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The Best American Poetry 2000 Hardcover – September 19, 2000

3.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In her introduction to The Best American Poetry 2000, Rita Dove offers the key to honest appreciation: read the work for itself, not for its creator's name and rank on the great chain of poetic being. With luck it will take the top of your head off, though some poems may only elicit a tingle the first time around. Put those away and come back another time, in another mood. "A poem must sing," she writes, "even if the song elicits horror." And the 75 she ultimately chose--by such poetic senior citizens as Lucille Clifton, Thom Gunn, W.S. Merwin, and the as yet unacknowledged--both sing and explode. Her harvest is as varied and abundant as the garden (and gardener!) Stanley Plumley celebrates in "Kunitz Tending Roses":
Still, there he is, on any given day,
talking to ramblers, floribundas, Victorian
perpetuals, as if for beauty and to make us
glad or otherwise for envy and to make us
wish for more--if only to mystify and move us.
Dove does find certain trends, ranging from "the interpolation of personal chronicles with the larger sweep of events" to "elegies for the passing of heroes, of good times, of innocence." Certainly, more than one therapist pops up here--in, for instance, Pamela Sutton's mesmerizing "There Is a Lake of Ice on the Moon" and in Denise Duhamel's intricate "Incest Taboo" (which is a lot more subtle than its title would give out). This dislocating double sestina's 13 stanzas juggle a fear of birds, a brother's death, alcoholism, familial expectations, and so much more. Set free by the form's constraints--the same end-words must recur in each stanza--this poet uses such phrases as "parrot," swoop," "wrong, "hover," hum," and "mother" to great effect, ironies and tragedies accreting. As Duhamel writes in the contributors' notes: "I felt as though I were doing a strenuous combination of math, crossword puzzles, and particle physics."

Some poems are definitely augmented by their creators' explanations--and their prose is often as eloquent as their verse. Others require none. Yet what threatens to steal the poetic show occurs after these comments. The series wizard, David Lehman, asked past and present guest editors to cite their top 15 20th-century American poems, in alphabetical order. It's impossible not to gravitate to this section and silently argue with some selections, approve others wholeheartedly, discover a few for the first time, and remonstrate over certain absences. How marvelous, if unsurprising, to see so many poets voting for Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop (who scores particularly high), and two whom John Hollander wittily terms "the transatlantic problematics," Auden and Eliot. If only Lehman had asked each editor to expound on his or her choices. In this list context, Louise Glück's refusal to "prefer merely fifteen" proves as inspiring as others' elections. Still, it's amusing to watch such poets as Mark Strand, A.R. Ammons, and Lehman himself look for loopholes and stuff the ballot box with also-rans. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Perhaps it is the too-familiar audacity of the title, or sour grapes over the always big-name guest editors, but no series arouses quite as much po-biz rancorAvociferous nit-picking over choices and kibitzing in generalAas this 13-years-and-running institution, overseen by poet and critic David Lehman (The Daily Mirror; The Last Avant-Garde; etc.). None of that matters to the many consumers who make this book their only verse purchase of the year, though, and this year's outing, edited by Pulitzer-winner and former Poet Laureate Rita Dove, should reach that target market nicely. Dove's volume improves over John Hollander's (1998) and Robert Bly's (1999) respective orthodoxies, but offers fewer surprises than those of John Ashbery (1988) or Adrienne Rich (1996). Dove is drawn to nervous, careful, archaism-strewn monologues (Erin Belieu's free verse, Denise Duhamel's double sestina, Mark Jarman's prose "Epistle"), and to fine but unspectacular work from big names (Carolyn Kizer, Yusef Komunyakaa, Michael Palmer, Robert Pinsky, Mary Oliver, Derek Walcott, Richard Wilbur and others). She includes outwardly comic, inwardly serious lists and invocations by younger poets (Christopher Edgar, Karl Elder, Oleana Kalytiak Davis, Dean Young), even-voiced reportage from global scenes of horror (Linh Dinh, Gabriel Spera) and reports from more quotidian trials (Ray Gonzalez, David Kirby), but there's nothing that absolutely floors. Fifty pages of contributors' notes and biographies introduce the poets and poems, along with introductions from Lehman and Dove. Most intriguing here may be the appendix, "The Best American Poetry of the Twentieth Century," which has all 14 editors of the series so far (including Lehman) listing their bests or favorites from the previous 100 years of poetry. The results will send many back to Berryman, Crane, Frost, Hayden, Moore, Stein and others, if not to many of the poets actually represented here. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Best American Poetry
  • Hardcover: 285 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner Poetry; 1996 edition (September 19, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684842815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684842813
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,023,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rita Dove served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and, more recently, the 2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award, the 2001 Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award, the 1997 Sara Lee Frontrunner Award, the 1997 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 1996 National Humanities Medal. In 2006 she received the Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service (together with Anderson Cooper, John Glenn, Mike Nichols and Queen Noor of Jordan), in 2007 she became a Chubb Fellow at Yale University, in 2008 she was honored with the Library of Virginia's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2009 she received the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal and the Premio Capri (the international prize of the Italian "island of poetry").

Ms. Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952. A 1970 Presidential Scholar, she received her B.A. summa cum laude from Miami University of Ohio and her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. She also held a Fulbright scholarship at the Universität Tübingen in Germany. She has published the poetry collections The Yellow House on the Corner (1980), Museum (1983), Thomas and Beulah (1986), Grace Notes (1989), Selected Poems (1993), Mother Love (1995), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), American Smooth (2004), a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992), essays under the title The Poet's World (1995), and the play The Darker Face of the Earth, which had its world premiere in 1996 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was subsequently produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Royal National Theatre in London, and other theatres. Seven for Luck, a song cycle for soprano and orchestra with music by John Williams, was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1998. For "America's Millennium," the White House's 1999/2000 New Year's celebration, Ms. Dove contributed -- in a live reading at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by John Williams's music -- a poem to Steven Spielberg's documentary The Unfinished Journey. She is the editor of The Best American Poetry 2000, and from January 2000 to January 2002 she wrote a weekly column, "Poet's Choice," for The Washington Post. Her latest poetry collection, Sonata Mulattica, was published by W.W. Norton & Company in the spring of 2009. Most recently she edited "The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry" (2011).

Rita Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she lives with her husband, the German writer Fred Viebahn. They have a grown daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn.

More biographical information is available at http://www.people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on March 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
Picking the best involves making bets, and one reason I like this series is the willingness of the editors to make big wagers. This year's volume gives me plenty to like -- including poets I'd not previously encountered (like Linh Dinh, Christopher Edgar, Olena Kalytiak Davis) as well as familiar names (Ammons, Merwin, Wilbur). Any book that can span the gamut from radically chic Michael Palmer on one end to prim Mary Jo Salter on the other is a perfect paradigm of psotmodern values. (Did I really write that?)The concluding section in the book, where the editors of the series going back to John Ashbery pick their favorite poems of the 20th century, is not only fun, it performs an important service in directing attention to great poems easily overlooked. As always I look forward with huge interest to next year's volume. This anthology quickens the appetite for more, always more.
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By A Customer on December 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
First, to answer the reviewer below as to why no Ashbery, no Ruth Stone: Ashbery has been braindead for years and Ruth Stone is minor, minor, minor, in ambition and in achievement. Not to say that others here won't prove to be minor too, but Dove's anthology is the most stylistically diverse yet(Howard's came close) and its real strength is that instead of including the usual stuff from the usual suspects, she made the effort to find young/emerging poets whose work, taken poem by individual poem, is as interesting if not more so. For example, Olena Kalytiak Davis' poem and Linh Dinh's poem are terrific. No disrespect to the man who revolutionized American poetry--respect, indeed, to the body of his work--but why include rehashed and weaker versions of what he used to write when you can include fresh voices full of energy, pointing forward? Sure, there are plenty of lame poems here, but fewer than usual, and Dove's anthology also feels hugely honest and energetic: she didn't settle for the same old same old but also didn't grind a silly axe. She found what she liked and what she likes is wonderfully wide-ranging. Thanks, Rita!
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Format: Paperback
I'll admit a bias: I was hoping to see a few of my favorite poets in this year's edition of the Best American Poetry, but was sadly disappointed. No Charles Simic, no Charles Wright, no John Ashbery. But what did make it in this year are certainly great:Mary Oliver's "Work," a long poem contemplating nature (her perennial interest), Susan Wood's "Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair," (the best of many elegies to the late Larry Levis) and Donald Justice's "Ralph: A Love Story." Dove has done an excellent job of including long and short poems alike, and has been fairly representative of the best poets writing and publishing today. Some editors seem to be political in their selections: Adrienne Rich chose none of the "big" names and John Hollander admittedly picked those that were long and/or formal. Another interesting feature of this year's edition is the lists of Best Poems of the Century. Past editors were asked to each give a list of what they felt were the fifteen best American poems of the last 100 years. The results were interesting, with a few editors declining to participate. My choice as best poem from that list: "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror" by John Ashbery.
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By A Customer on November 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
The challenge of having a different distinguished editor each year is that the choices reflect an aesthetic and political bias. I welcomed this year's selections because Rita Dove made no apologies for her diverse list. Readers will like some and dislike some, but that's true for any anthology. I'm dismayed that people expect the same cluster of poets year-to-year; that would only happen if the editor didn't change. And that nonprogessive expectation also reflects the presumption that the same poets write memorable poems every single year of their careers--not so. Frankly, as Charles Simic proclaims, prolific poets are capable of bad poetry. I think Dove's has been the best collection so far because it gives us a taste of the big flavor that is contemporary American poetry. And let me be the first to congratulate her for not including many representatives of that stale vanguard, e.g. Ashbery.
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Format: Paperback
Above is my proposed title for this series; as you can see, I am not a marketing genius. The series is called "Best of" because it needs to sell, and I am all for that if it gets a few more copies off the shelves. I would propose one more change other than the title, although related: replace the Contributors' Comments (though not the Notes) with comments by the editor. The "Best" anthologies are fun not just for the poems included, but also as a reflection the editors' taste. A paragraph or two explaining the merits of each poem and the reason for inclusion would not only create a small portrait of the editor, but would provide another way to consider the anthology as a whole. The Introduction is too short, and the poets' often banal comments about their own work add nothing to a form that should stand self-contained and alone.
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This has to be the most underwhelming selection of The Best American Poetry (TBAP) to date. Word after word, it reads as a thoughtless selection of prose poems; even the free verse seems to have been only randomly broken into various line breaks. Not one challenge to form, structure, white-spaces between words, nor much thought in the linebreaks, and even the big name writers are represented by weak pieces. I read the book cover to cover, hoping to find something worth relishing, yet nothing in the poems inspired enjoyment. I really don't think the guest editor Rita Dove has much sophistication when it comes to poetry. As with her other accolades, Dove seems again to be an Affirmative Action recipient editor. This volume sucks!
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