The Mercy Home Michael Ryan

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The Problem with “Best” Poems

bests

Let’s start with the judging-by-the-cover. The color is green-awful, giving perfectly delicious pea soup a bad name. And the chair. I’m not sure I would fancy the chair, for fear of turning into a fern before page 12 (were I to sit in it, and I would not).

That said, I’m sure Natasha Trethewey, guest-editor for Year of Our Lord 2017, had nothing to do with this cover. Nor did David Lehman (whoever he is), series editor. Sometimes covers just happen. Like Heaven’s Gate in the movies.

Every review of the “Best” series sings the same song: “Unevenly As She Goes.” Me, I like to see what poetry publications the poems are plucked from for future reference. The thinking goes like this: “Golly. Maybe if I send poems to the same publications, THEY’LL be selected as the best among American poems (2018, 2019, what have you) too!”

But it’s like chasing yesterday’s hot stock. Next year’s guest editor may have a yen for very different poetry publications, though you can always count on a few big boppers like Poetry, of course, and The New Yorker.

Among my faves in this collection: “Higher Education” (Jeffrey Harrison), “Certain Things” (David Brendan Hopes), “The Watch” (Danusha Laméris), “The Mercy Home” (Michael Ryan), “Seeing Things” (Charles Simic), “Good Bones” (Maggie Smith), and “Afraid to Pray” (Pamela Sutton).

There. Flip through to these next time you’re at the bookstore. It will be one man’s “best of the best” and equally uneven, proving the futility of the whole process of choosing the best. Or the best of the best. Or the best of the best of the best.

I best stop here. But first, a link to the Charles Simic poem, “Seeing Things.” Simple. Straightforward. However…. My kind of poem.