Edited by Rita Dove
Checked out 10 times in 10 years
Last checked out 1 year ago
This has been a wonderful series (running for 22 years as of 2010) and it’s a very useful one for small libraries. It provides a snapshot of contemporary poetry that usually includes those newly established and those who have been around for many, many years. It appeals to people who’ve been reading poetry for years and those who are new readers of poetry. The back of the book not only has bios of the poets but brief statements by the poets about the poem.
This particular volume has a treasure at the very back where the series editor, David Lehman, has asked each of the guest editors throughout the years to provide a list of their favorite poems of the 2oth Century (this being the last volume to deal with that century since the poems chosen came out in 1999). The 12 editors who provided a list mentioned a total of 59 poets, a wonderful diversity and it makes for a great reading list. The poets listed most often were Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, T.S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams. It would do a library good to be sure to have a collected volume of each of these poets (I recall seeing Frost and Crane on Albertville’s shelves but I’m not sure of the others). Because of these lists, I would suggest keeping this particular volume on one’s shelf until it’s worn out.
Generally, however, I would recommend a small library buy a Best of American Poetry only once every 3-5 years and to cull volumes once they’re 10 years old. These anthologies also need to be kept in perspective. They are almost exclusively edited by poets who have been stamped “approved” by academia, and the poets themselves are often academics, and the journals read to find the poems are often sponsored by colleges or universities. So, diverse as the poems within can sometimes be, they still are not a complete picture, even of a given year.
I read poetry with the attitude of a treasure hunter. Sometimes I’m hunting in places I’m likely to find a treasure, say a book by a favorite poet, and sometimes I’m at an art show, where the chances are better than 50/50 that I’ll find something intriguing, and sometimes I’m at a flea market. These anthologies are like an art show. At any art show, there’s going to be work that just doesn’t move you or you just don’t get. There are things you appreciate but wouldn’t hang in your living room and there are things you adore. And if you take nothing home, at least the browsing was fascinating. I haven’t read this entire anthology. Still, I can tell you there were poems I thought I should like (Mary Oliver’s “Work”) but didn’t, poems that unexpectedly delighted me (Christopher Edgar’s “Birthday”), and two whose projects fascinated me and which would make good writing prompts at the high school or college level (Karl Elder’s “Alpha Images” and Robert Pinsky’s “Samurai Song”). Some day I hope to check it out again and continue to treasure hunt.