I love the way this collection of poetry is organized. It begins with the most modern of the poets laureate, and moves successively back in time. As one of those people who always starts at the beginning of books and never jumps around, I all too often miss out on “the folks in the back” when reading chronological anthologies. This present-to-past organization helped me to approach each poet in his or her own right – without focusing too much on possible influences by the poets I’d just read.
A few of the poets in this book were already familiar to me – Billy Collins, Robert Penn Warren, Robert Frost (of course), William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop – but many were totally new. I feel that I’ve met some new friends. Especially Kay Ryan. I can’t believe I’d never run into her delightful poems before.
With each new poet, a short biography is provided – just a page or two long. More than just names, dates, and book titles, these biographies are encounters with the poets as human beings. They include some poignant quotes from the poets – reminders of why poetry is important and what prompts us to write and read it.
Odd as it may sound, another highlight of this anthology is its foreword by Billy Collins. In his playful style, he introduces the book by explaining some about the poet laureate position, pointing out some of the particular treats lying ahead, and reminding us that, “each of these poems began as a smaller thing – an initiating line, an intriguing image, a ‘lump in the throat,’ as Frost put it – not as a contribution to an anthology such as this one with its sober historic title.” A helpful reminder to approach poetry with an open mind, letting the words and images speak to us and move us, and leaving at the door our high school intimidation of poetry or tendency to dissect it.