Thursday, November 24, 2005

Dead but still among the best poets writing today

Elizabeth Bishop had been dead nine years by the time the annual anthology series Best American Poetry began publishing. I read BAP every year as a sort of penance for caring about poetry, the most irrelevant artform on the planet.

Jeff Bahr has a chart that logs how many times a poet has had work chosen for BAP. John Ashbery, it seems, is America's Best poet. Donald Hall is America's second Best poet. Charles Simic is America's third Best poet. And so on.

Each new BAP culls poems from magazines published in the preceding year. They have to be American (or Canadian) and written in English -- no translations are eligible. Even considering the years of backlog at many literary magazines you could be forgiven for assuming that the appearance of a dead poet in BAP would be unusual. So how many times has Elizabeth Bishop had a poem in Best American Poetry?

Four times.

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