Sunday, December 14, 2014

Questions about Bests

I have now posted the list of every year of my personal anthology project. (See: Best Poems of the Year.) In January I will post my 2014 list. December is young; who knows what poems I will approve of before the New Year comes?

I’ve wondered about the collection. I made an attempt to categorize the poems so I could answer questions about the whole. That was a project that stalled, but I’m still curious.

How many are translations? From which languages? What translator is represented by more poems than any other?

How many poems are by women? How many by Americans? How many by children? What nationality is most frequently represented?

How many are by people I know?

How many are from a single poet’s collection versus an anthology? How many poets that I first encountered in an anthology did I follow to their own books — and find more poems to love? What poet is represented by more poems than any other? By more lines?

How many are haiku? What’s the longest poem? The second longest?

From what single source did I copy out the largest number of poems? How many are from the Best American Poetry annual?

How many English-language poems pre-date the Twentieth Century? How many of the poets are currently alive? How many were alive when I copied out their poems?

How many did I find in magazines? Which magazine was the best source? How many did I find on the internet? How many did I copy from manuscript (that is, poems that were not published)?

What subjects recur? I know there is a poem about putting down the cat (Billy Collins) and one about putting down the dog (John Updike). Are there any more in that vein? How many poems feature rain? Night? Greek gods? The Christian god?

What about narrative poems versus those that aren’t interested in story? How many of the poems are in traditional form?

Do I have clear favorites? Could I pare the anthology to a Best of the Best? When I started the project I had a real suspicion of Great Poets: Do I still? Do the poems by obscure poets hold up against those by poets universally acclaimed? Do I have obvious biases? Blind spots? Is there an area I’ve neglected?

I can answer some of the questions, provisionally, at least.

The longest poem I’ve copied out is The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll. Because that poem is so long Carroll has a strong start on the competition for poet with most lines. I’ve copied out a few other Carroll poems, too, so add those on. A simple piling up of words does not win Lewis Carroll Favorite Poet. But there probably is no Favorite Poet. Carroll easily places among those I would heartily recommend. I’m sure there are Carroll poems I dislike, but is there any poet who has avoided writing a poem I dislike? I’m not that poet, that’s sure.

I know I’ve neglected pre-Twentieth Century English-language verse. When I try it I usually don’t like it. I will try it again. And, no doubt, again.

I’m going to guess that I’ve copied out more poems by Americans than by any other nationality. Maybe by every other nationality combined. A crunching of numbers would be required to confirm. I certainly have a greater access to American poetry than to any other. Add the fact that I am an American poet and would like to be regarded among them so read my peers and think it important to read my peers.

I seek out poets and read anthologies that look promising. But I also want randomness. I am ready for my next favorite poem to be blowing down the street on a sheet of paper rumpled by a footprint. I am ready for it to be by Alexander Pope on a gilt-edged page.

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