Monday, November 12, 2012

Best American Poetry 2012

By series editor David Lehman's own admission, each annual anthology bearing the title Best American Poetry cannot really have assembled the best 75 poems published in American journals in any previous year. Speaking to the precariousness of such a claim, John Ashbery, guest editor of the first issue in 1988, asked Lehman if it had to be called Best American Poetry. "Couldn't it be Pretty Good American Poetry, or even Just OK Poetry of 1988?" he inquired. Ashbery knew full well that he had not even read every poem published in 1988, much less had he the authority to pronounce his pick as best in an absolute sense.

Thus, each issue becomes 75 poems that the particular guest judge likes--a kind of annual list of poems published that year recommended by an established poet to take with you in case you find yourself stranded on a desert island. As such, each annual addition to the series is mostly palatable and, occasionally, brilliant, if not quintessential. It is a slice of the annual life of poetry taken from the offerings of some of the most highly acclaimed poets from some of the most highly acclaimed journals in America. Each annual judge has free reign so, naturally, his or her favorite poets are selected. Over time, many of the same names appear year after year, fostering the image that American poetry has--that of being a closed club. New poets and poems published in lesser known journals occasionally make their way into an issue. To Mark Doty's credit, BAP 2012 has more than its share of these relative unknowns. Not surprising to me, I enjoyed reading it more than I have in several years--both for the newcomers, and for the fine work presented from old friends.

One such poem is "The Imagined" by Stephen Dunn, originally published in Here and Now and later in The New Yorker (with my apologies for the intrusion of the word [indented] to make up for the programming's inability to actually indent):

The Imagined

If the imagined woman makes the real woman
seem bare-boned, hardly existent, lacking in
gracefulness and intellect and pulchritude,
and if you come to realize the imagined woman
can only satisfy your imagination, whereas
the real woman with all her limitations
can often make you feel good, how, in spite
of knowing this, does the imagined woman
keep getting into your bedroom, and joining you
at dinner, why is it that you always bring her along
on vacations when the real woman is shopping,
or figuring the best way to the museum?

[Indented] And if the real woman

has an imagined man, as she must, someone
probably with her at this very moment, in fact
doing and saying everything she's ever wanted,
would you want to know that he slips in
to her life every day from a secret doorway
she's made for him, that he's present even when
you're eating your omelette at breakfast,
or do you prefer how she goes about the house
as she does, as if there were just the two of you?
Isn't her silence, finally, loving? And yours
not entirely self-serving? Hasn't the time come,

[Indented] once again, not to talk about it?

No comments: