"“Each year, a vivid snapshot of what a distinguished poet finds exciting, fresh, and memorable: and over the years, as good a comprehensive overview of contemporary poetry as there can be.” —Robert Pinsky
"Lowell and Sylvia Plath, so-called confessional poets who intentionally collapsed the distance between the persona and the writer, as it is for Robert Browning, the master of what he termed “dramatic lyrics,” and Ezra Pound, whose book Personae established the masks at the center of his work. Creating a persona, even a close or naturalistic one, is a way of staging an utterance, and there is always a difference between the writer who goes to work and the speaker who emerges in the text. In poetry, selfhood is a constructive process." - Edward Hirsch
Not long ago I read How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry by Edward Hirsch. I found it fascinating, inspiring and perhaps the best extended work I have ever read about the art of deep reading. (Post forthcoming). I knew I wanted the begin seriously reading poetry and I knew I would read as much of the work of Edward Hirsch as I could. (I have begun his The Poet's Glossery)
David Lehman's introduction begins with a beautiful reading of William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming", one of my favorite poems. He sees this poetry as a perfect gloss on America.
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity".
(Personal note, as I read once again these words from Yeats "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" I thought of Donald Trump.)
The guest editor selects the poems. Hirsch talks of how he was impacted by reading 1000s of poems from literary and online publications to select the fifty or so poems for the 2016 edition. The collection also includes detailed biographies of the authors, they range from established high level writers to those just beginning their careers. Most of the poets make a living as pedagogues, teaching at American universities. Each is given a generous amount of space to talk about how they came to write their included poem, what it means to them. We see writers influenced by belief systems that originated in India thousands of years ago. Some write with great consciousness of the ancient tradition of poetry, exhibiting proudly a deep erudition. Some write in the style made fashionable by the poet of cheap bars and rough streets,Charles Bukowski. Some seem intent on shocking7, others are invoking the catalogues of Whitman. A number of the poems in appearance seem much like short stories.
Among the poems i especially liked were JENNIFER GROTZ's "Self-Portrait on the Street of an Unnamed Foreign City". To me it perfectly captured the feeling of wandering the streets in a city nearly unknown to the speaker.
"Sentence" by CHRISTOPHER BAKKEN reminds me of something one of Roberto Bolano's Savage Poets might have written.
I was delighted to see a reference to,Rhichard Rorty in Christina Barrett's "O Esperanza!":,
about four decades ago I was an avid reader of his philosophical articles, in tradition of American Pragmatism.
RICK BAROT's "Whitman, 1841" is a very moving account of Whitman, focusing on his sexuality.
PAULA BOHINCE "Fruits de Mer" treats American counter culturallists in Paris, paying homage at the grave of Jim Morrison as very striking.
I think my favorite work, based on the quick impression of a first read through is ROBIN COSTE LEWIS's "On the Road to Sri Bhuvaneshwari". I loved these lines, maybe he influence of Alan Ginsburg is lurking here
"The h is quiet. A wafer of breath—just like here.
There’s no telling what languishes inside the body.
Not mist, but a whole cloud passes into one window, then two hours later, out the other.
The American college students try out their kindergarten Hindi: ha-pee-tal, ha-pee-tal. Lips finger the sign’s script, then the United States break open their mouths into sad smiles when they realize it’s not Hindi, but English written in Devanagari: hospital. For the whole day we drive along miles of wet, slithering clay"
I greatly enjoyed this collection. I recommend it without reservations to all lovers of poetry.
I,was kindly given a review copy of this book.