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5.0 out of 5 stars An All-American roster of the best poems of the decade!, May 4, 1998
This review is from: The Best of the Best American Poetry: 1988-1997 (American Poetry Series) (Paperback)
The process is simple: each year, you have a prominent poet (a practitioner of the art whose ear is ostensibly close to the ground of the craft) select 75 of the best poems from the hundreds published in magazines that year. Then you make this selection available in a single volume which provides a broad portrait of the current state of the art of poetry in America.

For a decade, this is how it's been done, and John Ashberry, Donald Hall, Jorie Graham, Mark Strand, Charles Simic, Louise Gluck, A.R. Ammons, Richard Howard, Adrienne Rich, and James Tate have each had a hand in fashioning The Best American Poetry anthologies that are the result, resulting in excellent collections whose range and quality have made the series ever more popular with each passing year.

Now, the critic Harold Bloom has taken the 10 resulting volumes and selected the 75 best poems out of the bunch, making a literal Best of the Best American Poetry anthology that is, at the very least, provocative.

Bloom's introductory essay, in which he takes no prisoners in his bombastic critique of the state of American poetry, is worth the price of the book alone. Even if you agree with Bloom's conclusions about what's wrong with how poetry is treated nowadays, his skewering of academia (and even of Adrienne Rich, who served as editor for 1996) is guaranteed to set your blood aboil. If, as Shelley wrote, poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, then Bloom has set himself up as Chief Justice. And it turns out that this outspoken critic happens to be a hangin' judge!

As if this weren't enough, then there are the poems themselves: they are all bard-inspiringly good. All the big guns are present (with the exception of Ms. Rich), as well as some less-famous artisans, even including Carolyn Creedon, who is "basically a waitress who goes to school" and whose poem, "litany," is full of "sweaty immediacy" and heartbreaking insight. Talk about a democratic selection!

Other standou! t selections include John Ashberry's "Myrtle," a poem I can't seem to stop thinking about; Lucie Brock-Broido's "Inevitably, She Declined," a compressed and vivid evocation of human history; Anthony Hecht's virtuousic "Prospects"; and Molly Peacock's "Have You Ever Faked an Orgasm?," a cycle which manages to be hilarious, moving, and technically-brilliant all at once.

This is a volume that passes the only real test of literary worth: it rewards re-reading. I urge you to begin.
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