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The Best American Poetry 2016



Fjords Review,The Best American Poetry 2016

January 05, 2017

The Best American Poetry 2016
Edward Hirsch (Guest Editor),
David Lehman (Series Editor)

Simon & Schuster 2016
240 pages
ISBN: 9781501127557


Review by Sean Speers


This has been a difficult year. If you’re like me, “You can’t stop mourning / everything all the time.”1 It seems entirely appropriate that David Lehman dedicates the foreword to The Best American Poetry 2016 to a close reading of Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming”. Like the poem, Lehman’s foreword is apocalyptic and prophetic. It’s a bleak way to start, but then again, it’s been a bleak year. He invites you to “ask yourself which unsettles you more: the revolutionary monster ‘slouching toward Bethlehem’ or the sad truth that the best of us don’t want to get involved, while the worst know no restraint in the pursuit of power?”

Guest editor Edward Hirsch takes a different tone in his introduction. True, “There is genuine suffering in the world, the suffering of actual people,” people suffering in the streets and on trains, people suffering at the hands of police and at the hands of each other, people suffering oppression and persecution and violence, but it’s also true that “poetry addresses this suffering almost better than anything else.” It’s not just poetry in the abstract that address suffering, it’s these poems, it’s the poems in this book. They are “souls that twirl like kites lashed to the wrists of the living.”2 It’s as if “God said, Survive. And carry my perfume among the perishing,” and these poets heeded the call.3 Are all of the poems great? Perhaps not. But the great poems form a supermajority of the collection. The great poems in this set could override a veto, and they do. To anyone who doubts the vitality of contemporary American poetry, to anyone who questions the purpose of poetry in times of unrest: read these poems. To anyone looking to poetry for commiseration or hope or escape: read these poems.

It’s difficult to speak in generalities about these poems because they are so diverse; the poems in this collection are as various as the poets represented, something that Best American Poetry impresses me with every year. “This book is multitudinous,” it contains contradictions. Hirsch celebrates “Whitman’s empathetic imagination” in the introduction yet Rick Barot’s (excellent) poem finds Whitman “dragged... from under the bed / where he had been hiding,” tarred and feathered.4 Hirsch also includes poems by six poets who are no longer living and who will be dearly missed. James Tate’s poem is one of the best in the collection, as is Phillip Levine’s long, hopeful poem that perfectly counterbalances apocalyptic Yeats:

It could be worse. It could be life without mortadella sandwiches,

twenty-five-cent pineapple pies, and quarts of Pilsner
at noon out on a manicured lawn in Grosse Pointe

under a sun that never before caressed an Armenian or a Jew.5

Hirsch tells us, “We choose our own ancestors, our own influences—or perhaps they choose us. Everything, everyone, is potentially part of the mix.” You are what you read. While the media feeds us processed artificial junk we find nourishment in poetry. I am grateful for the poets represented in this year’s selection and for the editors who have collected them, not just because they are a joy to read (and certainly they are that) but because they demonstrate the robustness of American poetry at a time when many voices feel threatened. Yes, “We live, perhaps we have always lived, in perilous times, and stand on the edge of an abyss, which absorbs us. We are called to task. Poetry enlarges our experience. It brings us greater consciousness, fuller being. It stands on the side of life, our enthrallment.”

This has been a difficult year, but not for poetry. “Look at these books: hope.”6

  • 1 Morgan Parker, “Everything Will Be Taken Away”
    Appeared in: Paperbag
  • 2 Garrett Hongo, “I Got Heaven . . .”
    Appeared in: Miramar
  • 3 Tony Hoagland, “Bible Study”
    Appeared in: Poetry
  • 4 Rick Barot, “Whitman, 1841”
    Appeared in: Waxwing
  • 5 Philip Levine, “More Than You Gave”
    Appeared in: The New Yorker
  • 6 Catherine Barnett, “O Esperanza!”
    Appeared in: Tin House

And Then by Donald Breckenridge

Dear Everyone by Matt Shears

Magic City Gospel by Ashley M. Jones

Intimacy by Stanley Crawford

Lunch Poems by Deborah Kuan

One with the Tiger by Steven Church

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

The King of White Collar Boxing by David Lawrence

They Were Coming for Him by Berta Vias-Mahou

Verse for the Averse: a Review of Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry

That Other Me by Maha Gargash

Simone by Eduardo Lalo

Swimming by Karl Luntt

Ghost/ Landscape by Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher

Enchantment Lake by Margi Preus

Bad Light by Carlos Castán

Diaboliques by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly

Staying Alive by Laura Sims

Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

Fireflies by John Leland

Maze of Blood by Marly Youmans

Tender the Maker by Christina Hutchkins

Little Anodynes by Jon Pineda

Conjuror by Holly Sullivan McClure

Someone's Trying To Find You by Marc Augé

The Four Corners of Palermo by Giuseppe Di Piazza

Now You Have Many Legs to Stand On by Ashley-Elizabeth Best

The Darling by Lorraine M. López

How To Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes

Watershed Days: Adventures (A Little Thorny and Familiar) in the Home Range by Thorpe Moeckel

[INSERT] BOY by Danez Smith

Demigods on Speedway by Aurelie Sheehan

Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

Singing Bones by Kate Schmitt

American Neolithic by Terence Hawkins

Knuckleball by Tom Pitts

Wandering Time by Luis Alberto Urrea

Teaching a Man to Unstick His Tail by Ralph Hamilton

Domenica Martinello: The Abject in the Interzones

Control Bird Alt Delete by Alexandria Peary

Twelve Clocks by Julie Sophia Paegle

Love You To a Pulp by C.S. DeWildt

Even Though I Don’t Miss You by Chelsea Martin

Women by Chloe Caldwell

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

ESSAY 2:12 A.M. by Kat Meads

Revising The Storm by Geffrey Davis

Quality Snacks by Andy Mozina

Midnight in Siberia by David Greene

Strings Attached by Diane Decillis

Down from the Mountaintop: From Belief to Belonging by Joshua Dolezal

The New Testament by Jericho Brown

You Don't Know Me by James Nolan

Phoning Home: Essays by Jacob M. Appel

Words We Might One Day Say by Holly Karapetkova

Murder by Danielle Collobert

Sorrow by Catherine Gammon

The Americans by David Roderick

Put Your Hands In by Chris Hosea

I Think I Am in Friends-Love With You by Yumi Sakugawa

Third Wife by Jiri Klobouk

box of blue horses by Lisa Graley

Review of Hilary Plum’s They Dragged Them Through the Streets

The Sleep of Reason by Morri Creech

The Hush before the Animals Attack by Carol Matos

Regina Derieva, In Memoriam by Frederick Smock

Review of The House Began to Pitch by Kelly Whiddon

Hill William by Scott McClanahan

Seamus Heaney Aloft

The Bounteous World by Frederick Smock

Review of The Tide King by Jen Michalski

Going Down by Chris Campanioni

Review of Empire in the Shade of a Grass Blade by Rob Cook

Review of The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor

Review of The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish

Review of Life Cycle Poems by Dena Rash Guzman

Review of Saint X by Kirk Nesset

Review of Jessica Treadway's Please Come Back to Me

Eve Asks by Christine Redman-Waldeyer