Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What I've Read: The Best American Poetry 2016

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Poetry is often plagued by the accusation that it’s written for an audience that consists, primarily, of other poets. The relative universal accessibility of poetry becomes a constant question, which is invariably followed by the sub-question: does the universality or accessibility of poetry actually matter?

I don’t know – I've never been able to answer that, not during my undergrad degree, or in the poetry workshops I attended, or in the pages of literary criticism and books of poetry I’ve read before, during, and after that time. All I know is that poetry has vitality and immediacy that makes the act of reading poetry an important human endeavor.

Are there poems that achieve and embody that vitality and immediacy in The Best American Poetry 2016? Yes, of course. There are beautifully deft, clever, soul-shaking poems contained within. Do I agree with all of the selections? No, but that’s to be expected.

There were poems in it that I actively disliked due to my own aesthetic reader-response tics; I have a general antipathy for pithy references to other poets in poetry (probably in part because it calls back the question of whether poetry is strictly for poets). This presented a bit of a problem, as meta-references to other poets are present in a large amount of the poems selected for this year's anthology. While that aspect can be a distraction, there are poems that either make the reference worthwhile or include it in such a way that it unobtrusively becomes part of the poem’s greater tableau.

As in all things, your mileage may vary – one of the great strengths of the Best American Poetry series is each edition falls under the editorial gaze of other established poets working in the medium and, as such, can contain any number of overt or subtle themes each year.  Either way, it’s always interesting to see what gets selected. Fans of poetry should be checking out this series every year!

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