Thursday, September 27, 2007

best american poetry 2007

I am with Teresa, who has trouble with anthologies--the poems knocking against each other, rattling around--particularly those whose organization is based on alphabetizing the author's names.

Carolyn Forche says you must read a book of poems from beginning to end in one sitting.

Anthologies might be better for hallway reading. Between each bell, I stand guard outside of my classroom--to let students know that I do read constantly, a variety of things, and to remind those hooligans that starting a fight in the J pod is not an option because a teacher is there at all times, a silent reading sentinel.

And I've read Best American anthologies sporadically; for a while, I wanted to start at the beginning of the story series and read straight through, especially because it's a gorgeous way to meet a new voice, but I found myself disappointed at the end, wanting some gems to stand out but only found stones.

There were two that clambered out of the din of the hallways for this recent anthology, and I read them back to back (perhaps this is why reading in one sitting is wise--it does not change my attitude as a reader much; I'm likely to be as receptive to the beginning as the end): Maya Rosenberg's "If I Tell You You're Beautiful, Will You Report Me?: A West Point Haiku Series," and Natasha Saje's "F." I read the contributor's notes on both and was surprised at how very different their backgrounds were: I was instantly jealous of Rosenberg, younger than me, whose only publishing credit ended up in this anthology; Saje, a professor, with meaty credits to her name. Perhaps this is why being voyeuristic isn't always the wisest as a reader--peering into the secret lives of the authors. I am tainted by jealousy or respect, but when I read the words, I didn't know who, just what--beautiful language, words and phrases that I could taste on my tongue.

Sometimes I worry that I am not a very good reader of poetry, that I cannot recognize a good poem when it is in a form that does not always appeal--sometimes highly experimental or highly formal poetry frustrates me, even if it's from a master. Sometimes poems written in sparse language don't catch my attention. I love poetry that is in love with language, that uses figurative language well, that I can hum in my head long after reading it. I like poems that I can taste on my tongue, that reveal the world up close and brave. I love poems that beg to be framed, to be read again and again, to be that worn piece of paper I carry in my wallet.

Of course, much poetry needs a second chance--to read a second time, when the voices are quiet in the hall, or in our head, and we can spend time with the poem, invite it over for dinner, hold hands in the park. Returning to poetry. Again and again.

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