Saturday, December 03, 2011

teapots and other tempests

I was musing over this little poetry-world spat in the New York Times and the whole idea of anthologies and what they mean to be and what they actually are. I have long been suspicious (and usually dismissive) of much of what claims to be the "BEST" of things. Best according to what criteria? According to who? Someone asked me recently why wicked alice and dgp do not nominate authors for the Pushcart Prize and truthfully, given what usually turns up in the anthologie's pages , it seems like a fixed game, something that plays itself as democratic and inclusive of the vast world of small presses, but really only chooses pretty much the same authors, work from the same publications ad nauseum. Every.single. year.

Not to say it's not a cool thing to be nominated, but moreso on the smaller level of the individual publication, that the editor appreciates your work, thinks you are among "best" of what they published in a given year--definitely a much smaller and more manageable field than the morrass of contemporary journals. The Best of the Web anthology actually does this very same thing and is definitely more democratic and varied in it's aesthetic (again, I'm a little biased since WA is technically a Sundress Publication.). Even still any anthology still comes down to the particular aesthetic bent of the judge doing the final choosing. But once a nomination has been sent off into the esteemed Pushcart world by most little guys & gals, it's like dropping a quarter into the ocean.

Admittedly, I have a dislike in general of most of what Helen Vendler has ever said (especially if it's woefully racist and elitist like this), and am definitely biased toward Rita Dove (whose Thomas & Beulah did much in the way of my own poetic development about 15 years ago). I immediately take issue with the 175 poets comment. I can name at least twice that many whose work is of interest living and writing in the anthologie's timeline (not even including the younger folks writing now born after 1971.) Any anthology is simply a sampling of the work that that particular curator feels lends itself to being brought together and put forward as a grouping for consideration. This is true at any level, every journal is pretty much the same thing, every press's roster of titles, same thing.

I would never have the ego to say that what we are publishing with dgp is the "best" work by women authors out there, but merely the things that I come across / get to consider that strike my own fancy in some way, that I feel compelled to put out into the world because of their awesomeness. Again "best" acording to who? to what? Dove, in her response, gets it spot-on here:

Assuredly, many acclaimed poets are no match to Shakespeare—probably not a one, not even Walt Whitman. But The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry is not meant to be an in-depth scholarly study of pick-your-ism; it is a gathering of poems its editor finds outstanding for a variety of reasons, and by no means all of them in adherence to my own aesthetic taste buds; my intent was to offer many of the best poems bound into books between 1900 and 2000 and to lend a helping hand to those readers wishing to strike out on their own beyond this selection. Part of the problem with the phenomenon one could call poetry politics is the reluctance of many scholars to allow for choice without the selfish urge to denigrate beyond whatever doesn’t fit their own aesthetics; literary history is rife with stories of critics cracking the whip over the heads of ducking artists, critics who in their hubris believe they should be the only ones permitted to render verdicts in the public courts of literature.

1 comment:

a.c.b. said...

the 175 poets comment is odd. in her article, vendler sounds upset at the idea of reading poetry by potentially insignificant poets... honestly, i don't think there is such a thing as reading too much poetry. i would gladly read more voices, new voices, different voices.