Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Best American Poetry?

Anis Shivani, in a review of the Best American Poetry series in The Huffington Post that some might say gives new meaning to the word "scathing," takes on David Lehman's sacred cow series, Best American Poetry, charging that:

"Compile Lehman's increasingly desperate forewords in defense of his precious anthology year to year, and you have the record of the poetry establishment's grotesque self-justification. We do not need to be relevant or exciting or new or accomplished or anything, damn you! It's the reductio ad absurdum of an aesthetic that builds from banal diversity and ends in democratic piffle." This gloves-off indictment of the poetry establishment's darling anthology is worth reading for its challenge to complacency about the state of poetry, especially among those who lament its increasing unpopularity in American culture. Why, some ask, is poetry so marginalized? And at the same time, some of those same critics and poets are working hard to marginalize and obscure what once was an art form that could be enjoyed by anyone reasonably literate and knowledgeable. I agree with Shivani's point that much of what's found in contemporary poetry makes no sense, but passes for art through political correctness or sheer obscurity.

I found this one of Shivani's more interesting points:

" ... the bulk of the academic poetry written today is from a stance of moderate, earnest, entirely boring emotion; there is nothing at all subversive about it."

Boring, that's about the worst thing in writing!

To be sure, The Huffington Post isn't known for moderate viewpoints and editorials. But if only to see a thorough dishing of the BAP series, this article is a must-read.


  1. Great post Rach, thanks for sharing! God forbid poetry be boring!!! Anything but that! And one could make the claim that if poetry is subversive now a days, it's only subverting itself.

  2. Frankly, I lost interest in the review. Shivani sounds all excited but after awhile I got as bored with him as he claimed to be with the anthology.

    I used to read BAP every year, but a few years ago didn't get around to it, and haven't gotten around to it since. I tend to think Lehman knows what names he's going to include in each year and checks them off as he goes, whoever the guest editor happens to be.

  3. Glenn, I, too, suspect that Lehman pre-selects poets. The whole thing strikes me as the opposite of the year's best. Plus, the publication date is oddly timed. I have a feeling they couldn't possibly have selected much from the preceding year, making it almost a year and a half out of date. Of course, that's the print world.

  4. A year and a half out of date? More like a century and a half ..

    Lehman is a 19th century stuffed shirt who wouldn't recognize 21st century poetry if it slapped him in the face. BAP is a stone age reflection of Lehman's inability to see past the end of his arrested development.

    It's not even sad .. just boring to beat hell.