The Best American Poetry 2011, Part 4

Here we go with N through S, as I am working my way through The Best American Poetry 2011.    This batch generates some great prompts for writing and a few very good lines. 

The first good line is from “Pillow Talk” by Jeni Olin who writes about caring for the painter Larry Rivers, who died in 2002:  “…I’m a widowchild who needs sunblock / against your blinding legacy….”  She was young, he was old.

My response to “Cogitatio Mortis” by Eric Pankey is, “WTF??”  “On the river, the ache-song of a slow thaw. /  Each stone, anchored, measures the same hour.”   Jane Hirshfield says this about Pankey’s poems: “…they unbridle us into a freshened and metamorphic wordscape. The soundcraft is superb, the modes of investigation by turns lyrical, surreal, meditative, allegorical, direct-speaking, and allusive.” 

In “Postcards from her Alternate Life,” Catherine Pierce gives us a great prompt.  Of course, the message on the postcard is not “wish you were here.”

Robert Pinsky’s description of “Horn” is as good or better than the poem.  He says that any genuine work in an art is unique and a collaboration of all the people who have touched the artist’s life.  Another good prompt:  gather a few people over time and look for the connections.

Katha Pollitt’s “Angels” is another great prompt.  She pulls from a southern tradition that angels enter your car to protect you while you are gone.  But this raises many questions such as what do they do while you run into the store?  And where are they while you are at home? 

Another great line is in Gretchen Stark Pratt’s “To My Father on the Anniversary of His Death.”  “…If you decide to come the roots / Of my house will stop weeping…”  She mentions Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions as the source for the beginning of an earlier poem.  Can you say, “Prompt”?

James Richardson writes aphorisms and ten second essays, which is another good prompt.  He says they are like eating Doritos®.  You can’t stop.  The poem is titled, “Even More Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays from Vectors 3.0.”  Here are two that spoke to me:

                # 8. What is more yours than what always holds you back?

                #18. You have two kinds of secrets.  The ones only you know.  The ones only you don’t.

I like Anne Marie Rooney’s “What my heart is turning.”  It is a passionate celebration of her heart/life.

Mary Ruefle’s poem “Provenance” is fine, but I’m really excited to learn about her erasure books (poems created by eliminating text).   She posts samples of her 19th century vintage erasure books on her website at  The site links to Wave Books at where you can pull up a page from a book and do your own erasure poem and print or email it.  Another wonderful prompt!

David St. John’s “Ghost Aurora” addresses the poetic calling, luring “…the phantom out of the dark, until she lifts us into the space of song.”

Patricia Smith’s celebration of Motown music earns her the “Motown Crown,” in fifteen sonnets.  The last line repeats in the first line of the next sonnet.  She uses a lot of rhyme, either aaaaaa or bcabca or…it just depends. 

Finally, Bianca Stone writes “Pantoum for the Imperceptible.”  I like pantoums, which are poems in which the second and fourth lines of a stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next stanza.  It is tricky to come up with lines that make sense throughout the poem.  The result can be a bit like the poetry prompt exercise where someone writes two lines, covers the first and hands the page to the next person:  messy!  When I write pantoums, I also feel like I cheated somehow.  Rather than writing something truly ”lyrical, surreal and meditative,” I just cheat and repeat.


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