Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, October 23, 2010

David Wagoner and David Lehman, eds, _The Best American Poetry 2009_

HIGH TIME I got around to finishing this, with the new one soon or perhaps already out. I must have picked it up nearly a year ago. Nice cover -- a collage by John Ashbery, also making his nth appearance inside with "They Knew What They Wanted" -- but not as interesting a volume as some in the series, for me.

The poems tended to remind me of those of its editor -- wry, witty, colloquial, plenty of fauna, no small amount of flora, certainly likeable, but taken together in large numbers tending to leave me wanting something stranger, more ambitious, more startling.

There are some good things in here, to be sure; among the poets new to me in this volume, I'd be willing to read more by Mark Bibbins ("Concerning the Land to the South of Our Neighbors to the North"), Rob Cook ("The Song of America"), Michael Johnson ("How to be Eaten by a Lion"), Tina Kelley ("To Yahweh"), Keith Ratzlaff ("Turn"), Martha Silano ("Love"), Mitch Sisskind ("Like a Monkey"), Craig Morgan Teicher ("Ultimately Justice Directs Them"), or Debbie Yee ""Cinderella's Last Will & Testament"). What is that, eight? Not such a bad haul, really.

Lehman's introduction reports on the ink wars over William Logan's Loganesque take on Hart Crane in the NYTBR, taking the occasion to get in his own punches. But perhaps there's something to be said for Logan; he does have a keen eye for flaws and weak moments. That's about all he has, and the rare book he praises is never (I've found) any better than the many he trashes. But it's a gift, of a sort, no? Even when he's trashing someone I like, which is often, I have to admit he often puts his finger on a genuine problem.

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