Review: The Best American Poetry 2015 by Clara B. Jones

cover-best-am-poetry-2015

The Best American Poetry, 2015
Sherman Alexie, Guest Editor
David Lehman, Series Editor
Scribner Poetry
New York

Reviewed by: Clara B. Jones

If you have not heard about the controversy surrounding The Best American Poetry 2015, you have probably been on holiday in a remote part of the Amazon. Sherman Alexie, the volume’s Guest Editor, was duped by a prize-winning, but relatively unknown, poet, Michael Derrick Hudson, using the pen-name, Yi-Fen Chou. According to the Poetry Foundation, Sherman Alexie, the volume’s Guest Editor, is “a prominent Native American poet, novelist, performer, and filmmaker.”, and some have speculated that choice of the poem was influenced by “nepotism” extended to an ostensible minority. After the ruse was revealed, Alexie decided to retain the poem, publishing his unconvincing, internally inconsistent justification as a blogpost at [http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2015/09/like-most-every-poet-i-have-viewed-the-publication-of-each-years-best-american-poetry-with-happiness-i-love-that-poem-je-1.html]. In my opinion, exploitation and deception, like plagiarism, have no place in literature and the arts and should not be rewarded with publication. Nonetheless, despite what I consider a poor judgment call by Alexie, this embarrassment is not likely to detract attention from The Best American Poetry 2015 which showcases emerging, experienced, and high-profile poets who have contributed compelling work.

The volume celebrates diversity in the broadest sense of the term, presenting a range of poetic styles, including, “neo-formalism” and experimental, as well as, American poets characterized by a variety of individual markers, including, sexual orientation, geography, and country of origin. It is interesting to note that, though Alexie is a member of the Spokane/Couer d’Alene tribe, there are few poems in The Best American Poetry 2015 that classicists could categorize as “sociology”, “politics”, or journalism. Most poems are strong in both language and form, music as well as theme, and the reader will find few poems that are provocative or counter-normative. Alexie seems to favor poets who are amused by and not too invested in their material, while, at the same time, offering work that is pleasurable, accessible, and intelligent. The Guest Editor has an “eye” for what the reading public will want to consume, and his selections will be appreciated by non-academics, teachers, scholars, and students. In this sense, The Best American Poetry 2015 takes its social role seriously, presenting poems that respect their readers. As a measure of the quality of work in the volume, three contributors, Amy Gerstler, Terrance Hayes, and Jane Hirshfield, have been longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry. These poets set a high bar for other poems in The Best American Poetry 2015, a standard achieved in many contributions. The volume is recommended as an authentically inclusive and rewarding experience that is certain to attract a wide audience.
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Clara B. Jones is a retired scientist, currently practicing poetry in Asheville, NC. As a woman of color, she writes about identity and power. Ofi Literary Magazine, Transnational, Bluestem, The Review Review, Mount Island, and 34th Parallel are among the venues her poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in, and her collection, Ferguson And Other Satirical Poems About Race, won the 2015 Bitchin’ Kitsch Chapbook Competition and is in press. In the 1970s, Clara studied with Adrienne Rich and has studied recently with the poets Meghan Sterling and Eric Steineger.

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