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The Best American Poetry 1999 written by Robert Bly

 

The Best American Poetry 1999 written by Robert Bly

Overview:

The 1999 edition of "The Best American Poetry" will exceed the expectations of the many thousands of readers who eagerly await the annual arrival of this "truly memorable anthology." (Chicago Tribune). Guest editor Robert Bly, an award-winning poet and translator -- famous, too, for his leadership role in the men's movement and his bestselling book, "Iron John" -- has made selections that present American poetry in all its dazzling originality, richness, and variety. The year's poems are striking in their vibrancy; they all display that essential energy that Bly calls "heat," whether the heat of friendship, the heat of form, or the heat that results when a poet "brings the soul up close to the thing" he or she is contemplating. With comments from the poets illuminating their work, "The Best American Poetry 1999" reflects the most exciting and memorable poetry being written at the end of the millennium.

An award-winning poet and translator selects the 75 best poems of the year from a host of contenders that range from celebrated writers to innovative newcomers. Contributors include John Ashberry, Anne Carson, Henri Cole, Louise Gluck, Phillip Levine, and Richard Wilbur.

Synopsis:

An award-winning poet and translator selects the 75 best poems of the year from a host of contenders that range from celebrated writers to innovative newcomers. Contributors include John Ashberry, Anne Carson, Henri Cole, Louise Gluck, Phillip Levine, and Richard Wilbur.

Publishers Weekly

Now in its 12th year, the Best American franchise is perhaps the biggest-selling in poetry. Each year, poet and critic Lehman taps a different gray (or graying) eminence to help choose 75 or so poems from the nation's literary magazines. This year's guest editor, Iron John author and midwestern surrealist Robert Bly (Eating the Honey of Words; Forecasts, Mar 29), has followed his predecessors in the series--John Hollander, Richard Howard, Adrienne Rich and Harold Bloom, to name a few--by choosing poems that complement his own style and tendencies. Short, crypto-surreal works by Franco Pagnucci, Thomas R. Smith and Peggy Steele strongly recall Bly's work from the '60s, while Charles Wright, Lydia Davis, Gray Jacobik, and John Balaban turn in halcyon tableaux and wistful vignettes worthy of the superlative in the title. The rest of the book is mainly divided between the academic--many of the poems are tributes to well-established literary men (Thoreau, Hemingway, Pasternak, Lawrence, Kierkegaard, Freud)--the poor-spirited (Dick Allen's unfunny "The Selfishness of the Poetry Reader"; John Brehm's half-apologetic account of hating his students in "Sea of Faith") and the (more or less probingly) self-involved. As with many anthologies, the Table of Contents and Contributors' Notes make significant reading on their own. Forty percent of this year's contributors are women; at least 45% were born before the U.S. entered World War II; one could further break things down by race, class or region, and find the collection thoughtfully put together. But Bly's test for best-ness, he notes in his preface, was "heat" ("heat of friendship"; "heat of form"; "heat of the blues"; etc.), which excludes, for example, Language-oriented writing, because "those poets work very hard to drain all the meaning out of the words they use." No matter how well-constructed or demographically correct the poems included may be, these empty categories and dismissals don't justify the bland, predictable self-affirmation Bly's choices finally reflect. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Excerpt:

DICK ALLEN

The Selfishness of the Poetry Reader

Sometimes I think I'm the only man in America

who reads poems

and who walks at night in the suburbs,

calling the moon names.

And I'm certain I'm the single man who owns

a house with bookshelves,

who drives to work without a CD player,

taking the long way, by the ocean breakers.

No one else, in all America,

quotes William Meredith verbatim,

cites Lowell over ham and eggs, and Levertov;

keeps Antiworlds and Ariel beside his bed.

Sometimes I think no other man alive

is changed by poetry, has fought

as utterly as I have over "Sunday Morning"

and vowed to love those difficult as Pound.

No one else has seen a luna moth

flutter over Iowa, or watched

a woman's hand lift rainbow trout from water,

and snow fall onto Minnesota farms.

This country wide, I'm the only man

who spends his money recklessly on thin

volumes unreviewed, enjoys

the long appraising look of check-out girls.

How could another in America know why

the laundry from a window laughs,

and how plums taste, and what an auto wreck

feels like — and craft?

I think that I'm the only man who speaks

of fur and limestone in one clotted breath;

for whom Anne Sexton plunged in Grimm;

who can't stop quoting haikus at some weekend guest.

The only man, in all America, who feeds

on something darker than his politics,

who writes in margins and who earmarks pages —

in all America, I am the only man.

from The Café Review

JOHN BALABAN

Story

The guy picked me up north of Santa Fe

where the red hills, dotted with piñon,

loop down from the Divide into mesas and plain.

I was standing out there

— just me, my pack, and the gila monsters —

when he hauled his Buick off the road

in a sputter of cinders and dust.

And got out, a gray-bearded, 6-foot, 300-pounder,

who stretched and said, "Do you want to drive?"

So I drove and he told me the story of his life.

How his father was a Russian Jew

who got zapped by the Mob during Prohibition,

how he quit school at fifteen

and got a job as a DJ in Detroit,

how he sold flatware on the road and made a mint,

how he respected his wife, but didn't love her,

how he hit it big in radio and TV, how he fell in love,

how he found himself, at 50, in intensive care

with his wife, his kids, his girlfriend, and rabbi

huddled in silence about his bed

when his doctor came in and whispered

that maybe he ought to ask the wife,

and the girlfriend, to alternate visits

"because it wasn't too good for his heart."

"What about your kids?" I asked. "What do they do?"

"My daughter runs our store. My son is dead."

He studied the Rockies and didn't continue.

"What did he die of?"

"He died of suicide.

No, that's not right....Nixon killed him.

My son was a sweet kid, hated guns and violence

and then, during that fucking war, he hijacked a plane

and flew it to Cuba. He shot himself in Havana."

He watched the road, then grinned and said,

"Brave little fucker, wasn't he?"

from Verse

COLEMAN BARKS

Bill Matthews Coming Along

(1942-1997)

They say the best French wines have terroir, meaning the taste of the lay of the land that works through and gets held in the wine, the bouquet of a particular hillside and of the care of those who work there.

When I see Bill Matthews coming along, I see and taste the culture of the world, a lively city, a university campus during Christmas break, a few friendly straggling scholars and artists. I taste the delight of language and desire and music. I see a saint of the great impulse that takes us out at night, to the opera, to the ballgame, to a movie, to poetry, a bar of music, a bar of friends.

When I see Bill Matthews stopped at the end of a long hall, I see my soul waiting for me to catch up, patient, demanding, wanting truth no matter what, the goofiest joke, the work with words we're here to do, saying how it is with emptiness and changing love, and the unchanging. Now I see his two tall sons behind him.

Bill would not say it this way; he might even start softly humming Amazing Grace if I began my saying, but I go on anyway: god is little g, inside out, a transparency that drenches everything you help us notice: a red blouse, those black kids crossing Amsterdam, braving the cabs, a nun. You sweet theologian, you grew new names for god: gourmet, cleaning woman, jazz, spring snow.

What fineness and finesse. I love Bill Matthews, and I did not have near enough time walking along with him, talking books and ideas, or sitting down to drink the slant and tender face of Provence.

from Figdust

Copyright © 1999 by David Lehman

Foreword copyright © 1999 by David Lehman

Introduction copyright © 1999 by Robert Bly

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