At times experimental, at others emotional, and still others intentionally perverse, "The Best of American Poetry 2001" anthology delves deep into the most contemporary and relevant poetry to date. An annual series, the collection of 75 poems features a new guest editor every year. Scribner Poetry Press features Robert Hass as this year's star judge.
Hass attempts to explain many of the choices he made during production in his introduction to the book, and sums up the process by which he helped assemble this anthology.
"It is an interesting time for young poets," writes Hass. "They've inherited an aesthetic or set of aesthetics in which the basic relationship to language has become the central problem and it has given their work, so far, its particular forms of playfulness, tortuousness, interest, and opacity and risk."
The poems selected by both Haas and permanent series editor David Lehman reflect a wide range of poets of every age, as Haas attempted to not only represent the freshness and boldness with which young poets are assembling their own generation's canon, but also how poets of decades past are still relevant and bountiful today.
In Linda Gregg's "The Singers Change, The Music Goes On," the poet invokes a sense of old stories being retold by new voices and how they are being constantly reborn and revitalized, although forever altered by the method of communication.
"The truth is we come back as a choir. / Otherwise Eurydice would be forever / in the dark. Our singing brings her / back. Our dying keeps her alive." This beautiful sigh, as if an extension of our national sigh, breathes of our desire as a common spirit to bend ourselves back to old songs in reminiscence.
However, Nin Andrew's "Notes for a Sermon on the Mount" boasts an offensive tone riddled with insecurity.
"Always remember:" the poem reads, "one must never pray to pussies. Or other golden heifers." Although the aesthetic of this poem is vastly more oblique and cragged, a cry for an answer to our dilemma of faith sings out from the poem's heart.
Other lines in the poem suggest the speaker is much more omniscient than at first glimpse. Andrews builds upon biblical notions in the title, and then outlines the speaker through biblical references. Certainly, Andrews means to question not only the religious sentiments of the time, but the inner dialogue of our nation.
Some poems in the anthology suggest more experimental notions. In the introduction, Haas describes these poems as always upset with the way in which the craft of poetry is challenged positively by poets with experimental intentions. Amy England's "The Art of the Snake Story" suggests the shape of an actual snake with its concrete format, and Alice Notley's "Where Leftover Misery Goes" forces the reader to literally turn the book sideways, as it is scribed laterally on the page, tilted 90 degrees to the left.
Further works desire to little more than touch the reader in a delicate, compassionate manner. Shirley Kaufman's "The Emperor of China" reads in one stanza, "The shape of a sound, your voice and the vowels as I saw them in the first years, lips slightly open over mine and your warm tongue bring me here. The place of beginnings." Such intimate language brings readers close to the emotions of the poet eloquently and soulfully.
The anthology includes all standard aspects present in previous anthologies by the same publisher. A list of biographical information on the poets of the book supplement the art itself, and the 75 poems are listed in an alphabetical format. The book is currently on sale at all bookstores and online.