The Best American Poetry: 2013 edited by David Lehman is a latest in the Scribner Best American Poetry series that has been running since 1989. Lehman is also the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry and the author of several books of poetry. He teaches at The New School in New York City. Denise Duhamel is the guest editor of this series who writes the introduction. She is the author of several volumes of poetry.
Lehman writes the forward and it carries a Shelley theme. Duhamel has a lighter approach and opens with “If you are reading this you are not dead” in response to the Mayan Calendar and the end of the world in December 2012. For those who think poetry is not for them or that poets are all uptight and overly “sensitive.” Duhamel early on tells the reader that the first three poems have the word “f*ck” in them and two of those three poems also have the word mayonnaise. That should intrigue the non-poetry readers. Her introduction alone makes me want to find her books of poetry and and move them to the top of my reading list.
Some of the poems are moving like “Pachyderm,” about a boy with the paraplegic father (Vietnam) who loses his brother to an IED in Iraq. “Death” is moving and eerie. There is humor, or more so critique, of America is in the “Statue of Responsibility” and “All American.” There is even a poem mocking George Bush’s changed heart. ‘The Art of Drinking Tea” is a pretty amazing poem in itself and displays the the difference between the sexes version of enlightenment. “New Jersey Poem” is a powerful poem, one of two dealing with suicide. Some poems are moving in their support of the art itself like “Why I Write Poetry.” “What’s so funny about racism/ is how racists never get the joke” begins the poem “Blazing Saddles” and yes it is about the movie. The reader will get more than a subtle hint from the timely poem “Syria.” There is something for everyone in this collection. “The kind of Man I Am At the DMV” was one I could relate to. Having to keep my hair in a pony tail at work, a child once yell out to his father, “That man has girl’s hair and a pink rubber band in it.” You can’t explain to children that men can have long hair, especially in Dallas. It’s even more difficult to explain that the hair bands come in a variety pack and yes, one of the colors is pink, and it means nothing more than that.
The Best American Poetry has something for everyone and more than likely a lot for most. Poetry ranges from verse to almost prose in paragraph form. If you don’t like poetry you’ll like this collection because it will show you that poetry is much more than “An Ode on a Grecian Urn” or rhyming couplets. This collection is also current to out present culture and easy to relate to. If you like great poetry or are a bit shy of it, this book is perfect for you.