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on January 14, 2013
The title, of course, makes a claim. What's depressing about this book is that the claim may well have some validity: this collection of polished, generally competent, too often lackluster and conventional (though with a few interesting experiments in innovative diction or form), and almost totally academic verse, may well be the best that American poetry is currently capable of. Or at least, establishment American poetry. For this is very definitely an anthology of establishment poetry, that is, the poetry that is coming out of college and university creative writing programs. The biographical notes on the seventy five poets selected indicate that, by my count, at least three out of four of them are college or university teachers, almost always in Creative Writing or English; most of the rest don't list a profession, and I suspect that many of these also teach but are understandably embarrassed to admit it (Oh no, not another one!), so that the academic presence is probably more like ninety percent.

It's unsurprising, then, that the poems included are disproportionately drawn from the "right" establishment journals, the ones everyone in the academy wants to get on their resumes: again by my count, well over half the poems are from the six journals Poetry, The Cincinnati Review, The New Yorker, The New England Review, The American Poetry Review, and Ploughshares. And it's equally unsurprising that most of them read like creative writing seminar exercises.

A facet of the book that may interest those reading this on the internet is that, although we are now well into an age when vastly more poetry in English, both old and new, is available to the average person on the internet than in print journals, so far as this book is concerned, all that poetry might as well not exist. Apparently, the definition of best includes a qualification that poems must have been among the what - 10 percent? 5 percent? 1 percent? - of poems created and presented to the public in 2012, not on line, but in conventional print journals, and only in a relative handful of those.

Recommendation: a fascinating if discouraging book for anyone seriously interested in the state of current American poetry, though it will not in my opinion be worth attention if you have no such interest. I will say, though, that you will find this book invaluable if you aspire to an academic career as a poet: the selections will show you how you are supposed to write, the list of journals will show you where you are supposed to publish, and the list of poets included will show you whom you are supposed to impress.
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Mark Doty, guest editor of this collection and one of my favorite writers, says in his introduction that he could just as easily have called it SEVENTY-FIVE POEMS MARK LIKES. My reaction to several of these poems is the same as I have of Mr. Doty`s. I sometimes do not understand them so it comes as no surprise to me that these are poems he has selected. (I should say, however, that I love almost every book of nonfiction Mr. Doty has published.) On the other hand, Reynolds Price, who I`m certain never graduated last in his class has said, in discussing a particular Wallace Stevens poem he found incomprehensible, that to appreciate a poem, you have to understand what it is about and that it is possible to give a prose statement of any good poem. I couldn`t agree more. And furthermore, a poem that speaks to me is one that I either send to a friend or call up and read to them: "Can you believe how beautiful this poem is?" Just like some but not all of Mr. Doty's poems-- two come to mind immediately: he has written a gorgeous poem about a community choir rehearsing for a performance of Handel's "Messiah" and another of someone painting an apartment while listening to a Handel opera if my memory does not fail me-- some of these are those I read to friends.

I particularly liked Billy Collins' "Delivery" where the delivery truck brings news of the narrator's death-- many of these poems deal with death, but then Mr. Collins has said that that is what most poems are about-- "The Gods" by Mary Jo Salter, "Dr. Samuel Adolphus Cartwright on Dissecting the White Negro, 1851" by Natasha Trethewey and "Expecting" by Kevin Young. The poem that is worth the price of this anthology, however, has to be "The Afterlife" by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. I heard Mr. Doty read this poem at a recent book festival and could not believe what I was hearing.

I dreamed I was in the afterlife, it was so crowded,
Hordes of people, everyone seeking someone, staggering
Every which way.

Who should I search for? The answer came quick: my mother.
I elbowed my way through strangers till I found her, worn,
like the day she died.

Mother, I cried, and threw my arms around her, but she
wasn't happy to see me. Her arms hung limp. Help me,
I said. You're my mother!

There are no mothers here, she said, just separate souls.
Everyone looks for their mother. I searched for mine, and found her
searching for her mother,

and so on, through the generations. Mothers, she said,
fathers, families, lovers are for the place you came from.
Here we're on our own.

Here is no help, no love, only the looking. This
is what death means, my child, this is how we pass
Eternity, looking

for the love we no longer know how to give. I shuddered
myself awake. And yet--my child, she said, my child.

Or did I only dream
that word, dream within a dream?

I sent a copy of this poem to a dear friend of mine, a lover of poetry. She responded with a brilliant analysis: "The poem is stunning, of course, and flies in the face of all we imagine heaven might be. But since this is a dream sequence, what we really learn is the narrator's fears about love and heaven and death and meeting her mother again. She imposes `my child' as a way to save herself from feeing totally alone and dejected, thinking that what she hoped would happen at death doesn't happen-- she's abandoned by her mother, God, and love is lost-- and slips in a tiny bit of hope---laced with a tinier bit of doubt as she reminds herself that the encounter was a dream. The poem's significance lies in `my child', suggesting that her mother remembers and holds some trace of love for her. After all, we rely on the enduring love of our mothers. It's a beautiful image."

I could not have said it so well.
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on March 15, 2014
About 1/3 of these poems were wonderful. 1/3 made no sense or very little sense to me. 1/3 I understood fine, but I thought were lousy poems and I have no idea how they ever got published anywhere to begin with and I have zero idea how anyone could think that they're among the best.

My favorite poems in this book are these: "Mrs. Mason and the Poets" by David Mason; "The Gods" by Mary Jo Salter; and "Daffodil" by Angelo Nikolopoulos.

I have very conventional tastes. Some of my favorite poets are Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, Robert Browning, Robert Graves, Wordsworth, Housman, and Keats. In general, I like metrical verse. Too many of the poems in this book were prose-like. Many of the poems seemed disjointed or they had no dramatic/emotional impact. One thing that really stood out to me was how unmusical so much of the poetry was. The music within poems is one of the things I like most about poetry. But there are some wonderful poems in this book that did click with me.
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on March 12, 2013
Generally I love American poetry but was a litle disappointed in this anthology; too much 'trying to be clever' stuff. Some poems I enjoyed, especially Middle Schol; and why use so much space at the end of the book with details of the poets. We read poetry, we enjoy or not, on whatever level. Do we have to read so much of the poets' particulars? One goes to readings and sometimes the introductory preambles about the successes of the poets makes one want to walk out. We haven't come to hear all that. We want to be nourished with words: one prose piece by Mary Oliver and no entry by Sharon Olds
. Cassandra.
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on May 15, 2013
True Confession: I hesitated to order this book--numbers of previous volumes in this series have been astonishingly awful (would-be poets too busy flashing their avantgarde credentials to do the hard work of crafting something fresh and insightful for actual readers). This is one of the better volumes in David Lehman's wildly uneven series. I sincerely thank Guest Editor Mark Doty for taking readers' sensibilities into consideration in making his selections.
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Depending on the poet that selects poems for these anthologies you may either hate or love these books. Yet in all the time I've been reading these anthologies I must say I usually find at least a few poems to love. This book is made up of poetry that was published in popular magazines This collection does not represent any self-published poets even though they often write excellent poems. So a lot of these poems seem more academic in nature. In this book you will find 75 poems so you are sure to like something.

I thought Karen Leona Anderson's poem was rich and almost buttery. I though Julianna Bagott's poem on nursing was extremely vivid and could only be written by a mother. Stephanie Brown's "Notre Dame" was more meaningful to me because I've been to Paris and have lit a candle at the cathedral. I felt the poem was emotionally profound at the end.

If I had any objection to anything in the poems it was the frequent use of the F-word. I feel it ruined some of the poems for me. Not that I've never sworn before but swearing hardly even contributes to an intellectual atmosphere. So I thought "Dorothy Wordsworth" was a little too blunt and may be offensive to some readers, however it did convey anger very effectively.

I was pleased to find a poem by Billy Collins who is one of my favorite poets. His poem is about death and there are quite a few poems that are about death, ghosts and even horror. I didn't like the poem about mice very much and some poems had some rather disturbing images. The stories of the afterlife are also rather macabre. I think of the afterlife as mostly being beautiful but the poets in this book think of the afterlife as mostly a place of emotional suffering. I'm not saying there is not a hell but it would have been nice to read about heaven. Although I will say there is one poem about angels.

Mark Strand's poem is a little frustrating. Could he not have told us what the father said? Even something made up would have been more satisfying than nothing. It really leaves the reader to their own thoughts on the matter. Perhaps most will make up something in their own heads.

I suppose Stephen Dunn's "The Imagined" has the most intriguing thoughts and was my favorite poem. In the poem a man lives with the dream of an imagined woman and the real woman lives with the dream of the imagined man who does exactly what she wants and says what she wants to hear. It is a rather cute poem that speaks of a reality in many people's lives. Who has not conjured up an ideal person in their head? That poem was worth the ten dollars I spent to download the Kindle book.

There were some poems I clicked through rather fast and didn't read entirely and there were lots of poems I read a second time before moving on to the next. So you are bound to find something to love and something to dislike. Isn't that life? It would be unrealistic to like every poem in this book unless you are the poet who chose them. For me reading this book was a little like mining for gold.

~The Rebecca Review
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on May 28, 2014
Somehow I missed this when it came out. So glad to have a source for this always useful and enjoyable collection.
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on October 12, 2012
Guest editor Mark Doty introduces the latest volume in the best of series with the story of Caedmon: "an origin myth for the art of poetry." From Caedmon he shares the lesson that the lyric can "never be pure praise," but must also include "lamentation and outrage." And citing another century's great poet, W.H. Auden, Doty reminds us that "a poet cannot bring us any truth without introducing into his poetry the problematic, the painful, the disorderly, the ugly."

In Doty's selection of 75 poems, he's true to both Caedmon and Aduen in bringing us poems that demonstrate the condition of contemporary poetry in all its tension between the lyric and the time- and earth-bound, the glorious and the wrenching. Open nearly any page of this volume, and you'll find poems that go beyond the expected to the painful, problematic, disorderly. Or put another way, you can't read these poems without hearing the thrilling, chilling, sometimes dissonant and unsettling music of contemporary poetry.

No idealized mother(or baby)in Julianna Baggott's "For Furious Nursing Baby," with lines like "your wisest muscle/is the wet engine/of discontent." Then there's Bruce Bond's "Pill" in which instead of the usual uplifting tale of recovery, we learn that sobriety is a drug that teaches you to "live here/in a town/with one good street to speak of, one flock of trees/to storm the night." Stephen Dunn reminds us of the shadow presences that haunt every romantic relationship, the imagined man (and imagined woman) who "slips in/to her life every day from a secret doorway/she's made for him."

The poems in this volume are full of beauty, but it's not a simple, no-questions-asked easy beauty. Rather it's the rapture of Mary Jo Salter's poem, "The Gods," a beauty that causes the speaker to close her eyes and sink into the gorgeous, nameless,/shifting discordances/of the world [that] cry aloud."

Even if you're not a regular reader of poetry, how about one a day for the next two and a half months just to see where these poems take you?
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on March 22, 2015
Wonderful compilation of poetry. My favorites are: "The Road to Emmaus", by Spencer Reece, and "Girl with Gerbil", by Don Russ. These works show the craft involved in writing poetry.
The Road to Emmaus is a journey unto itself; taking you through the ins and outs of Cambridge and Boston, while starting and ending in Florida. The author speaks of estrangement in chapters I and VII; there are 7 sections total. This may qualify as a great American Poem; the imagery is rich; the language vibrant; the story enduring.
The shorter "Girl with Gerbil" speaks about knowing oneself in the "fullness of time" by knowing another....
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on October 18, 2015
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