Still, there he is, on any given day,Dove does find certain trends, ranging from "the interpolation of personal chronicles with the larger sweep of events" to "elegies for the passing of heroes, of good times, of innocence." Certainly, more than one therapist pops up here--in, for instance, Pamela Sutton's mesmerizing "There Is a Lake of Ice on the Moon" and in Denise Duhamel's intricate "Incest Taboo" (which is a lot more subtle than its title would give out). This dislocating double sestina's 13 stanzas juggle a fear of birds, a brother's death, alcoholism, familial expectations, and so much more. Set free by the form's constraints--the same end-words must recur in each stanza--this poet uses such phrases as "parrot," swoop," "wrong, "hover," hum," and "mother" to great effect, ironies and tragedies accreting. As Duhamel writes in the contributors' notes: "I felt as though I were doing a strenuous combination of math, crossword puzzles, and particle physics."
talking to ramblers, floribundas, Victorian
perpetuals, as if for beauty and to make us
glad or otherwise for envy and to make us
wish for more--if only to mystify and move us.
Some poems are definitely augmented by their creators' explanations--and their prose is often as eloquent as their verse. Others require none. Yet what threatens to steal the poetic show occurs after these comments. The series wizard, David Lehman, asked past and present guest editors to cite their top 15 20th-century American poems, in alphabetical order. It's impossible not to gravitate to this section and silently argue with some selections, approve others wholeheartedly, discover a few for the first time, and remonstrate over certain absences. How marvelous, if unsurprising, to see so many poets voting for Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop (who scores particularly high), and two whom John Hollander wittily terms "the transatlantic problematics," Auden and Eliot. If only Lehman had asked each editor to expound on his or her choices. In this list context, Louise Glück's refusal to "prefer merely fifteen" proves as inspiring as others' elections. Still, it's amusing to watch such poets as Mark Strand, A.R. Ammons, and Lehman himself look for loopholes and stuff the ballot box with also-rans. --Kerry Fried