Best New Poets --- 2013
50 Poems from Emerging Writers
Brenda Shaughnessy, Editor
(Rector and Board of Visitors of
The University of Virginia)
Best New Poets has been coming out with new editions each year since 2005, The editors take submissions from over eighty "little" magazines --- the likes of Prairie Schooner, Southern Review, Harvard Review, Virginia Quarterly Review and their ilk. There are others sent on by teachers of almost fifty writing programs (mostly at colleges like Minnesota State University, American University, Emerson College, the University of Kansas).

In addition, while the window was open --- April 5 to May 25, 2013 --- any and all other writers were allowed, for a fee, to post their poems for possible inclusion.

In all, we are told, 3,970 poems were submitted. "Seven readers and the series editor blindly ranked these submissions, sending a few hundred selections to this year's guest editor, Brenda Shaughnessy, who chose the final fifty poems."

§   §   §

Did I do something stupid last night? I mean, it was a riotous party, and I recall taking down my guitar and singing a bevy of songs by my favorites --- Beatles, Elvis, Little Richard. They say that despite my lack of syncopation, I was a riot --- especially when I belted out "Blue Suede Shoes." I guess it was the Johnnie Ray imitation that caused me to break the neck of my beloved old Gibson. I swear to you, this never happened before.

One of my friends called this morning, at an indecent hour, while I was trying to put my head back together. She (I think it was her; my cellphone battery is almost gone, needs serious recharging; I couldn't be sure if it was Linda or Leslie) told me what a kick I was. Maybe I was, but I was beyond caring at that hour of the day. The beastly sunlight was killing me, pure Donne:

            Busie old foole, unruly Sunne,
            Why dost thou thus,
    Through windowes, and through curtaines call on us?

I told Linda (or Lucy) I would get back to her. I didn't say that she had no business calling at such an ungodly hour. I had work to do. Besides putting myself back together I had a review to write. A new book, just released: Best New Poets --- 2013. Was I up to this? This may be the worst of times (or the best) ... but I knew I had to get serious.

"Best New Poets." Is there something going on that I don't get: about last night ... and, in general, in what we used to call poetry? I know there is supposed to be a gradual downgrading in literature during these post-literate times. Before he died, Eric Howbsbawm published a terrific book of old essays, Fractured Times.

It suggests that the arts have been dying since 1914: "Even the question 'Is this art?' [should] be asked only by those who cannot accept that the classical bourgeois concept of 'the arts,' though carefully preserved in its mausoleums, is no longer alive. It reached the end of its road as early as the First World War with Dada, Marcel Duchamps' urinal and Malevich's black square."

    Of course art did not then end, as it was supposed to. Nor, alas, did the society of which "the arts" were an integral part. However, we no longer understand or know how to deal with the present creative flood drowning the globe in image, sound, and words, which is almost certain to become uncontrollable in both space and cyberspace.

"Mausoleums?" "Uncontrollable?" "No longer alive."

Poetry too?

So it's not just my beastly hangover. If we've been given here a selection of "the best new poets" drawn from almost 4,000 poems submitted, then I shudda stood in bed. For despite Howbsbawm's bleak view, poetry still survives. And I won't embarrass the poets here, nor the editor, by choosing any one of the fifty to take apart: to show why it (nor any of the other forty-nine) don't cut the mustard.

Nor will I blame it on age. Although we suspect that most of these on show here are by the best of young writers, it isn't a given. There was no mention of age limits in the "Introduction" to this volume. Thus the door was presumably open to all through the final general call for submissions.

§   §   §

Editor Shaughnessy does one thing important however. She explains how she picked through "the few hundred selections" sent to her so she could choose the best of the best:

    The new poets are not just a new generation of scribblers born to Glückian and Ashberyish bloodlines, or of Cliftonic and Gilbertian culture. They are a hybrid cyborg technotopian many-headed gorgonian (those heads have snakes) galactic hive-made-entirely-of-queens-yet-the-work-gets-done mythic futuristic scary and reassuring swarm of wordsmiths.

Get it?

The Review of Arts --- this magazine --- has, over its many years published some 500 poems, many by contemporary "wordsmiths." I offer you a list below of several poems that we've put online, most if not all by relatively unknown poets. If you read them over, you will find, I think, a passion and an honesty --- sometimes a fearful honesty --- that should give us all hope that the art of poetry is still attainable, still worthy of our time and our interest. I suspect that none of them would qualify as "cyborg technotopian;" I am even more sure that they are not of the "many-headed gorgonian" school that were fingered in Shaughnessy's book.

Despite this obvious failing, they are brilliant, I believe; should be considered "Best Poetry" --- and well deserve our interest if not our love.

[Hit on the titles below to go to the full poem]

  • The Queen Is in the Countinghouse (L. L. Seamans)
      The Queen is looking pale.
      She sits in the countinghouse
      Waiting for the sun to die,
      But her eye is on the falconers.
      Rumor has it she is "embarasada."
      The boys laugh at her lisp and she weeps
      For all children still unborn.

  • Glaucoma Love Poem (Reneé Gisell)
      You'll lead me by the hand to bed...
      A hearth for my cooling ages;
      You'll speak to me of the darkening hours:
      Ask if my soul is warm, warm enough...
      If this night is dark enough...
      And the two black coals of the sun.

  • Lifestyles of the Blind and Paralyzed (Mark O'Brien)
      The pay is lousy,
      no vacations or sick leave,
      and the compliments...
      You'd rather do without them.
      On the plus side,
      you're exempt from military service,
      get to watch lots of TV
      and pay half price at the movies.

  • A Cricket in the Telephone (At Sunset) (Ignacio Schwartz)
      I find that if I think too much
      On you and on my love for you,
      The stars begin to talk to me,
      Talk to me of Standard and Poors, and
      Sweet Virginia peppermint pie, and
      The decline of the Roman Empire, and
      You half-hidden under the bedcovers,
      And the new, complete, unabridged
      Memoirs of Jacques Casanova.

  • E-Mail You (C. A. Amantea)
      Your shoulders as your shift came off.
      The sun's lazy line across your throat,
      Your eyes hazy, an idle hair
      Where it shouldn't have been
      Where (you said so much later)
      We should never have been.
      Should never have been.

  • The Ladies of the School (A. W. Allworthy)
      The Ladies of the School of Bliss
      Have announced that each evening
      In order to save them,
      They are preparing to crush thyme
      Against the dying stars.

  • My Vision (Leslie Seamans)
      After confession I prayed for the bombers,
      Amnesty for the bodies everywhere,
      For the babes that had been beaten in the woods.
      I am still taking my pills,
      The ones that will make me more seductive.

  • The Vivisection Mambo (P. J. Weise)
      When she takes the sword, kisses the blade just so
      And places it gently in my gut and slides it up:
      I think on the lace she wears to the dance,
      And before her, breasts like great engines
      Pushing love around the ball, into all of us.

  • Moon Dog Song (Ángel Pérez)
      Venus is in bloom tonight.
      There are a thousand or so comets
      Searching across the southern sky.
      I pretend that they are friends visiting
      From Antares coming to visit me
      Coming to visit me
      To visit me with love
      From the cold and wandering star
      They call Antares.

  • A Poem of Hope (L. Lark)
      Have they buried all the soldiers yet?
      Are they still coughing up roses?
      Who blesses their graves?
      Is there still no center to the universe?
      What night looms before us?

  • Pity the Lady (Diana Boernstein)
      Pity the shady lady
      Under the linden tree
      With seven shillings in her purse
      And sugar in her tea
      Listen if you like to her casual conversation
      Other people's vices, and the view
      She mentions "What a pleasant afternoon"
      And drops her spoon.
      But O there are moths in the mind
      And you, without them
      Are remote and lovely in your knowing
      Nothing about them.

  • Saturn Rings about the Alambra (C. K. Swann)
      I think you were beginning to smell the ashes,
      Feel the frail mandrake roots creeping up your
      Tanned and seamless thighs. All the while
      I think you were trying to remember my name.
      'Swann,' I said, five or ten times. 'The bird.
      The one that stays faithful to its mate. Forever.'

  • The Blow-Job Soldiers (L. J. Winters)
      The blow-job soldiers wallow in snow fields,
      Spreading love among the yellow lilies;
      Hired to fight the beasts that had attacked
      Out of the bog, to steal our civilization,
      Making hay in the dark with our women,
      Bayonetting our lonely children.
--- Richard Saturday
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