THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2009
Guest Editor: DAVID WAGONER

 
 
 

In the year that America – in the form of Obama's commissioning of a poem to mark his inauguration – honored poetry, poetry honors America. David Lehman, distinguished editor of Scribner's acclaimed series, BEST AMERICAN POETRY has tapped David Wagoner as guest editor for 2009, a poet who brings his keen sense of America to the anthology.

Although the poetry collected in this volume runs the gamut of themes from love to Freud to the beauty of the matriarchs in Genesis, the idea of America is a prominent unifying thread that spans throughout – as Derek Walcott interrogates the meaning of change in government in "A Sea-Change", only to be interrogated back by Vincent Stanley in "At the New York Public Library, I heard Derek Walcott dismiss the prose poem."

From the delicate balance of hope and menace in Rob Cook's "The Song of America", to the deceptively conversational "The Great American Poem" by Billy Collins, Wagoner has captured American poetry at a moment of intense self-interrogation, but also a moment of bridging and reaching across – there is a lively sense of conversation in this collection, almost, as Daniel Hoffman puts it half-mockingly in "A Democratic Vista", like "the poets were speaking at the Symposium/On Poetry and the National Purpose, attended/ by many in the crowd, many poets/ and lovers of poet." Wagoner's poetics of clarity and directness are also in evidence in his selections: he gives us approachable poems that flit from the ordinary to the sublime: never obfuscating, always vital. Denise Duhamel’s poignant, funny "How It Will End" — about a couple’s reactions to an overheard lovers’ quarrel on the beach — demonstrates brilliantly that the narrative poem making its casual points about the universe remains as American as Robert Frost.

 
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