Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Besta Pizza (actual name of delivery joint near me)

Oh, fear and loathing--the 2005 edition of Best American Poetry is out. Of course, it always seems like such a great thing if you had one in there, but with the scorn heaped upon the poor series year after year, you're never really sure. I haven't seen the author list, but from reading the Amazon blurb, know that one person from Warren Wilson made it--a great person, too, and very talented--someone whom I definitely wish the best.

I always find the book kind of enjoyable: the opening essay by the guest editor is always educational, if sometimes obscure or obstreporous or infuriating. But isn't that the fun of opinion? No matter how much I love Robert Creeley, I just can't figure out, after reading the intro to the 2003 vol. repeatedly, what that anecdote about the chickens was doing there. Perhaps that was just his way of trying to mystify us or spoof the intro itself.

The 2001 vol, edited by Robert Hass, is a classic. So much interesting stuff in there, stuff that ranges from the experimental to the traditional. A teacher I once had said Hass really had a good eye for emerging authors. Creeley's vol is quirky and fun, many of the poems are more like puzzles, but unique, funky ones. It seems to try to get at the slant side of the contemporary American scene.

People get very hung up about this book, as though it is the be-all, end-all of the profession, as though it is definitive. The title should perhaps be, "Best American Poetry 2005 According to Paul Muldoon." I don't think that David Lehman tries to hide the subjectivity of the series. You're just getting a slice of the American scene that caught the editor's roving eye. And you get a nifty essay about what the editor thinks the terms "poetry" and "best" and those two words in combination mean. Basically, it's worth the $15. Less than two tickets to the movies these days. And you can run it down for hours among your friends. How much would you pay for a work that will generate endless rants and conversation tangents when mentioned in a room full of writers or persons who actually like poetry (yeah, they're out there)? How much would you pay for a book that allows you to feel superior to those hacks that are published in it? A small price to pay, indeed, for dignity and a sense of self-worth. If you're better than anyone in this life, you've got to be better than the Best American Poets. Somehow.

That aside, I do find poems to admire in the series: Dean Young, Sarah Manguso, Thomas Sayers Ellis, etc. You're introduced to styles and creative methodologies you might never find otherwise as well.

But a different name: Some Great Stuff I've Read? Best American Poetry Jan 2005 to June 2005? (forget it if your stuff comes out during the latter half of the year) Nifty Poems? I Read These and Wept? Life is Random, Get Used to It? Get High, Hang Loose & Read?

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