It’s that time of year when the official arbiters of taste are rolling out their Best Of lists. And 2019 was an exceptionally good year for poetry, so even the relatively staid and standard sources still recommend some amazing works. But must they all include the same amazing works? I mean, how likely is it, with poetry in English so vital, diverse, and multinational, that the same dozen names keep popping up? Well, I think we all know the reason: professional critics are afraid to go out on a limb. Ten years ago, that would’ve resulted in mostly white male poets getting the nod — thank goodness that’s no longer the case. But there’s still a strong bias toward mainstream poetics and a provincial disinclination among US-based critics to consider works published beyond their borders, let alone poetry in translation.
So screw that! Let’s make our own list(s). Starting in 2016 and continuing in 2017 a bunch of us chose one favorite book or chapbook we’d read that year, and it turned into a really fun exercise. Last year I forgot to coordinate it, probably because I was too busy with the weekly poetry blog digests, but this year I’d like to give it another go — and hopefully recruit some more bloggers to help out. Why just let Via Negativa readers have all the fun?
Not everyone who participated in the past had their own blog, and I’d like to invite them (and anyone else who loves contemporary poetry) to take part again. If you do have a blog, you could post a mini (or full-size) review on your own site and send me the link—or simply share a link to something you’ve already posted this year. I will include that link along with an excerpt (or the complete post if it’s short). The resulting compendium would be published here first, but other bloggers would be welcome to copy and paste the entire thing into their own sites. (And I’d be happy to send the HTML version to anyone who prefers that.)
This isn’t a scheme for Via Negativa to get more traffic; it’s a scheme to promote our favorite poetry books in time for holiday shopping! So the more places our recommendations appear, the better, I think.
Because this will be a group effort, and because I abhor leadership, I hesitate to make up too many rules. But unlike the previous two times I did this, I’d like to concentrate on
- recently released collections (including online books, chapbooks, multi-author collections, and new translations)… meaning mostly published in 2019 but also the latter part of 2018 as well since we didn’t do this last year.
- I’m less interested in lists than in mini reviews or reactions. Our job is try to persuade people to read the book!
- Get personal and/or political. How did this collection speak to you? How does it relate to the urgent issues of our times as you conceive of them?
- Please nominate and describe one favorite collection and include a link if you can, ideally to the publisher’s website.
- Optionally include up to four other top picks, either as a simple list or with a sentence or two about each. I mean, you can do longer lists, but in the interest of saving space in the compendium, I’m unlikely to include annotated lists of more than five. (I can however include a link with text to the effect of “Read Pat’s full list of ten here.”)
- If you don’t have a blog or prefer not to blog it, include your post in the body of an email to: dave.bonta at yahoo dot com.
- Otherwise simply please send me the link to your blog post via email (dave.bonta at yahoo dot com), Twitter DM (@morningporch), or a comment on this post. (Please don’t message me in Instagram because I mostly access that site on my laptop, and DMs are app-only. And I’m not on Facebook.)
- Feel free to choose collections by friends or colleagues; just be sure to acknowledge the relationship in your post.
- I suppose there ought to be a uniform, cross-platform hashtag. Suggestions? Let me know and I’ll stick it in here.
- Please send me your posts no later than Wednesday, December 4.
I look forward to seeing people’s picks. I hope I’m not alone in wanting to provide an alternative to the standard lists! I asked Luisa Igloria what she thought, and here was her response (emphasis mine):
I’m with you on the feeling that there are a great many other poets and collections that are overlooked in the frenzy of “best of the year” posts – and when they’re even more narrowly curated to “best 20” or “best 10” or “best 5,” I tend to feel a creeping annoyance because these seem to once again highlight the po-biz practices in the field, where popularity and “marketability” edge out other pleasures and discoveries readers might derive from reading poems…
Why not ask your crowd-sourcing participants to tell us about the poets/books they loved (maybe that came out between December 2018 and now/November 2019) and that they feel have been overlooked/have not come to wider appreciation? or that they feel most powerfully capture the(ir) most urgent feelings and concerns of this year, even if they’re not on those Best Of lists?
After all, NYT and WaPo and LitHub and Kirkus etc. will be flogging us with those Best of 20 lists in the next couple of weeks…
Let’s do this!