The Best American Poetry 2020 (The Best American Poetry series)
Perhaps it is my age or my preference for a different style, but the latest collection of The Best of American Poetry 2020, guest-edited by Paisley Rekdal reads less like a collection of poems and more like a series of overly long, unedited, despairing observations about the failures of this world. Which is to say, it is a very on-brand book for 2020.
There are some exceptional pieces in the collection—Sharon Olds’ Hyacinth Aria about a woman mourning her mother is stunning in its description, rhythm, and tone. It is impossible to read it without feeling a longing for your own mother, whether she is still with you or not.
But there are also poems whose referents and antecedent are so obscure, like Lucie Brock-Broido’s Tender, that even someone with an MA in English and twenty years teaching poetry (me) is at a loss to parse through it. Does the difficulty of a poem make it “bad”? No. Not necessarily. But if the reader can’t understand it, how can they enjoy it? Which is, at its core, the central issue with the majority of this book.
If you are interested in what is being published now, what the tastemakers and shot-callers in the poetry world deem brilliant, then you should definitely pick up The Best of American Poetry 2020. If, however, you just want to read a few poems you will understand and enjoy, this is not the right book for you.
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