Monday, April 25, 2011

The Best American Poetry: 2009 - ed. by David Wagoner

The Best American Poetry: 2009
Ed. by David Wagoner
Series Editor, David Lehman
Copyright 2009
Scribner Poetry
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).

Happy Monday!

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  1. I need to try a book of poetry and this sounds like a good one to try.

  2. It's a good starting point if you're like me, Kathy. I'm going to look for more in this series.

  3. I'm sure that what the author meant by "so-called Christians" are the religious people who use their beliefs as an excuse to hate others. I'll bet if he were asked, he would have no problem with Christians like you, Nancy, who actually practice the teachings of Jesus (like love and tolerance). He could have been more clear on that.

  4. Kookie,

    That's an excellent point and, thank you. That's just about the nicest thing you could have said to me. Of course, there are plenty of Christians who cringe at the warping of our beliefs in order to hate rather than love and accept, so we may even think alike, to a certain degree, The Poet and I. Except, the word "loathing" is just not going to fall into my thought process anywhere. I like people too much to think that way!! :)

  5. Anonymous6:40 PM

    What a lovely review - especially that bit at the end. It's always wonderful to see fellow Christians respond to unfair judgement with love and tolerance. Also, as an English major who's had plenty of poetry classes, trust me when I say that you never REALLY learn "how" to read a poem. That's why I always say go with your gut - your gut will tell you where the value lies, for you, in poetry. Thanks for the great review and a little bit of inspirational Christian loving!

  6. I was going to say the same thing, that the guy probably loaths those he considers "so-called Christians." I think of those as Christians in name only, which makes some of us not want to be called Christians, if we are lumped in with them.

    I brought home a book of poetry from the library today, and tomorrow's post about one of the poems is already lined up to post itself tomorrow. Happy poetry month!

  7. Wereadtoknow,

    Thank you! I hope Kookie is right about his wording. Hard to say, really, unless you know the guy, but I definitely appreciate your response!

    Oh, thanks for sharing that thought about never learning how to read a poem. It's nice to hear that from someone who has studied poetry! It took me a long, long time to get to the point that I stopped being intimidated by poetry and started to read it for the sound and, as you say, the gut response. It's nice to know where a poet is coming from, too. I'm going to seek out more books from this series.


    Well, that certainly makes sense. I know we all cringe at some of the things that are done or said by people who absolutely, utterly do not represent us as Christians -- especially the attention-seeking haters.

    Cool! I will have to drop by your blog to read the poem you chose. I've got a few more post-its in this book, but I really want to shove myself on to another. I need more time to read!!!

  8. I haven't read poetry in a shockingly long time, but have been enjoying the bits and pieces that others have been posting on their blogs this month. Poetry is something that I really need to pay more attention to, because when I do read it, I end up loving it.

  9. Oh I can't wait to see where your newfound interest in poetry takes you!

    If you are up for some suggestions I highly recommend Billy Collins. His poetry can be quirky, funny, even "simple" at times but it's delicious.

  10. Zibilee,

    I need to pay more attention to it, too. I haven't read much in recent years, apart from Pablo Neruda and Billy Collins (and I did read volume of poetry my future daughter-in-law gave me, which I loved -- I think it's by Grace Paley, but I'm not certain). I did a poetry meme, a few years back, but apart from that I've pretty much ignored National Poetry Month, which now strikes me as totally ridiculous. I have a poetry ARC I'm working on, now (long past release --getting poky).


    I've always liked some poetry, but as a youngster I liked rhyming-rhythmic (often silly) poetry and I think there came a point I wasn't sure what was really poetry and what wasn't. I'm getting there.

    I LOVE Billy Collins! He actually has a poem in this book and his bio/commentary is great. He sounds like a really fun guy. Of course, you get that impression from his poetry, but his explanation was every bit as delightful as the poem. My eldest son introduced me to Billy Collins. My other favorites are Wordsworth and Neruda. Beyond them, I'm not that familiar with many poets. I have a lot of fun ahead of me, I think. :)


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