This anthology was a serious underachiever – I found little excitement in it. Of course there were some good poems, but many of them so well known that they provided little surprise (ever hear of Walt Whitman?).
Part of the problem is Milosz’s apparent love of the Chinese. I almost felt he would have been happier doing a whole anthology of Chinese poets. No disrespect to the Chinese, but I felt I was going to o.d. Chinese poetry is pretty much all contemplation, and unless you're looking exclusively for that, they bogged this down. There are also a lot of Polish poets, which again isn’t bad, but it made a strange mix.
Let’s do some math. Of 234 poems, 49 poems were by Chinese poets. 34 were by Polish poets.
40 were by women. Given history, I don’t expect true equality here, but this seems skewed. Oh wait, there was a section called “Women’s Skin,” in which Milosz made an effort to balance by bringing in “woman in her flesh, particularly as described by herself” in a way that gives “voice to her femininity.” This is a short section, as “today there is a plethora of poems written by women, but I do not find many corresponding to my very specific criteria.” I won’t pursue this statement, but basically all I can say is what an asshole.
Milosz includes four poems by the Frenchman Jean Follain, two of which he pretty much prefaces by saying he’s not so sure about the poetry of Jean Follain.
He’s got a couple poems by Linda Gregg, whom he considers one the best American poets, possibly because (?) “she used to come to my classes at Berkeley.”
One starts to wonder what the criteria were for being included in this anthology, which overall is a yawner. And I have yet to mention the worst thing about it – the short introduction to each poem, which was invariably banal and sometimes wasn’t much better than a paraphrasing.
So, if you want a decent anthology of Polish poetry go for Milosz’s Postwar Polish Poetry, which isn't bad. If you want Chinese, there are plenty of excellent anthologies of that country's poets, like One Hundred Poems from the Chinese edited by Kenneth Rexroth.