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The Best American Poetry series is a beloved mainstay of American poetry. This year's edition was edited by one of the most admired and acclaimed poets of his generation, Charles Wright. Known for his meditative and beautiful observations of landscape, change, and time,Wright brings his particular sensibility to this year's anthology, which contains an ecumenical slant tha The Best American Poetry series is a beloved mainstay of American poetry. This year's edition was edited by one of the most admired and acclaimed poets of his generation, Charles Wright. Known for his meditative and beautiful observations of landscape, change, and time,Wright brings his particular sensibility to this year's anthology, which contains an ecumenical slant that is unprecedented for the series. He has gathered an astonishing selection of work that includes new poems by Carolyn Forché, Jorie Graham, Louise Glück, Frank Bidart, Frederick Seidel, Patti Smith, and Kevin Young and showcases a dazzling array of rising stars like Joshua Beckman, Erica Dawson, and Alex Lemon. With captivating and revelatory notes from the poets on their works and sage and erudite introductory essays by Wright and series editor David Lehman, The Best American Poetry 2008 will be read, discussed, debated, and prized for years to come.


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The Best American Poetry series is a beloved mainstay of American poetry. This year's edition was edited by one of the most admired and acclaimed poets of his generation, Charles Wright. Known for his meditative and beautiful observations of landscape, change, and time,Wright brings his particular sensibility to this year's anthology, which contains an ecumenical slant tha The Best American Poetry series is a beloved mainstay of American poetry. This year's edition was edited by one of the most admired and acclaimed poets of his generation, Charles Wright. Known for his meditative and beautiful observations of landscape, change, and time,Wright brings his particular sensibility to this year's anthology, which contains an ecumenical slant that is unprecedented for the series. He has gathered an astonishing selection of work that includes new poems by Carolyn Forché, Jorie Graham, Louise Glück, Frank Bidart, Frederick Seidel, Patti Smith, and Kevin Young and showcases a dazzling array of rising stars like Joshua Beckman, Erica Dawson, and Alex Lemon. With captivating and revelatory notes from the poets on their works and sage and erudite introductory essays by Wright and series editor David Lehman, The Best American Poetry 2008 will be read, discussed, debated, and prized for years to come.

30 review for The Best American Poetry 2008 (Best American Poetry)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    These things are pretty much damned coming out the gate, since it's impossible to make everyone happy. All in all, I thought this was a fairly solid effort. Poems I loved, poems I hated, but more to like than dislike, with a large grouping under "Meh." Two new poets I liked: Tim Ross ("then let fall your horrible pleasure"), and Erica Dawson("Parallax"). I also liked Ciaran Berry's "Electrocuting an Elephant", and the always wild Frederick Seidel's "Evening Man." These things are pretty much damned coming out the gate, since it's impossible to make everyone happy. All in all, I thought this was a fairly solid effort. Poems I loved, poems I hated, but more to like than dislike, with a large grouping under "Meh." Two new poets I liked: Tim Ross ("then let fall your horrible pleasure"), and Erica Dawson("Parallax"). I also liked Ciaran Berry's "Electrocuting an Elephant", and the always wild Frederick Seidel's "Evening Man."

  2. 4 out of 5

    B.

    Overall, I would give this collection a B- average (technically an 80.8% avg.) as far as the quality of the poems contained. I know that attempting to quantify poetic effect/value is a ridiculous gesture, but I am simply a ridiculous person. Of course, this is purely based off of my own tastes and will not necessarily reflect your average satisfaction rate. I started a mission in October of 2016 to read the entire Best American Poetry series so that I can begin to get a better sense of A) what m Overall, I would give this collection a B- average (technically an 80.8% avg.) as far as the quality of the poems contained. I know that attempting to quantify poetic effect/value is a ridiculous gesture, but I am simply a ridiculous person. Of course, this is purely based off of my own tastes and will not necessarily reflect your average satisfaction rate. I started a mission in October of 2016 to read the entire Best American Poetry series so that I can begin to get a better sense of A) what my taste in poetry is, and B) my own poetic voice. One of the reasons that 2008 gets two stars is because of Charles Wright's lack of responsibility as an editor of a series that claims to represent the Best of American Poetry. Among the editions of the last ten years (2016-2006), BAP 2008 has the most glaring inequality of magazine sources. With 13/75 poems selected from The New Yorker, one publication comprises nearly 18% of the BAP 2008 poems. On top of that, pieces from Poetry make up 7% with 5/75. That makes 25% of an entire BAP year dedicated to just two magazines. My expectation for Best American Poetry is embedded within the title. I expect it to represent the best of American poetry. All of it. The fact that Wright took his editing duties lightly enough to select 13 poems from one magazine is a sign, to me, of not taking on the responsibility that the name Best American Poetry demands. To be clear, I have no intention here of attacking Wright as a poet (I have not read nearly enough of him to weigh in), nor do I have anything against The New Yorker as a publication (they have published some of my absolute favorite writers). I raise this issue out of my concern for the well-being of American Poetry. BAP is, for many readers, their only contact with today's sea of poetry. Year after year, readers rely on BAP's editors to cull their collection from outlets across the nation - not just longstanding East Coast establishments. A simple Google search would prevent smaller state-based poetry publications from getting lost in the shuffle; online magazines would not even require the suspense of delivery. It is easier than ever to find publications (even back in 2007/2008) and there are no excuses for a single magazine to be selected from more than three times. Those who oppose my stance may point out that just because The New Yorker was chosen 13 times doesn't necessarily mean that a New York native or dweller was chosen 13 times. Even if that was entirely true, I would remain concerned about the squandered sales bump that lesser known outlets receive, to some extent, by being included in BAP. If Wright would have stuck to a rule of three poems max per magazine, perhaps ten other lesser-known publications could have benefitted from some BAP recognition. This makes the inequality of this edition not only philosophically troubling but commercially irresponsible. I wish that this were my only concern about Wright's editorial duties, but the very first poem of the collection raised another red flag. Tom Andrews' "Evening Song" is a fairly good poem, but the fact that Andrews also happens to have published a book of essays about the poetry of Charles Wright was a little too convenient for my taste. It is unlikely that Wright was unaware of Andrews and his work before choosing (or seeking out) Andrews' poem for inclusion in BAP 2008. Even if Wright genuinely thought it to be among the best American poetry of the year, the choice still comes off on paper as a disturbing indicator of literary circle jerking and academic pay-to-play. As far as the poems BAP 2008, I am both happily bewildered and reasonably annoyed with the range of pieces and forms that can be considered poetry now. I am by no means a conservative thinker when it comes to art, but I am also somebody who has standards and expectation for what they read and can consider part of a genre. While I read BAP 2008, it became more clear to me than ever that poetry is becoming a dumping ground for whatever doesn't fit easily into another more defined genre like memoir, fiction, etc. Exhibit A: Kate Daniels' "Homage to Calvin Spotswood" I have no problem with the content of Daniels' piece, a provocative reflection on race and degraded/deteriorating humanity. However, I hesitate to call it a poem. The only formal aspect that makes it look vaguely like a poem and not a short story draft are the random line breaks. Read the first sentence and see for yourself: "Because I couldn’t bear to go back to the southside of Richmond and the life I had led there – the blaring televisions, the chained up hounds, the cigarettes hissing in ceramic saucers, the not never’s, I’m fixin’ to’s, the ain’ts — because anything at all was better than that, I took the job." Now with no line breaks: "Because I couldn’t bear to go back to the southside of Richmond and the life I had led there – the blaring televisions, the chained up hounds, the cigarettes hissing in ceramic saucers, the not never’s, I’m fixin’ to’s, the ain’ts — because anything at all was better than that, I took the job." I mean... really. What makes this poetry and not a short story? That I would like to know. If it isn't particularly poetic and if nearly looks like a short story on the page with its long lines, then why not make it one? It would be perfectly fine that way, better even. It is not intention to be a troll here, I am just genuinely curious to find out why this merits consideration as a poem and a not a scrap of prose. Perhaps this is just me being a novice, perhaps I am just curious about an intellectually stimulating question about genre boundaries. In any case, I find it to be an issue worth exploring. Masterpieces (7) Robert Bly, Wanting Sumptuous Heavens Chris Forhan, Rock Polisher W. S. Merwin, A Letter to Su Tong P'o Ron Padgett, Method Patti Smith, Tara Kathryn Starbuck, The Shoe C. K. Williams, Light Masterful (7) James Galvin, Girl Without her Nightgown Bob Hicok, O my pa-pa J.D. McClatchy, Resignation Davis McCombs, The Last Wolf in Edmonson County D. Nurkse, The Gate of Abraham David Young, The Dead from Iraq Dean Young, No Forgiveness Ode Masters Candidates (7) Ralph Angel, Exceptions and Melancholies Moira Egan, Millay Goes Down Louise Glück, Threshing George Kalamars, Francis Ponge Is on Fire Alan Sullivan, Divide and Conquer James Tate, National Security Natasha Trethewey, On Captivity Overall, I would absolutely to highly recommend approx. 28% of the poems contained in this volume.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    I enjoy this series as much for the foreword and guest editor introduction as the poetry.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steven Logan

    There's some solid gems of literature in this son bitch. There's some solid gems of literature in this son bitch.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Darryl Wawa

    My first poetry anthology. Loved it. And am re-reading it right now.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ross

    Great selections by Charles Wright, with some particularly good work from Louise Glück, Robert Hass, W. S. Merwin, and C. K. Williams. As far as collections, this is one of the better ones.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mark Eleveld

    Review by Mark Eleveld, published by ALA Booklist in 2008 -- The Best American Poetry 2008 - Charles Wright, Editor - David Lehman, Series Editor September 2008 – Scribner- Paperback: 16.00 - ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-9975-6 The gamble David Lehman made 21 years ago was that there was a large enough audience of poetry readers to care about an annual anthology of the Best American Poetry. If time is th e test, he won the bet. In Lehman’s foreword, he argues that awards and publications aside, poetry shou Review by Mark Eleveld, published by ALA Booklist in 2008 -- The Best American Poetry 2008 - Charles Wright, Editor - David Lehman, Series Editor September 2008 – Scribner- Paperback: 16.00 - ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-9975-6 The gamble David Lehman made 21 years ago was that there was a large enough audience of poetry readers to care about an annual anthology of the Best American Poetry. If time is th e test, he won the bet. In Lehman’s foreword, he argues that awards and publications aside, poetry should respond to the vitality of the writing: “Return to that original impulse.” Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Wright is on the hook for this book: does he perform a political coup, safeguarding the American poetry landscape, or is there a noose awaiting his protection of form, reputations and academic standing? What and who makes a “Best American Poet” and will it return the reader to that “original impulse?” The poets in this edition shine of diversity. Recognizable poets include Marvin Bell, “I awoke and was dead, so I decided to take my own life, and ended up/alive after my self-inflicted demise,” and his former colleague at Iowa, the ever Stevie Nicks of poetry Jorie Graham, “looking up, the sky make you hear it, you know why we have come it/blues, you know the trouble at the heart, blue, blue …” Equally up to the task include newcomers Joshua Beckman and Erica Dawson, “The later it gets, the more the sky will grow/In a strange reversal. Immaterial.” This is a fun, wide collection, that includes 75 poets who are established and becoming. There is enough to inspire in these works.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    Rating: 3 1/2 The poems are arranged alphabetically by the poet's surname. So I find it odd that it's such a front-loaded collection. I am noting eight pieces here, and they are all in the first 60% of the book. "Homage to Calvin Spotswood" - Kate Daniels - a black cancer patient at a Southern hospital "Handymen" - Cornelius Eady "Threshing" - Louise Gluck "Muchness" - Tony Hoagland - the poet's loved one going away for the day "Skull Trees, South Sudan" - Adrie Kusserow I tried to refill the night, Rating: 3 1/2 The poems are arranged alphabetically by the poet's surname. So I find it odd that it's such a front-loaded collection. I am noting eight pieces here, and they are all in the first 60% of the book. "Homage to Calvin Spotswood" - Kate Daniels - a black cancer patient at a Southern hospital "Handymen" - Cornelius Eady "Threshing" - Louise Gluck "Muchness" - Tony Hoagland - the poet's loved one going away for the day "Skull Trees, South Sudan" - Adrie Kusserow I tried to refill the night, but my eyes were open. - Marvin Bell, "Poseur" Even the moon set him going, with its blank stare; even the walls of the cafe, which seemed to tilt and sway as he watched them, green with absinthe. - Meghan O'Rourke, "The Window at Arles" Sometimes it doesn't lead anywhere other than to a dead end, and when I turn around the street has disappeared and I find myself sitting in a room. - Ron Padgett, "Method, or Kenneth Koch"

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Every year, this book seems to closely reflect the guest editor's own aesthetic, and when I first picked up this year's volume, I noticed that a lot of the poems have long lines like Charles Wright's. The collection is a bit more broad than that, though. Although there isn't as high a concentration of "experimental" poems as when Heather McHugh or Lyn Heijinian edited, Brenda Hillman, Michael Palmer, and Jorie Graham coexist, here, with Maxine Kumin, Tony Hoagland, and Richard Howard. The collec Every year, this book seems to closely reflect the guest editor's own aesthetic, and when I first picked up this year's volume, I noticed that a lot of the poems have long lines like Charles Wright's. The collection is a bit more broad than that, though. Although there isn't as high a concentration of "experimental" poems as when Heather McHugh or Lyn Heijinian edited, Brenda Hillman, Michael Palmer, and Jorie Graham coexist, here, with Maxine Kumin, Tony Hoagland, and Richard Howard. The collection as a whole is only okay, though some individual poems "wow-ed" me: Moira Egan's bawdy take-off on Millay in "Millay Goes Down"; Frank Bidart's powerful villanelle, "If See No End In Is"; Joshua Beckman's untitled poem; Mark Jarman's "Snoring"; and Natasha Trethewey's "On Captivity." David Lehman's foreword, which describes Auden's "daydream College for Bards," is also thought-provoking.

  10. 4 out of 5

    gaby

    I don't really want to talk about why I'm reading so much poetry lately, okay? It doesn't matter. In any case, this volume was a let-down. There was one truly spectacular poem in the whole collection - John Rybicki, Three Lanterns. There were a few pretty good poems by David St. John, Mary Karr, Kate Daniels and, (surprisingly?) Patti Smith. But the biggest let-downs were the poems by the supposed hot-shots: Natasha Trethewey, W.S. Merwin, Charles Simic. I suppose it goes without saying that the I don't really want to talk about why I'm reading so much poetry lately, okay? It doesn't matter. In any case, this volume was a let-down. There was one truly spectacular poem in the whole collection - John Rybicki, Three Lanterns. There were a few pretty good poems by David St. John, Mary Karr, Kate Daniels and, (surprisingly?) Patti Smith. But the biggest let-downs were the poems by the supposed hot-shots: Natasha Trethewey, W.S. Merwin, Charles Simic. I suppose it goes without saying that the best poems bore no relation to the prestige of the writers or the distinction of their endowed chairs. And...now moving on.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Juhl

    Not much stood out in this selection, supposedly the best of 2008. What I really cannot stand about these annual collections is the host of familiar names that always seem to have written one of the better poems that year, once again causing me to disparage the academic world of poetry. Not to say there weren't moments of brilliance, among them Carolyn Forche, Patti Smith (yes, that Patti Smith), but the best poem came from Debra Nystrom in 'Every Night' and her intense poem from a men's prison c Not much stood out in this selection, supposedly the best of 2008. What I really cannot stand about these annual collections is the host of familiar names that always seem to have written one of the better poems that year, once again causing me to disparage the academic world of poetry. Not to say there weren't moments of brilliance, among them Carolyn Forche, Patti Smith (yes, that Patti Smith), but the best poem came from Debra Nystrom in 'Every Night' and her intense poem from a men's prison cell.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Is this my least favorite best American poetry collection? Yes, I think it is. I was pretty sure I’d not take to this collection when I saw the name of the editor; I’m not a big fan of Charles Wright. The vast majority of the poems struck a Hemingway-esque note with me, a macho man trying to make it in this kinder, gentler world. But here and there, I found a common spirit. How can I read fifty poems and not find a few that light up my heart?! Impossible.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    As always with collections of this nature, I enjoyed some poems very much and others not at all. But as a whole, this collection is quite strong. As I tend to read mostly Canadian poets, I enjoyed reading the work of some contemporary US poets. And I enjoyed the poets' statements about the poems included in the book, which were included with the bios at the back - some were incredibly interesting. As always with collections of this nature, I enjoyed some poems very much and others not at all. But as a whole, this collection is quite strong. As I tend to read mostly Canadian poets, I enjoyed reading the work of some contemporary US poets. And I enjoyed the poets' statements about the poems included in the book, which were included with the bios at the back - some were incredibly interesting.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Linda Hollingsworth

    This is a wonderful collection for anyone who likes to read poetry. Rarely does a reader take to every poem included in such a collection, but often a second reading or even reading poems aloud can change one's response; I found that to be true with this collection. Charles Wright is probably one of the most qualified poets to make these choices. Reading a collection like this can set the reader on a "see" journey riding both dark and light-filled swells on a vast expanse of perception. This is a wonderful collection for anyone who likes to read poetry. Rarely does a reader take to every poem included in such a collection, but often a second reading or even reading poems aloud can change one's response; I found that to be true with this collection. Charles Wright is probably one of the most qualified poets to make these choices. Reading a collection like this can set the reader on a "see" journey riding both dark and light-filled swells on a vast expanse of perception.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Phayvanh

    What a nice, refreshing breath of air. Gust of storm wind. Lush ocean breeze, heavy with secrets. Charles Wright picks out poems with stories at their heart, poems that play with language and form and poems that respond to the classics from where we sit in the modern world. My favorite pieces (so far) are: "Evening Song" ~ Tom Andrews "Men" ~ Lydia Davis "Rock Polisher" ~ Chris Forhan "Divide and Conquer" ~ Alan Sullivan "Sepsis" ~ C. Dale Young What a nice, refreshing breath of air. Gust of storm wind. Lush ocean breeze, heavy with secrets. Charles Wright picks out poems with stories at their heart, poems that play with language and form and poems that respond to the classics from where we sit in the modern world. My favorite pieces (so far) are: "Evening Song" ~ Tom Andrews "Men" ~ Lydia Davis "Rock Polisher" ~ Chris Forhan "Divide and Conquer" ~ Alan Sullivan "Sepsis" ~ C. Dale Young

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I really enjoyed my first foray into poetry. I was recently traveling which offered some contemplative time for this sort of reading. I liked the way reading poems slowed down and opened my reading brain. I felt like I was using new synapses. Particularly enjoyed a poem by Bob Hicok. Am hoping to keep reading poetry.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    Ok, I am horrified. One of the poems included in this book is titled Electrocuting an Elephant, by Ciaran Berry. I couldn't believe what I was reading, so I Googled elephant electrocution. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topsy_(e... Thomas Edison filmed the January 4, 1903 execution/electrocution. There is a video on this website (not the top image, but the lower video). Ok, I am horrified. One of the poems included in this book is titled Electrocuting an Elephant, by Ciaran Berry. I couldn't believe what I was reading, so I Googled elephant electrocution. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topsy_(e... Thomas Edison filmed the January 4, 1903 execution/electrocution. There is a video on this website (not the top image, but the lower video).

  18. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    While these are well crafted poems, I found this collection to be so-so. I'm not a devoted poetry follower, so these 75 poems are my best effort at keeping the smallest bit up-to-date each year. While I enjoyed many, there are none that have stayed in my memory. Perhaps next year's volume will be more remarkable. While these are well crafted poems, I found this collection to be so-so. I'm not a devoted poetry follower, so these 75 poems are my best effort at keeping the smallest bit up-to-date each year. While I enjoyed many, there are none that have stayed in my memory. Perhaps next year's volume will be more remarkable.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    I think last year's volume was more consistent in its overall quality. There are a few standouts and some real stinkers. Charles Wright comes across as a religious/spiritual man (I don't know much about him, honestly) and I noticed a such trend within the content of many of the poems here. For better or worse I guess... I think last year's volume was more consistent in its overall quality. There are a few standouts and some real stinkers. Charles Wright comes across as a religious/spiritual man (I don't know much about him, honestly) and I noticed a such trend within the content of many of the poems here. For better or worse I guess...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jackson

    When I worked as an editor for a literary journal I often looked to the Best American Series for introductions to new writers. Over the years an indispensable guide for me. This new issue has a lovely poem by the late Tom Andrews, a poet whose work I published and greatly admire(d).

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ingrid Keir

    It is always interesting to see what is picked by an editor as "the best" for the year. Usually I have dismissed the New Yorker poems as snory bory, but they actually had some goodies this year, primarily one written by Patti Smith about the Virginia Tech shooting. Enjoy! It is always interesting to see what is picked by an editor as "the best" for the year. Usually I have dismissed the New Yorker poems as snory bory, but they actually had some goodies this year, primarily one written by Patti Smith about the Virginia Tech shooting. Enjoy!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    Read this after Iris Rinkehammer leant it to me to read what she called a "dirty" poem. I thought I had given up on this series...this one's a fair anthology--not fantastic, but much better than it's been in the past few years. Read this after Iris Rinkehammer leant it to me to read what she called a "dirty" poem. I thought I had given up on this series...this one's a fair anthology--not fantastic, but much better than it's been in the past few years.

  23. 5 out of 5

    SmarterLilac

    This edition is truly stunning. Perhaps my favorite of the Best American Poetries, I feel I will be enjoying this one through many re-reads.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Catharine

    I only read about a third of this because I found that I didn't like most of the poems. I was disappointed that poems that were selected to be the best of the year had so little resonance for me. I only read about a third of this because I found that I didn't like most of the poems. I was disappointed that poems that were selected to be the best of the year had so little resonance for me.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Apparently I am not down with what is cool, because I was not so into these poems.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    I buy this anthology every year, provides a wide selection of poetry being published. Some years are better than others, depends on who is the chosen guest editor.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tami

    Judging by this anthology, 2008 wasn't a great year for American poetry. Judging by this anthology, 2008 wasn't a great year for American poetry.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Missy

    This had a lot of crappy poems and a couple of home runs.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    Beautiful collection. Really nice to have the poems accompanied by comments from the writers in the back.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Thom

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