This year’s edition of The Best American Poetry is out, with Terrance Hayes as the guest editor. Contrary to my usual custom, I looked into the introduction by series editor David Lehman, and was reminded why I usually don’t. He is crabby about the decline of literature, or at least of poetry, which is understandable, though maybe not very interesting. But I was surprised to find that he blames this crisis on “the imperialism of science”—yes, in a country where the dominant notion of the good life is being able to watch marathons of reality TV on a screen the size of a galleon’s mainsail and to build an addition onto your McMansion to accommodate your arsenal of automatic weapons, David Lehman has identified the enemy of culture: nerds who dig biology and astronomy. Helpful!
The selection of poems reflects, as always, the concerns of the guest editor, which in Hayes’ case are most notably music (especially jazz and blues), what it means to be African-American, and what it means to be an African-American man. To be sure, there are also poems that do not deal with these topics, though even the selections by white writers are more often about race than is usual in the BestAmPos of other years (for example, there is Tony Hoagland’s “Write Whiter”). As always, there are interesting comments by the poets at the back of the volume, ranging from the illuminating and funny to the embarrassingly pretentious.
Here are some of my faves that I was able to find online:
David Wojahn’s touching elegy for his father profits from classical restraint:
I’m not sure if this link will let you read all of Steve Scafidi’s “Thank You Lord for the Dark Ablaze,” but I hope so:
I couldn’t find Eleanor Wilner’s “Sowing,” but maybe this page has a link:
Mark Doty is always worth reading, and I love the last line, “this is the price the wind pays.”
I’m not always in love with Sharon Olds, but this is exceedingly charming:
These are different tanka by Harryette Mullen from those in BestAmPo, but you’ll get the idea: