Poetry's archives are incomparable, and to celebrate the magazine's centennial, Don Share and Christian Wilman combed them to create a new kind of anthology, energized by the self-imposed limitation of one hundred poems. Rather than attempting to be exhaustive or definitive--or even to offer the most familiar works--they have assembled a collection of poems that, in their juxtapositions, echo across a century of poetry.
In my mind what they went for were the strongest and freshest. They left out, for example, any from "a Pulitzer Prize winner, whose poems, just a couple of decades after his death, feel ambered in a dead idiom." Some of your favorites will no doubt be missing. No Billy Collins, really? Over some of these you decided to include?
Well, that's what happens when people are set up to judge what's best. We see it with the lists of "bests" all the time, we see with the various halls of fame, we see it with the judging on reality tv. Overall, IMO, they've done a stellar job here. I found all of the poems interesting, even some of them as they sailed gracefully over my head, and the book resulted in a very high "post-it concentration" from me. Huh? Well, I'm one of those who puts a post-it sticking out from the book where there's something I like and want to come back to later. I'm looking at a lot of them right now.
Wiman's introduction actually got several post-its, and I agree with a lot of what he says and poems he highlights there. I do wish they'd picked Wallace Steven's famous Sunday Morning instead of his "little known gem" (no, it's not a gem) called "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon", and "The Fisherman" is not "one of the most beautiful poems Yeats ever wrote", but that's only because he wrote so many other much more beautiful ones.
They did put in ones I've loved forever, like Pound's In the Station of the Metro and T.S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. But it's the many new-to-me ones that really knocked me out. Roddy Lumsden's "The Young", watching his and our youth sail away on the farthest wave, Laura Kasischke's "Look", with wonderful imagery about her mother's rage at her father and a quiet, killer, ending, Mary Karr's "Disgraceland", with its surprisingly down to earth tale of Christian awakening that won't make anyone mad, and William Matthews' playful "Mingus at the Showplace" about bad poetry and the firing, mid-piece, of a piano player.
Some made me think about the time and limitations of the poet. Donald Justice's "Men at Forty" is really good, but there were and are a whole lot of men at that age who didn't and don't have a house and a woods and a mortgage. And now, at least, a whole lot of women do.
Some were were impressive with their formal grace, managing to follow forms faithfully while enhancing the poem and still moving the reader. One did something I'd never seen before, which was to take four lines from a Gwendolyn Brooks poem, and end each of the four stanzas with one of those lines, sequentially. That was P.K. Page in "My Chosen Landscape". What are they? "I am a continent, a violated geography/Yet still I journey to this naked country/to seek a form which dances in the sand./ This is my chosen landscape."
I loved a new one to me from a favorite old poet, John Berryman, called "The Traveler." He's not like others, though he travels with them. "They pointed me out at the station, and the guard/ Looked at me twice, thrice, thoughtfully and hard." Oh, darn, time's up. Pencils down. I'll return to finish this.
Whoops. That's plenty long, isn't it? "I didn't have enough time to make it shorter." Sure applies here. Anyway, lots of variety in this collection, and it's well worth reading. Please read the horrifying "The Lie" by Don Paterson and the remarkable "A Child's Garden of Gods" by Belle Randall if you get the chance.