are repeated in the second volume, such as Robert Bly, Galway Kinnell, W.S. Merwin, but none of the poems are the same.
One of the most interesting features of both anthologies, besides the youthful photos of now-famous poets, are the statements about open forms written specifically for the occasion. The statements--part sketch, part credo--capture a historical moment when the debate was still fresh. Of particular note are the discussions of personal prosody by Robert Lowell, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, and Denise Levertov, who offers an interesting expansion of Gerard Manley Hopkins' ideas of "inscape" and "instress."
These two collections of poets include representatives of the major movements and schools of the time--Black Mountain, the Beats, the New York School--and prove the editors' initial conviction that "the strongest and most alive poetry in America had abandoned or at least broken the grip of traditional meters and had set out, once again, into 'the wilderness of unopened life.'"
Berg, Stephen, and Robert Mezey, ed. Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms (1969) and
The New Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms (1976). Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc.