No More Masks, an Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poets. revised edition
Editor: Florence Howe
Reviewed by: Carrie Byrd
Review posted: 4/9/04
No More Masks is a collection of poetry stretching from Gertrude Stein to Gwendolyn Brooks and beyond. It contains only the work of female poets from America. First published in 1973, the book was considered controversial. The revised edition should be considered essential. Vastly expanded, it included 17 new poets, bringing the total number to 104. This extensive collection is fascinating and broadly varied, covering a vast variety of style and subject.
Arranged in rough chronological order, No More Masks is a journey through the evolution of women’s poetry in the 20th century. It is interesting to look at the changes in society as reflected in the poems of women from the time, many of whom were very involved in working to change society. In this anthology in particular, the idea of poetry as a voice speaking out for social reform is prevalent.
As with any anthology, it has its uneven points. In poetry anthologies, I feel that this is an especial risk as poetry itself is so polarizing a force, and readers are likely to love one writer and detest another. Nevertheless, Howe has done as excellent job picking widely representative poetry for all readers. She also makes a point to include poems that had a strong influence on the future of the art. Gertrude Stein’s “a Rose is a Rose,” for example. Her breaking out of traditional form was a shock to the traditional writers, and hugely impacted those who would follow her. No More Masks reflects that, and shows what came before and what came after.
There are few things that could be done to improve upon No More Masks. Perhaps a third edition that takes us through the end of the 20th century. Perhaps Howe’s example will encourage someone to produce a similar anthology in the latter half of the 21st century.