The Best American Poetry 2011, Part 5

Rapid City, SD, the City of Presidents

Here is the final post about some of the poems in The Best American Poetry 2011

Mary Jo Thompson learned that form, in her case the sonnet, gave her “messy material” a container, and some detachment.  She wrote poems, not rants.

Both Rachel Wetzsteon and Richard Wilbur wrote a poem that is a series of haiku verses where the first and third lines rhyme.  Each stanza in Westzsteon’s “Time Pieces” is preceeded with a type of time – sleep time, give it time, etc. – which is a kind of riddle that the haiku verse answers.  Wilbur says that the rhyming haiku form in  “Ecclesiastes II:I”  “…offers both fluency and emphasis.”

C. K. Williams uses an essay by the poet Basho as a springboard for his poem, “”A Hundred Bones.”  Basho writes about himself as a “windswept spirit” and then refers to that spirit in the third person – it – and ends with:  “The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore it hangs on to it more or less blindly.”

The last poem in the book is “Cycladic Idyll:  An Apologia” by Stephen Yenser, a meditation on time spent in Greece, fostered by the poet James Merrill.  Here is a line I want to use to write a poem:

“And then remind yourself of what he wrote, that truth shoots out from the

          same root as tree not because it is steadfast but because it keeps

          branching and can be pruned.”


Finally, the editor of the BAM 2011 is Kevin Young, whose 2011 book, Ardency, I just took out of the library.  It tells the story of the Africans who mutinied aboard the slave ship Amistad.  Young’s book tells the story in the voice of the African interpreter for the rebels and in the letters from the captives to John Quincy Adams and others.  It concludes with a libretto chanted by Cinque, the rebel leader. 

For now I have only paged through the book and read sections, but it is history in epic poem and song.  Now that I have finished BAM 2011 I can immerse myself in it.  Even the cover illustration is wonderful.  It is a series of silhouettes of black men, three across and four down that are taken from A History of the Amistad Captives by John Warner Barber in 1840.  While these are likely from a phrenological study of the captives – the idea that the shape of the skull determines mental ability and character – the silhouettes each reveal a unique person, which is what phrenology should have been about in the first place.




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