The Best American Poetry 2019 by David Lehman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have to give this anthology 5 stars because the best in it is surely 5 stars, and if not to me, to someone else. My main source of conflict is that I find I need the series editor or even this volume editor to define their use of the word "American." I assumed USA, since that is the fairly standard use of American on its own, while acknowledging that this has always been problematic. But two fairly prominent Canadians appear in these pages - Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen. Margaret is known in her disdain for America (we are always her model for dystopia, after all, love you Margaret) and Leonard is a pure Canadian who can't possibly have written any new poetry in the last year (except there is new work in a 2018 collection, and I need to read this - The Flame.) And if this is indeed North American, where are the first-nations poets, the trans-Chinese-immigrant poets, the French translated poets from the various regions of Canada, all of whom I read extensively and loved last year? And if this is North American, where is Mexico? Why call it American if that's not the intent? I really am confused. I really think this needs clarification. I reread the preface and the intro but they are not clear.
I did enjoy the introduction by the series editor explaining how he chose the poems that "braved human connection" and were from multiple perspectives. He includes song lyrics, which I appreciated. And one of the reasons I love these anthologies is that I tend to read single-poet collections and they tend to select poems from various periodicals, which of course is often where they first appear. I prefer mine in context of a poet's work; there are other types of context that are useful - political, thematical, tribute, etc. So I don't often find poems I've previously encountered, although there are a few in this collection I've experienced in the past year.
Only one misstep in my book - the poem by Philip Schultz called "The Women's March" was nice enough, but who wants to read a poem about the women's movement by a man? Sorry, I'm certain Philip is a nice enough person, but can this truly be the most representative work? I also felt some of the really interesting female, Muslim, American+ immigrant/refugee poets are noticeably absent from the collection. Hopefully some of the voices from volumes like Halal If You Hear Me: The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 3 will surface by 2020.
My favorites included:
Six Obits by Victoria Chang (nice to have them as a set as they are sprinkled around various poetry publications otherwise)
I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party by Chen Chen (listen to the poet read it on SoundCloud, about the eternal coming out that happens in resistant families - I loved his first collection and look forward to the next!)
Drank a Lot by Leonard Cohen (read it on the )
Virgil, Hey by Camille Guthrie (read this poem of motherhood on New Republic)
The Undressing by Li-Young Lee (the most brainy sensual poem in existence, which I originally read in The Undressing: Poems but the individual poem can also be read at The American Poetry Review)
A Brief History of the Future Apocalypse by Rebecca Lindenberg
The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady & The Dead & The Truth by Morgan Parker (also in her collection Magical Negro, which everyone should read, you won't be sorry, but okay, you can also read it at Harper's Magazine)
Partly True Poem Reflected in a Mirror by Ocean Vuong (available on Poetry London, also read his novel - On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous)
I had an early copy of this from the publisher through NetGalley. It is not available until September 10, 2019, but I couldn't wait!
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