Oliphant is undeniably the dean of Texas poetry


Dave Oliphant

Generations of Texas Poets

Wings Press

Paperback (also available as an e-book), 978-1-6094-0481-9, 404 pgs., $19.95

October 1, 2015


In a Spanish revision of Heraclitus, Oliphant tells us, “no man bathes in the same river twice.” And yet, in this volume, we can and do experience the old in the new. Not only is Generations of Texas Poets a comprehensive reserve of authentic Texas poets and poetry, but the reader lives the brilliance of Dave Oliphant’s poetic encounters and aesthetic discovery afresh in this series of critical articles spanning the Texas-wide length and breadth of poetry in the Lone Star State.


Oliphant is undeniably the dean of Texas poetry and, in a very real sense, the curator of the cultural capital that is Texas letters and, more specifically, poetry. Generations is a long-awaited collection of the best of Oliphant’s papers, an incisive and fascinating unfolding of his own discoveries, in his own words and arrangement. The result is a series of well-detailed and insightful conversations or, more accurately, firsthand lessons at the foot of the master.


Oliphant’s vision is an almost pre-Raphaelite interrelationship between painting and poetry that nearly two centuries ago gave the world both Algernon Swinburne and painter-poet Dante Rossetti. It’s a multidimensional aesthetic approach that transcends the conventional poetic theory of deconstruction and hearkens back to a Victorian appreciation for the combined aesthetic of words and brushstrokes.


The volume is densely packed with interconnections between Western, Texan, and South American poets. What stands out in such a tangled, intricate mix is the ease and patience of Oliphant leading the reader through simple but powerful discoveries and conclusions. This would be an invaluable source book for a basic course in Texas poetics.


The collection is divided into three sections, each comprised of a dozen or more articles from Oliphant’s fifty-year exploration of Texas poetry. He opens with a fundamental survey of Texas poets and poetry, which lays the groundwork for “Coming Back to Texas,” a survey of some regional poetic threads, then, finally, to a past and present comparative of poetry from Texas, both individually and in collections. 


You won’t find generalized, formalized poetic theory in the components of “speech acts,” agency, formal meter, iambs, nor trochees. Rather, the reader lives the concepts, like antecedent scenario: “Once I had read Hoggard’s introduction and several of his poems in [Edward] Hopper’s voice, I set the book aside with the intention of coming back to after looking into, and at, more of the artist’s work.”


One of Oliphant’s overarching themes is the unity of art and history, in both painting and poetry. There follows an intriguing series of linkages between Oliphant’s encyclopedic knowledge of Latin and American art and poetry, with sequential and fascinating discoveries of layered and coincident rhetoric and aesthetic: in a thoroughly accessible and patiently explanatory sequence of connection and discovery that opens the lay reader, the novice, to poetry, the Texana cultural student as well as the generic poetry lover to a rich, deep, and rewarding “big picture” of Texas and Southwest verse.


Oliphant’s technical ability—he has translated multiple volumes of Chilean poetry—and his broad knowledge of Texas poets and poetry allow him to offer multiple comparisons that produce a wide-ranging and detailed understanding of Texas poets and the influences evident in their work. Oliphant has a natural ability to, quite simply, teach in a way that engages students, scholars, and general readers.


Throughout, there’s a subtext of Oliphant’s unflagging wonderment at the beauty of Texas poetry, and that is infectious and rewarding for the reader. This book is a must-have for scholars of regional poetry and those who’d appreciate Texas poets. More than just a window to Texas poets throughout history, it’s a doorway into a very unique, rewarding poetic aesthetic. Oliphant has been called a regionalist, yet in this book, you’ll experience what is nonetheless a unique exploration of a wide-ranging and vivid poetic universe.


Dave Oliphant was born in Fort Worth, Texas. He earned his BA from Lamar University, his MA from the University of Texas at Austin, and his PhD from Northern Illinois University. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry including Maria’s Poems, which won an Austin Book Award; Memories of Texas Towns & Cities; Backtracking; KD a Jazz Biography, a book entirely in rhyming quatrains; The Pilgrimage: Selected Poems, 1962-2012; The Cowtown Circle; and Maria's Book.


Oliphant has translated Chilean poets such as Enrique Lihn, Oliver Welden, and Nicanor Parra. His work as a translator includes Love Hound, his version of Welden's Perro de amor, which won the 2007 New York Book Festival poetry award, and Parra's Discursos de sobremesa, as After-Dinner Declarations, which won the Texas Institute of Letters' Soeurette Diehl Fraser Translation Book Award.


He has edited three anthologies of Texas poets, including a bilingual English-Spanish anthology, Washing the Cow's Skull / Lavando la calavera de vaca. His critical writings have been collected in two volumes: On a High Horse and Generations of Texas Poets. Oliphant is also author of three studies of jazz: Texan Jazz; The Early Swing Era, 1930 to 1941; and Jazz Mavericks of the Lone Star State.


Oliphant worked at the University of Texas at Austin in various roles for thirty years until his retirement in 2006.