cover image The Poets Laureate Anthology

The Poets Laureate Anthology

Edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt, Norton, $39.95 (818p) ISBN 978-0-393061-81-9

The United States has a long tradition of choosing a national poet, though the term poet laureate only came to be used here after 1985. Before that, since its inception in 1935, the post was called consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress. So far we've had 43 of them, including some of America's most famous and best-loved poets, such as Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and, of course, Billy Collins, perhaps the most popular poet to hold the title (2001–2003), and also the author of the foreword to this enjoyable anthology, which offers a sampling of work from all 43 laureates, plus short introductions about each one. Former New York Times Book Review poetry editor Schmidt calls the laureates "the gatekeepers of the American idiom," and above all, that's what a reader will find here: a good sampling of what the mainstream of American poetry has to offer—the careful descriptions of Bishop, the powerful critiques of Brooks, the surreal landscapes of Simic, Merwin's deep images, Bogan's careful stanzas, Lowell's blustery lines. There are a few occasional poems, but mostly, it's a gathering of great poets hanging together because they held an important job. This will be a wonderful holiday gift for poetry lovers. (Oct.)