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The Best American Poetry 1997

The Best American Poetry 1997

by James Tate, David Lehman

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Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, The Best American Poetry is the one indispensable volume for readers eager to follow what's new in poetry today. Sales continue to grow and plaudits keep coming in for this "high-voltage testament to the vitality of American poetry" (Booklist). Selected by prizewinning guest editor James Tate, the seventy-five best


Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, The Best American Poetry is the one indispensable volume for readers eager to follow what's new in poetry today. Sales continue to grow and plaudits keep coming in for this "high-voltage testament to the vitality of American poetry" (Booklist). Selected by prizewinning guest editor James Tate, the seventy-five best poems of the year were chosen from more than three dozen magazines and range from the comic to the cosmic, from the contemplative to the sublime. In addition to showcasing our leading bards -- such as John Ashbery, Jorie Graham, Robert Hass, and Mark Strand -- the collection marks an auspicious debut for eye-opening younger poets. With comments from the poets themselves offering insights into their work, The Best American Poetry 1997 delivers the startling and imaginative writing that more and more people have come to expect from this prestigious series.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For the anthology's 10th anniversary, Pulitzer Prize-winning guest editor Tate has selected a fine array of work by both the old guard (Ginsberg, Ashbery, Ammons, Strand, Walcott) and such talented but less familiar poets as Nin Andrews, Joshua Clover, Matthew Lippman and Maureen Seaton. What unites these various voices is a distinctive, plain-spoken diction; as Tate notes in the introduction, today's poets "speak the language of our time." Examples include poet/performance artist Jayne Cortez's bizarre yet stirring "The Heavy Headed Dance" ("I am dancing &/ on my head/ is the spotted skunk/ whose scent did not protect it/ from Mr. & Mrs. Archibald of Texas"); Charlie Smith's paean to beds ("Terrible beds, soft beds, wily, elusive beds"); and Charles Wright's professorial litany: "I think of landscape incessantly,/ mountains and rivers, lost lakes/ Where sunsets festoon and override,/ The scald of wheat fields, light-licked and poppy-smeared." Plugging into a peculiarly American form of spoken observation, the poems draw us sharplysometimes painfully as in Karen Volkman's depiction of Miami in "Infernal"into particular places and times. Contributor's notes and comments, some running several pages, provide welcome context and, often, entertainment ("I seemed unable to avoid sounding like a fawning, overzealous, possibly annoying, dithering nut" from Amy Gerstler). The whole is graceful, unpedantic and inclusive. David Lehman is the series editor. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Chicago Tribune A truly memorable anthology.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Back in the World

I took a shortcut through blood

to get back to you,

but the house where I left you is empty now.

You've packed up and moved on,

leaving this old photograph of the two of us,

taken before I left for Viet Nam.

You've cut yourself out of it,

torn your half in pieces

and lain them on the mantel,

where your knickknacks used to be:

those godawful Hummels you'd been saving for years

and a small glass vial you said

contained your grandmother's tears.

A thick film of dust comes off on my fingers,

when I rub them across the years that came to separate us.

In a corner of the living room, facing a wall,

I find my last painting of you.

In it, you lie, naked, on the old iron bed,

your head hanging over the side,

your hair, flowing to the floor

like a wide black river.

There, Max, the cat, is curled

in a grey, purring blur,

all fur and gooseberry green eyes that stare at me,

as if accusing me of some indiscretion

he doesn't dare mention.

Suddenly, he meows loudly

and rises as if he's been spooked,

runs through the house,

then swoops back to his place beside you,

and beside the night table,

on which I've painted a heart on a white plate,

and a knife and fork on a red checkered napkin.

You hate the painting. You say I'm perverse

to paint you that way, and worse, an amateur.

"Do you want to tear my heart out and eat it

like those Aztecs used to do,

so you can prove you don't need me?" you ask.

"But I do need you," I say. "That's the point."

"I don't get it," you say,

as you dress for some party

you claim you are going to, but I'm on to your game.

It's your lover who's waiting for you.

"I know who he is," I say,

"but I don't know his name,"

then I run to the bathroom,

grab a handful of Trojans

and throw them at you,

as you slam the door on me,

before I can slam it on you.

You don't come back, until you get word

that I've enlisted in the army.

I'm packing when you show up.

"You heard," I say

and you tell me that it's perverse of me too.

"Who are you kidding, you, a soldier?

And what's that?" you ask.

I give you the small canvas I've just finished.

"A sample of my new work," I say.

"There's nothing on it," you say.

"That's right," I tell you. "It's white like the plate,

after I ate your heart."

"Don't start," you say, "don't."

We part with a brief kiss like two strangers

who miss the act of pressing one mouth

against another, yet resist, resist.

We part on a day just like this,

a day that seems as if it will never end,

in an explosion that sends my body

flying through the air

in the white glare of morning,

when without warning, I step on a landmine

and regain consciousness to find

I'm a notation on a doctor's chart that says,

BK amputee.

Now I imagine myself racing through the house

just as Max did once,

only to return to myself, to the bed,

the night table, the canvas in my lap

and my brush, poised above it.

When Max, toothless and so old,

his hair comes out in clumps, when I touch him,

half sits, half collapses beside my wheelchair,

I begin to paint, first a black background,

then starting from the left side,

a white line, beside a red line

beside a white, beside a red,

each one getting smaller and smaller,

until they disappear off the edge of the canvas.

I title it "Amateur."

I call it art.

from Quarterly West

Copyright © 1997 by David Lehman

Foreword copyright © 1997 by David Lehman

Introduction copyright © 1997 by James Tate

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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