In that vein, two recent anthologies can in fact be recommended with little comment.  Both generated abroad, they flow from...

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THE BEST OF THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY, 1988-1997

            The Academy of American Poets, who initiated the designating of April as poetry month, hoped above all for one thing:  more readers of verse.  And one of the best ways to introduce poetry to wider audiences is the anthology, which, until recently, was seen simply as the repository of an editor’s favorite poems.  Contemporary anthologies, though, have narrowed in focus, implicitly arguing for new schools and styles, or, worse, these increasingly bulky collections have come to exploit multiculturalism in its lowest form:  today no group, however defined by ethnicity or gender, goes unrepresented.

            By asking Harold Bloom to select the best poems from Scribner’s annual Best of the Best American Poetry series, editor David Lehman correctly assumed that Bloom would seize the opportunity to ride his hobbyhorse.  And he does so with a vengeance in his delightedly bilious introduction to this selection of 75 from 750 poems.  Bloom rightly chastises the multicultural avatars of correctness – what he calls “the school of resentment” – for the destruction of “aesthetic and cognitive standards” in judging poetry.  What you might overlook in Bloom’s spirited prose, though, is his own agenda:  a reductive and determinist aesthetic that leads him to prefer, among other things, poetry difficult for the sake of being difficult, poetry that discusses Bloom’s beloved notion of anxiety, and poetry that aspires to prophecy – or how else explain his inclusion of Allen Ginsberg’s risible poem?             At the other end of the anthology spectrum is Robert Hass’s Poet’s Choice, a collection that grew from this former poet laureate’s weekly columns syndicated in over 20 newspapers.  Hass’s contribution to “a shared, literate public culture” involved selecting poems mainly from new books and commenting on them in simple prose.  The result, though, is often dumbed-down lit-crit:  chatty little introductions that, at best, remind readers to use their dictionaries.  The selections do include a number of canonical poets (Keats, Hardy, Frost), but most are poems that would make Harold Bloom gag.  A Birkenstock populist, Hass doesn’t seem aware that Kingsley Amis did this sort of thing much better in a tougher venue – a British tabloid – and ended up with a terrific anthology of accessible quality verse, The Pleasure of Poetry.

            In that vein, two recent anthologies can in fact be recommended with little comment.  Both generated abroad, they flow from two of poetry’s common springs:  love and madness.  Norman Jeffares Irish Love Poems speaks for itself, while Ken Smith’s Beyond Bedlam needs a word of caution:  these poems written “out of mental distress” may be, at times, extra-literary, but they are always compelling.

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-84279-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1998

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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