Ed. by David Wagoner
Series Editor, David Lehman
207 pp, incl. author bios
I have at least two other poetry books I hoped to tackle for National Poetry month, but so far The Best American Poetry: 2009 is the only poetry book I've managed to read (I still have a week). And, it's a surprisingly palatable "best of" anthology.
First the disclaimer:
I know jack about poetry. Seriously . . . I can write limericks, but I have never studied poetry, do not recognize imagery when it's staring me in the face and can't tell good poetry from doggerel. I only know what I like. Sometimes it's the cadence, sometimes a rambling quality that makes some sort of sense to me, often simply the interplay of words. Regardless, I'm no longer afraid of poetry in spite of my ignorance. And, now that I've read this particular book, I think I'm going to study up a bit because it seems pretty ridiculous to have made it this far into my life without knowing a thing about what makes a poem a poem.
What I loved about this book:
Besides the poetry itself, some of which I loved, some of which perplexed me, the best thing about this book is that there's a section of author bios in the back. After each bio, the author talks about his or her selected poem. Some describe how they came to write the poem that was selected for inclusion in Best American Poetry: 2009 or, even better, what it means. I learned quite a bit from simply reading the information shared by this particular variety of poets. For example, one of the poems is simply a collection of movie titles. Others often started with a thought but then other random threads were added. Some really did have deep meaning.
What surprised me the most was the fact that they didn't all have some grand theme. I had no idea that poetry could be as abstract and random as painting or sculpture. Of course, we're talking randomness within some sort of structure, but still . . . I learned something new and I'm happy about that. I wish all poetry books had translations for the unstudied. Perhaps poetry would be more widely read if individual poems, their inspiration, their meanings and/or origins were explained and, thus, became less intimidating to more readers.
What I disliked about this book:
Nothing. That doesn't mean I loved every single poem, though. And, there was one author's explanation that I found frankly disturbing. His poem was partly based on his "real loathing for so-called Christians". As I read that, I thought, "That kind of hurts." It's very odd to be randomly loathed by someone who has never met you. I think that's the closest I've ever felt to understanding what it must have been like to have been a European Jew around the time of Hitler. Personally, I don't loathe anyone, including that poet. He might be really personable; I can't say. The whole Jesus thing is, to me, wrapped around the concept of love -- including the words, "Love your enemies as yourself." So, smooches to you, James Cummins. You can deflect them with your shield of loathing but I still love you because I believe in Christ.
I've got a lot to accomplish, today, but I'll try to squeeze in at least one more poetry post before the end of the month. For now . . . the treadmill and washing machine are calling (among other things).