Friday, September 28, 2007

Eye-Fishing: Best American Poetry, 2007

I always feel insecure opening my piehole on the subject of poetry, because I'm only a sporadic reader of it. Plus, if it's funny I'm almost guaranteed to like it, so I suspect my taste is immature.

That said, I think this year's collection is an excellent one. It's edited by Heather McHugh, for whom I confess a soft spot: she contributed a really good poem to our little 'zine years ago. This volume is a pure reflection of McHugh's aesthetic (I thik I can say that): it's all about the language -- surprising, strange, funny, awkward language. The poems are beautiful in their interestingness, not because of beautiful subject matter. There are no poems about cattails or meadows.

When I read poetry, I let my eye jiggle over the page until my eye is caught on something, then I read that thing, read its line, go back to the beginning of the poem and read carefully. This is probably a bad way to read poetry, but since no one's paying me to do it, I'll just keep on doing it this way, thank you. Anyway, it sort of works. I find stuff I like, though I certainly miss things, too. Here are some of the poems that caught my eye in Best Am Po, '07:

Jeannette Allee's "Crimble of Staines," which is full of Britishy English and includes the lines: "Jolly ol' brims with againstness/"Anti-clockwise" -- "ante-natal if you will -- /"The crumbling masonry" of/ Your "anti-relationship structure" you once called it before/you went away."

Matthew Byrne's "Let Me Count the Ways," about loving and missing a mountain (I think I know exactly which mountain, too): " I wanted to conquer/ the mountain, scale the mountain, whether to hike it/ or jog it, whether to sleep on it, whether to shoot its fauna/ with camera or gun ... be the agent of the mountain, the lobbyist, the sculptor,/ the detractor, sermonizer, liege, jester, or militia,/ the one who unequivocally explains the mountain..."

Macgregor Card's haunted and dreamy "Duties of an English Foreign Secretary," which contains Wallacey Stevensy lines like, "Here's your forest, visitor/ -- soft pssst of the oar -- / will you hear a bird parlando/ necking at your door..." except maybe Stevens never wrote about necking.

Alan Shapiro's funny/tragic "Country Western Singer" which starts like this: "I used to feel like a new man/ After the day's first brew./ But then the new man I became/ Would need a tall one too." And this marvelous couplet: "I'll teach you salvation's just/ Salivation without the I."

Matthea Harvey's "From 'The Future of Terror/Terror of the Future' Series" is the poem (or two poems) I can least remove from my head -- post-apocalypse poetry that amid surreal images still manages to hold onto the thinnest of narrative threads: "From the gable window, we shot/ at what was left: gargoyles and garden gnomes" it begins. I will have to track down her other work.

Oh, shoot, there are too many, and as usual I start these posts too late. More later.


moonlight ambulette said...

I love Matthea Harvey!! Her new book is amazing.

bigscarygiraffe said...

"When I read poetry, I let my eye jiggle over the page until my eye is caught on something, then I read that thing, read its line, go back to the beginning of the poem and read carefully."

Brilliant. I wish everyone would read poems like that..or at the very least, mine. Reading poetry can get too damn serious. I had a fellow student trace everything food-like through six of my poems. She came up with a wonderful manifesto, ..which was completely unintentional on my part. I'm afraid so much of interpretation is all in our head, using our own corner of the world to shed some analytical light. Sometimes that's very good, other times, it's very bad. Moving, or jiggling, with the feeling, that's why I write and read anything at all.

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