Saturday, November 28, 2009

Counting the Best American

The Best American Poetry website has announced the Best American Poetry of 2009.

I suppose I should really comment on the poems in it, but actually, I haven't seen the book yet, just the announcement on the site. (Not many reviews elsewhere yet, either, although a couple have popped up here and there on the web.)

I'm not sure if I entirely agree with the concept that the "best American poetry" is so easily selected and condensed down to a single volume, or if David Wagoner (or series editor David Lehman) is the person who has, or ought to be given, the ordained right to figure out which poems are. Does he have an "inclusive" or an "exclusive" view of poetry? Does he reap poems from only the lit mags, or does he cast a wide net?

--well, actually, that last question is one that can be answered, because the site also lists the original publication source for the seventy-five poems in the volume. (Also the web sites for each of the publications, which makes a rather nice listing of poetry magazine websites, if you want one.) Uh, maybe I've never mentioned it before, but I'm a compulsive counter and classifier, so I've given in to the irresistible temptation to count and classify.

In this year's collection, the magazine from which the most poems were chosen was the Georgia Review, with a total of four poems selected-- a nice surprise, as the usual magazine topping the list, the New Yorker, got only two picked this year. (Fine with me; I'm often quite indifferent to New Yorker poetry-- who was it who said that they run bad poems by good poets?) Virginia Quarterly Review, Indiana Review and Five Points come in next, with three poems each selected. Four old standard "review" poetry mags (who was it who decided that a literary magazine has to be called a "review," anyway?), and one a relative new kid on the block (Five Points-- only been publishing for twelve years).

Of course, these are only one editor's opinions. The Best American Poetry anthologies have a different editor every year, and it's quite interesting to go look at where the "best" poems have been selected from for previous years. Going back to 2003, I count 534 poems selected from 176 publications.

For the most part, this is a list of "the usual suspects"-- almost entirely literary reviews that run poetry in that genre called "poetry of serious intent". Not a lot of new magazines here-- a few, but mostly these are the old establishment, and, although there are some independents (Shiny, Hanging Loose), a comfortable majority of these are edited out of the MFA programs of America. Not many Web 'zines here*, and while there are some that are outside the usual circle, the old canon mostly dominates -- look in vain to see Goblin Fruit or Asimov's or even Muse.

Still-- 176 poetry magazines. That's a lot of poetry!

So, for your information, here are the top 32 poetry magazines in the US (according to Best American Poetry). Here is where you need to be if, like a Hollywood star, you need to see and be seen. This is all the magazines that have had at least five poems selected in the last seven years, listed in order of how many poems they've had selected:

  • New Yorker
  • American Poetry Review
  • Poetry
  • Five Points
  • Kenyon Review
  • New England Review
  • New American Writing
  • Barrow Street
  • Ploughshares
  • Virginia Quarterly Review* (*tied with next)
  • Cincinatti Review
  • Shiny* (*tied with next three)
  • POOL
  • Georgia Review
  • Boston Review
  • Threepenny Review* (tied with next seven)
  • Sentence
  • Paris Review
  • No: a journal
  • New Criterion
  • Michigan Quarterly
  • Hanging Loose
  • Crazyhorse
  • Triquarterly* (*last nine are all tied at five)
  • Pleiades
  • Margie
  • Iowa Review
  • Gulf Coast
  • Fence
  • Beloit Poetry Journal
  • Antioch Review
  • Alaska Quarterly Review

*Although, to Wagoner's credit, this year several poems came from web zines. No Tell Motel made it, and La Petit Zine, and Jacket.


John B. Burroughs said...

I just saw this volume at Borders - looked through it, then decided to use my 30% off coupon on Muriel Rukeyser's Collected Poems instead. Will have to pick it up next time....

I especially appreciate the top 32 list - and plan to submit to them all in the very near future. ;)

brianreads said...

There's no realistic way to actually gather a years worth of the best American poetry. This series is just a nice annual that usually picks good editors and has good stuff. But it's not comprehensive or even very thorough. It is an enjoyable collection of poems, though.

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

Fair enough. You're right; if you try to read it all, the amount of poetry published in America would be truly daunting-- we keep bawling about how poetry is dead or at least dying, but it sure seems like there's a lot of it still being written for something that's dead!
It is nice to have an annual collection of good poems, even if it is just one opinion.

Shelley Chernin said...

For many years, my family has given me the current Best American Poetry volume for my birthday. I find that I like the poetry better some years than others, depending on the editor. But the selections are broad enough that I always find poems I like, and the book has been useful in introducing me to poets and journals that I might not have found otherwise.

Thanks for sorting through the magazines! No big surprises, but fun to see.

I thought Duotrope had a way to search publications by prizes, but I don't see it there. Maybe they used to have that, and maybe my memory is wrong.

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

When I tabluated information about which publications Best American Poetry drew poems from in recent years, I though I was being obsessive...
But in terms of Best-American statistics, WhimsyLand has me way beat. If you like numbers, this is is cool!


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau