Best American Poetry 2012

103 dino

Dinosaurs at the San Antonio Botanical Garden

Last year I reviewed many of the poems in The Best American Poetry 2011.  This year I am just going to make a few observations.

First, I was grateful for the explanations the poets provided.  In most cases their comments added a lot to understanding the poem and appreciating its nuances.  In a few cases, the explanations were as bizarre or obtuse as the poem.  There were very few poems like that, however.  The majority are thoughtful, dense and layered, and very personal in the sense that these poems are from deep inside the poet, the result of a great deal of thinking, remembering, studying, and toying with an idea or image.

Many poets commented that they had been working on the BAM poem for years, either to wait to be able to finish it or to subtract from it or to add to it.  Many used historical and literary sources as their muse; some poems just came from tapping a hidden memory or from a close observation.  A couple of poets self-referentially selected lines from their own, older, poems to trigger a new one.

However, using my newly found ModPo knowledge, I do not think any of these poets are in the chance or unoriginal camps.  There are a couple that are definitely Language Poets, but even then, when you read the poet’s comments on the poem, you realize these are not just randomly constructed sentences strung together.  Rae Armantrout’s Accounts, for instance is so much more accessible when you understand that she’s writing about a conversation she had with a physicist about the origin of matter.

All of the poets – with one exception – are academics with long or at least established positions and many publications.  One exception is Spencer Reece who is chaplain to the Bishop of Spain.  Reginald Betts is an author and spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice; Stephanie Brown is a librarian;; a Canadian, Steven Heighton, is a novelist;  Sarah Lindsey is a copy editor; Amit Majmudar is a radiologist; Fady Joudah is a physician.

Franz Wright says he “…cannot say I have an occupation…”  There are several other full time writers, usually novelists.

There are no plumbers, carpenters or secretaries; no clerks or street sweepers.  These are careerist poets, not dilatants.  That could be a function of the guest editor, Mark Doty, who freely admits that the anthology could be called, “Seventy-Five Poems Mark Likes.”  But, as a well-established poet and professor himself, Doty no doubt is also responding to his tribe.

Finally, two last comments.  A couple of women, actively mothering, I believe, mentioned their children in their bios.  Only one man did, the physician Fady Joudah.

Mary Ruefle is an artist as well as a poet.  She erases words from books to create new text.  Her website is and well worth checking out.


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