I don't know about you, but I'm totally in love with anthologies. What a great way to meet new writers, to get an idea of the drift of a certain artist's voice, and to find new things that make you avidly want to pursue them.
Which inevitably brings us to Garrison Keillor's anthology, Good Poems. Why, you might ask, should this bring us to Good Poems? Because, to put it simply, this book, which aims to make accessible to everyone some of the best of contemporary poetry, was dismissed by many as an exercise in dumbing down, in positing poetry as pablum, in being, in short, a disservice to the larger craft of poetry. There was a lot of fire to and fro on this subject, and I have to say that I proudly stand on the side that says that Keillor's anthology, which includes work by such poets as Charles Simic, Jane Kenyon, Galway Kinnell, Jane Hirshfield, e. e. cummings, and Elizabeth Bishop, as well as many, many more (the book weighs in at 461 pages, after all) is a tremendous salvo in defense of the idea that poetry can be meaningful to the average reader, and doesn't have to be relegated to the halls of academia forevermore.
Good Poems is the fruit of Keillor's National Public Radio program, Writer's Almanac, which always ends with a poem intended to enhance the listener's day. It's a terrific book; if you've ever been afraid of poetry, if you've ever thought that such stuff isn't for you, if you've been curious but didn't know where to start reading, this is the book for you. It's also a great book to take on a plane or train trip, to stick in a backpack for lingering over on the roads of Europe or the trails of the Pacific Northwest, and to give as a gift to young people who are beginning to experiment with the poetaster's art. I prophesy that this is a book that will generate lists ? lists of poems one loves, and lists of poets to explore further. Indeed, it's in this way that it's the most perfect example of an anthologist's goal ? to generate interest, curiosity, and further exploration. Here's one to you, Garrison. (While we're at it, it should be noted that a sequel to this book, Good Poems for Hard Times, has just appeared in paperback as well).
Speaking of anthologies, Green Integer in Los Angeles is undertaking a massive project of publishing the Project for Innovative Poetry (PIP) Anthology of World Poetry of the 20th Century. This is a truly humongous undertaking, expected, as I understand it, to come to around fifty volumes when it's completed. The latest in the series, Living Space: Poems of the Dutch Fiftiers introduces the reader to nine poets from Holland who, without exception, make for challenging and illuminating reading. These guys are hard to find in English. This is another task of the anthology, to make available the little known, or the hard to come by. This series, and the poems in this book, are a great testimonial to the dedication of this publisher and its director, Douglas Messerli.
One of my favorite new anthologies is A Brave New Quest: 100 Modern Turkish Poems. Edited and translated by Talat S. Halman, this lovely book collects the work of Orhan Veli and the inimitable Nazim Hikmet, as well as more than 20 other poets: Attila Ilhan, Ilhan Berk, Melih Cevdet Anday, Edip Cansever and many, many more, most of whom I'd never heard of, most of whom I enjoyed immensely.
Check out this untitled poem by Nazim Hikmet:
Let us give the world to the children at least for one day
Let them play with it as if it's a spangled balloon
Let them sing and dance among the stars
Let us give the world to the children
Like a huge apple or a warm loaf of bread
at least for one day
so that they'll have enough to eat
Let us give the world to the children
so that even if it's for one day
it will learn what friendship is
The children will take the world
out of our hands
and they will plant immortal trees
A fabulous book, and there are so many, many more. Czeslaw Milosz's classic A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry, Billy Collins's Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry are two that I like particularly well. Let me know what you love in anthologies; I look forward to hearing from you.