Monday, September 19, 2005

The Best? Poems of 2005

I have the new Best American Poetry and am somewhat amazed at the choices. There's a few I really, really admire, a few I simply hate, at least one (I won't name names) that's plain prose broken (badly) into lines, but mostly a number of okay-well-maybe-I-don't-know poems. This happens every year. I feel like Charlie Brown looking at that football. I don't understand it. Each year a different editor. I KNOW these are not the best poems published last year. Or am I wrong? (Could it just be envy?) What happens with these anthologies?

11 comments:

Oxypoet said...

The guest editors tend to let their personal relationships and friendships influence their selections. Your comments are typical of critics every year when this collection comes out. Just read Harold Bloom's intro to The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997.

Robert said...

Welcome, Beverly! My guess is that you’re thinking of Charles Bukowski’s “plain prose” poem. I hope it’s not Galway Kinnell’s poem, which could arguably be called “prosey” but is one poem I really do like in this BAP. There are definitely some poems where you have to wonder. Was James Cummins’ “The Poets March on Washington” included because, as Cummins says in the contributors’ notes, it’s a meditation on “various senses of entitlement,” or because, as it also says in the contributors’ notes, Cummins co-authored a book with David Lehman? In the immortal words of the poem itself:

What do we want?
Immortality!
When do we want it?
Now!

Ah, the wit! the subtlety! the profoundly ironic commentary on postmodern culture!

I think it’s fair to say Muldoon has a taste for light wordplay, like Andrew Feld’s alphabetical poem that goes from “Apollo. Bebe Rebozo” to “Grown Zero.” At times the book reminds me one of those California cuisine restaurants that offers you a salad of fennel, goat cheese, pinot vinaigrette, “and a sprinkle of chocolate chips—just for fun.” As in Chez California, the “just for fun” poems are probably a mistake. I do like Catherine Bowman’s playful poem, though:

I want to be your shoebox
I want to be your Fort Knox
I want to be your equinox . . .

As is true of a lot of BAPs, a number of poems seem included because of the name of the poet, not the poem itself. I think Richard Wilbur and Louis Simpson are great, but you wouldn’t know it from their poems here. On the other hand, I love the poems by a few other big names, like Charles Simic’s “Sunlight” and Marilyn Hacker’s “For Kateb Yacine.” I also particularly liked Steve Orlen’s “Song: I Love You, Who are You?

Robert said...

P.S. I also loved Linda Pastan's "Death Is Intended." It may be the quintessential School of Quietude poem, but I think anyone not moved by it must have read too much academic criticism and not lived long enough.

Beverly said...

Well, no It wasn't Bukowski and definitely wasn't Galway Kinnell''s poem (my third encounter with that poem & I like it better each time). I wasn't going to name names, but what the hell. It's Amy Gerstler's "Watch," which is a very nice piece in some ways, but rewrite it in your mind in paragraphs and see if it seems like a poem,

I like Beth Ann Fennelly's quite a lot (and the story behind it!), Richard Garcia's (I've found so many Adam & Eve poems I like that I"m thinking of doing an anthology), Vicki Hudspith's "Ants" enthralled me, I could go on, but not too far since I haven't finished it.

I always read it straight through alphabetically, conscientious student that I am, probably not the smartest way because I get tired of being annoyed with it at some point and put it down until I get over myself.

Diane K. Martin said...

Beverly, I haven't finished it yet either and was going to wait until I had to comment, but I'll jump in now to say that I agree with you, for the most part, on what you pointed out as a plus and what you pointed out as a minus. Gerstler's poem definitely left me scratching my head. On the scale of one to ten, I wouldn't go higher than a two and that's generous.

And I agree with you, Robert, that Muldoon has a taste for the light. So many of these poems seem novelty pieces, but the problem with poems that are mere novelties is that after the first read, when that wears off, what's left?

On the other hand, there have been some very nice poems indeed. More when I've finished....

Robert said...

The disadvantage of reading the BAPs alphabetically is that almost every other year you start with A.R. Ammons. I really think they should mix it up, maybe go from Z to A next year.

I don't think it ever would have occurred to me, Beverly, that you were talking about Amy Gerstler's poem, but now that you mention it, I see what you mean. I liked her poem, though that doesn't mean I'd pick it to take to a desert island. I've liked a few other poems I've read by Gerstler a lot, so I guess it goes to show how being predisposed to like someone affects your judgment (contest judges, take note).

Diane K. Martin said...

I read it alphabetically too, although I tend to also pick it up and read where I picked up and then read a sequence of about a half dozen and then go back to where I had left off in my trek through the volume. I also read the contributors' comments interspersed with the poems, especially when a poem leaves me with the "what were they thinking?" question.

Lisa said...

arrgh! Now I have to buy the damn thing. Every year, I swear I won't, and then...

Robert said...

If you want a money-saving alternative, Lisa, I'll send you mine. Beverly, knowing some of your own experiences, I can see why Beth Ann Fennelly's story touched a chord. It was interesting that the article by Roger Gilbert featured this week on Poetry Daily--which went out of its way to praise Fennelly's new book--also singled out the poem in BAP as the worst poem in the book.

Lisa said...

Thank you, Robert - I'd just sell it back at Green Apple anyway!

Beverly said...

I guess that's why the collection always seems so uneven--what I love someone else hates. At least there's something for everyone.