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The Best American Poetry 2000

The Best American Poetry 2000

by Rita Dove

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A mid an "explosion in the interest of poetry nationwide" (The New York Times), The Best American Poetry 2000 delivers one of the finest volumes yet in this renowned series. Guest editor Rita Dove, a distinguished figure in the poetry world and the second African-American poet ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, brings all of her dynamism and well-honed acumen


A mid an "explosion in the interest of poetry nationwide" (The New York Times), The Best American Poetry 2000 delivers one of the finest volumes yet in this renowned series. Guest editor Rita Dove, a distinguished figure in the poetry world and the second African-American poet ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, brings all of her dynamism and well-honed acumen to bear on this project. Dove used a simple yet exacting method to make her selections: "The final criterion," she writes in her introduction, "was Emily Dickinson's famed description — if I felt that the top of my head had been taken off, the poem was in." The result is a marvelous collection of consistently high-quality poems diverse in form, tone, style, stance, and subject matter. With comments from the poets themselves illuminating their poems and a foreword by series editor David Lehman, The Best American Poetry 2000 is this year's must-have book for all poetry lovers.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
People A year's worth of the very best.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 rancor--vociferous nit-picking over choices and kibitzing in general--as 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 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
It is remarkably difficult to assess and review far-ranging anthologies like this one, which includes dozens of distinct poetic voices but adheres to no single school, theme, or style. Still, it must be said that this series, now in its 13th year under the general editorship of Lehman, is one of the best things going in modern American literature, kept fresh by new and distinguished guest editors. Dove especially honors poets for "stepping into the fray of life," and her selection draws on both the familiar (Susan Mitchell, Richard Wilbur, W.S. Merwin, Mary Oliver, Thom Gunn) and the less familiar (A.E. Stallings, Juliana Baggott, B.H. Fairchild). The high points are too many to name, and readers will have different favorites. An added feature of the 2000 edition is a collection of lists by most of the previous editors--a kind of literary parlor game, to be sure, but provocative, pleasing, and a fitting cap to the last series entry of the century. Highly recommended.--Graham Christian, formerly with Andover-Harvard Theological Lib., Cambridge, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Anyone who reads poetry seriously and often will have consistent cause to wonder why the high points of their reading year so frequently go ungathered in this annual Scribner anthology. In truth, the interest of each volume lies mainly in what it reveals about the tastes of the guest editor. The poems selected here by Pulitzer winner and former Poet Laureate Dove are typified by plainspoken lyrics, works that are more often crafted and pellucid than ambitious or difficult. Dove's humor is anecdotal and easily shared; it relies most frequently on our common, liberal-minded sense of the absurd, and its favored ally is humility. (This is not true of Billie Collins's terrific "Man Listening to Disc," which features a whimsical Discman-strapped stroller: "The music is loud yet so confidential / I cannot help feeling even more / like the center of the universe / than usual.") It makes for an enjoyable perusal—there are very few genuinely bad poems—although not one especially full of either revelations or challenges. A few of the usual suspects are here (Ammons, Merwin, Walcott, and Wilbur), but many are missing, which allows a smattering of new voices to take the stage with mixed, though generally happy results. The volume also includes, as an unforgivable gimmick sure to be scrutinized with guilty pleasures, a listing of "The Best American Poems of the Century"—as selected by previous guest editors. As depicted in these pages, the State of Poetry at the end of the century, like the State of the Union, seems to be in disarmingly good health: if it is not racked with inspiration, neither does there appear any cause for alarm.Garren, Christine AMONG THE MONARCHS Univ. ofChicago (64 pp.) paperback original Sep. 2000

Product Details

Publication date:
Best American Poetry Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.43(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Barbara Hamby:

Ode to the Lost Luggage Warehouse at the Rome Airport

Until you've visited the lost luggage warehouse

at the Rome airport in August, you have not lived,

the Mediterranean sun insinuating itself

into the inner sucking marrow of your bones,

roasting your epidermis like a holiday bird.

A goose, upon reflection, would be the fitting

analogy. You hear the faint sizzling of the fat

under your skin, organs grilling, brain singed

as you walk to the guardhouse and show the uniformed

sentinel your paper that certifies you have indeed

lost your bag. You gaze at his amazing hat with plumes

tinted maroon and gold while he scrutinizes your clutch

of ragged forms, signed by Signor Nardo Ferrari,

minor functionary with the state airline

at the ufficio in Florence, who has confided

in beautiful English he will retire at the end

of the month and devote himself to the cultivation

of vegetables and fruit, a noble endeavor,

but you suspect he'll not be leaving his lush paradiso

to iron out your petty problems, for you have come

in pursuit of your bag, supplicant on a holy quest to retrieve

that which is your own, or was once your own,

the dresses, coat, boots, and intimate et cetera,

nothing priceless, no treasures as such, but dear to you,

especially the black coat you bought in Paris

in a decrepit building below Sacré-Coeur,

going with Mimi after lunch, giving the secret password,

hearing the answering hiss, walking up four flights

of stairs to a room filled with ugly clothes,

one divine coat, now lost in the dark regions

of this Italian underworld, you hope, for if not here,

it's apparently nowhere, and this warehouse is a warren

of high-ceilinged rooms with thousands of bags stacked

on metal shelves, precariously piled backpacks

with scurf from Katmandu, Malmö, Khartoum, Köln, Kraków,

Istanbul, Reims in France or Francia in italiano,

chic makeup cases, black bags like the suitcases of doom,

hard-shelled portmanteaus like turtles (soft parts

incognito, mating in tandem), briefcases, carpet bags,

19th-century trunks with straps and buckles,

and you see a woman, molto dolorosa, in latex gloves,

a surgeon delving, methodically, in a suitcase

filled with Japanese snacks -- arare, dried squid, rice candy

wrapped in thin edible paper, red and green jellied

sweets -- recognized from your childhood in Hawai'i, and amid

the conglomerazione of heat, memory, and rage you imagine

a Japanese man, thinking, I'm going to Italy, but the food,

I'll hate it, then packing his favorites: the sublime

shredded mango of blessed memory, cracked plum, dried peas,

and you think of Sei Sho-nagon, supercilious court lady

in 10th-century Japan because you are reading her Pillow Book,

a record of things that disgust or please her

and you whip your kimono around and say,

"Things I adore about Rome: the lingerie stores

for nuns with their fifties bulletproof brassieres

and other medieval undies; the floor of St. Peter's

with its imperialistic measurements of the lesser cathedrals

of the world, St. Paul's in London, the Milan cathedral;

Caravaggio's Bacchus and Madonna of Loreto.

Things that disgust me in August: backpacks with cheese,

child carriers imbedded with the scum of mashed

bananas and cereal, petroleum-laced breezes

from jet exhaust, the color navy blue." Your Italian

is meager but the denizens of this particular realm

of hell are courteous if lethargic and show you

that the bags are stacked by month:

agosto, luglio, giugno, but that's as far

as they go. No Joe DiMaggio or before. To be

anywhere else is all you want. You hate your clothes,

no coat's worth the flames licking your feet, but

you take a careful waltz through the months,

and find nothing in the midst of so much.

The whole long way back to Florence, while the gorgeous

panorama of the countryside flies by,

you have a caffè, try to read, but a few seats down

a child screams, hysterical with fatigue,

and you see his face with its sticky impasto of snot,

candy and tears, and you think of all your losses,

those past and the ones to come, your own death,

il tuo morto, which makes the loss of a French coat,

shoes, and a few dresses seem ridiculous.

You think of your arrival in Florence, the walk home

from the station past the Duomo, your husband's hands,

his kisses and the dinner you'll eat, prosciutto

and melone, perhaps, some ravioli in a restaurant

near the Sant'Ambrogio market, you'll buy a new coat

for winter, an Italian coat, il soprabito,

one more beautiful than the one lost. That's the way

your life will go, one day after another,

until you begin your kamikaze run toward death.

It makes you sick to think of it until you begin

to get used to the idea. I'd better get busy,

you think, enjoy life, be good to others,

drink more wine, fill a suitcase with arare,

dried squid because when you leave home anything can happen.

You may be caught in a foreign country one day,

without money, clothes or anything good to eat,

and you'll have to try that stinky ravioli,

brine-soaked pig knuckles, poached brains quivering

on a wooden platter, tripe, baked ear wax,

fried grasshoppers, ant cakes, dirt soufflés,

and though it seems impossible, they could prove

delicious or at the very least nourishing,

so don't make a fool of yourself, and one day

you may join Signor Ferrari in his bosky Eden.

Everyone will be there God, Jesus and Mary,

your mother and father, even your pain-in-the-ass sister

who got everything. Heaven, you hate it:

the conversation's boring, and everyone's so sane,

so well-adjusted. And it's cold. Heaven should be warm,

a bit like Tahiti, so you're furious, and then you see

your sister, and she's not cold because she's wearing

your French coat, but you're not in heaven, you're on a train,

going faster, it seems, as you approach Florence.

You're in a muddle, glum, have nothing to show

for your day but a headache and a blister

on your heel. You want the train to crash,

blow you to kingdom come. You want your mother

to kiss you, call you Baby, Darling; you'd sell

your soul for some shredded mango or dried plum.

from Five Points

Copyright © 2000 by David Lehman

Meet the Author

David Lehman, the series editor of The Best American Poetry, is also the editor of the Oxford Book of American Poetry. His books of poetry include Poems in the Manner Of, New and Selected Poems, Yeshiva Boys, When a Woman Loves a Man, and The Daily Mirror. His most recent nonfiction book is Sinatra’s Century. He teaches at The New School and lives in New York City and Ithaca, New York.

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