It takes work to put together an anthology like The Best American Poetry 2009. The editor, in this case David Wagoner, reads scores of literary journals (online and print), general publications, and books of poetry, sifting through literally thousands of poems to select 75 that he or she considers the best of the year.
Wagoner, a poet, former poet editor and university professor, has chosen works by poets both well known and not-so-well-known, works that are simple and works that are complex, poems that vary in style and substance and subject and purpose. Represented here are established and broadly recognized poets like John Ashbery, Billy Collins, Adrienne Rich and Philip Levine, and younger and newer poets as well.
It’s inevitable, in a collection like this, that a reader will find favorites. One of mine is “In Winter” by P. Hurshell, which begins this way:
I know the crooked at once. How it tries
to circle, catch a sudden pale gleam,
how it sparks a pearly surprise
against the sky, its silhouette
making a little bend
just before the sun is visible. The straight
is harder. No curves, no beckoning,
just unendingly in the place
we’re used to. It’s not exactly
Another favorite is “Open Field” by Phillis Levin, which ends this way:
O, said the crow,
but didn’t you know:
am a drop
Of the bottomless well,
you are a mark in the snow.
There’s “Red” by Mary Oliver, in which she describes the finding of gray foxes on separate mornings on the highway; she removes them to a nearby field “while the cars kept coming.” And a story poem entitled “On Mercy” by Kevin Prufer, which begins with a man being executed by firing squad and then proceeds to explore the relationships enfolding the dead man. And a poem by Jeanne Murray Walker called “Holding Action” that’s about memory and mortality and includes lines like these:
Years from now I want to remember
how we walked the splendid earth
and saw it. When children read this
and smile at its old-fashioned vision,
then words, stubborn little boxcars
lugging meaning across the rickety
wood bridge to the future, hold,
What a delightfully insightful way to describe words – “stubborn little boxcars lugging meaning.”
David Wagoner has done well in making his selections, illustrating the diversity and creativity that is American poetry today. (And a hat tip to series editor David Lehman, who started this series in 1988, for selecting Wagoner for 2009 and for carrying this project on for more than two decades.)
Postings and News Updates:
Saturday’s Poem a Day from the Academy of American Poets was “Coach Losing His Daughter” by Jack Ridl, from his book Losing Season, published by CavanBerry Press.