It’s the last day of November already! So a very brief mention of two very nice November poems.

I love, in Rita Dove’s “November for Beginners,” that very accurate description of November’s atmosphere, “So we wait, breeding / mood, making music / of decline.” “Breeding mood”! Perfect. And I’ll even give her the exclamation points at the end, because we do, we really do, in November, promise that when spring comes we’ll act the fool, just like that. The language in Dove’s poem is lovely — listen to all those “i” sounds at the end of the first stanza — twigs, burning, in, glistening, give — even the diphthong in rain. I also really like the title. It adds a nice deeper twist to an otherwise simple(ish) poem.

Bernadette Mayer’s line about “Trying to tango remorselessly” in “Kristin’s Dream in November” also fits November’s ill-fitting weather. Dream poems are tough, primarily I don’t like them, a bit of a personal pet peeve I guess. It’s so hard to get across the multiple weirdnesses of dreams without flying off into too-gauzy territory. Also? Most dreams are really boring if you weren’t the one dreaming them. But though “I followed people but maybe / They weren’t people,” which is certainly dream-like, is not necessarily super-interesting, it’s followed by “it was ethical / To follow them over the edges of the balloons,” and that “it was ethical” is just great, what a lovely way to position the dreamer in the dream. As is “over the edges of the balloons.” That’s an image that makes perfect sense until you start to try to parse it, to determine what “edge” means with a balloon. Is it like going over the edge of a cliff, over one of those garlands of balloons? The edge of a bunch of single balloons like we used to think ships would over the edge of the world? And so on. I like the poem’s alliteration too, the “right move in relation to the movements” and the “sphere where” and the “woke like a knock.”



On the Anthology

There are just a ton of poetry anthologies out there in the world (over fifty on my own bookshelf alone). I’ve been thinking about anthologies of late, no doubt due directly to the recent controversy about Rita Dove’s choices (and omissions) for The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century Poetry and to American Alphabets (David Walker’s wonderful new anthology out of Oberlin College Press, offering robust selections from 25 poets) which I was given for Christmas.

Without taking sides on the Penguin issue, since I have not yet read the anthology itself but only read articles about it online, I wonder if part of the problem is less Dove’s choices and more just the title — if it were An Anthology of 20th Century instead of The (and it can’t be The without Plath and Ginsberg — those two omissions due to permissions issues and budget limitations) would there be so much vitriol? If it were just Dove’s choices for An anthology, I suspect the discussion about it would be more fun.

Well, probably not, Continue reading “On the Anthology”