Experimentation is a common element in modern American poetry and one would rightly expect a cutting-edge publication like The American Poetry Review to offer its readers current examples from working poets, and they do. There is a vast difference between poetic motives, however. There are those for whom novelty is its own reward, and these generally produce verse that remains frustratingly inscrutable, even—or especially—after repeated readings. The second group experiments as a way of getting closer to the ineffable truth at the source of every creative impulse; their work often remains tauntingly enigmatic, but the reader is not made to feel stupid. This collection represents both schools, but it is happily weighted in favor of approachable verse. This is not to say it is always easy verse, but it is consistently rewarding. Karen Kipp, one of the lesser-known poets represented in this anthology, says that “there [is] a simplicity in keeping things in perspective at eye-level.” The three coeditors obviously agree with that sentiment. With a trove of over 8,000 poems from which to choose, they culled work from 27 years of publication, beginning in 1972, doing their best to represent “the various aesthetic, philosophical, and social concerns of the poets.” They succeed admirably. Not represented here is the work of what Harold Bloom, in his engaging introduction, calls the “howlers and allied inchoate rhapsodes” who, one can only wish, would tire of what Yeats’s Crazy Jane called “cursing the Bishop.” Bloom also acknowledges the debt that accessible modern poets owe to “our father, Walt Whitman” for the paradigm he provided, despite their necessary divergences from it.
An apt alternative to this volume’s title might be The Body Eclectic. The editors have done a worthy job of presenting a body of poetry from all the major schools of the past three decades.