The Best American Poetry

Rita Dove, Editor
Rita Dove, Editor Scribner Book Company $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-684-84281-3
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-7432-0033-2
Prebound-Other - 978-0-606-19208-8
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Perhaps it is the too-familiar audacity of the title, or sour grapes over the always big-name guest editors, but no series arouses quite as much po-biz rancor--vociferous nit-picking over choices and kibitzing in general--as this 13-years-and-running institution, overseen by poet and critic David Lehman (The Daily Mirror; The Last Avant-Garde; etc.). None of that matters to the many consumers who make this book their only verse purchase of the year, though, and this year's outing, edited by Pulitzer-winner and former Poet Laureate Rita Dove, should reach that target market nicely. Dove's volume improves over John Hollander's (1998) and Robert Bly's (1999) respective orthodoxies, but offers fewer surprises than those of John Ashbery (1988) or Adrienne Rich (1996). Dove is drawn to nervous, careful, archaism-strewn monologues (Erin Belieu's free verse, Denise Duhamel's double sestina, Mark Jarman's prose ""Epistle""), and to fine but unspectacular work from big names (Carolyn Kizer, Yusef Komunyakaa, Michael Palmer, Robert Pinsky, Mary Oliver, Derek Walcott, Richard Wilbur and others). She includes outwardly comic, inwardly serious lists and invocations by younger poets (Christopher Edgar, Karl Elder, Oleana Kalytiak Davis, Dean Young), even-voiced reportage from global scenes of horror (Linh Dinh, Gabriel Spera) and reports from more quotidian trials (Ray Gonzalez, David Kirby), but there's nothing that absolutely floors. Fifty pages of contributors' notes and biographies introduce the poets and poems, along with introductions from Lehman and Dove. Most intriguing here may be the appendix, ""The Best American Poetry of the Twentieth Century,"" which has all 14 editors of the series so far (including Lehman) listing their bests or favorites from the previous 100 years of poetry. The results will send many back to Berryman, Crane, Frost, Hayden, Moore, Stein and others, if not to many of the poets actually represented here. (Sept.)
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