It’s easy to slag off poetry anthologies, though I have certain questions and misgivings myself, of course. They’re too general, too selective, too cumbersome, too arcane, too misguided, too…I know, I know. But now that I’ve edited several of these things myself—and work daily with Afton and others as an editor of this journal (a kind of living anthology, as I think of it)—I wanted to overhear what went into all these books from the perspectives of the editors (and translators) themselves. Secretly, I love poetry anthologies. I collect anthologies of poetics (archived here). I just love them as flawed little microcosms of the great inchoate worlds of poetry and translation and poetics they're articulated and culled from.
So, I wrote to over fifty editors: those whose anthologies were near and dear to me and others whose projects were new and even those not quite finished, like Forrest Gander’s new one. There are many, many more editors I’d hoped to hear from, of course; and there are even more about whom I’d forgotten or remain belligerently unaware of. In fact, many did not know what to say about having edited their anthologies when they wrote back; many couldn’t make the time, as it happens; and several simply didn’t respond to my request. So it goes.
But when I wrote to Ron Padgett—about his anthology of New York Poets that I so love, edited with David Shapiro, with Joe Brainard’s drawings—Padgett wrote, “the best title for an anthology I have ever seen is Paul Eluard’s, Le Meilleur choix de poèmes est celui que l’on fait por soi (The Best Anthology Is the One You Make for Yourself).” And it’s true, no doubt.
Over the years as a teacher of poetry and as a writer, I began to edit my own anthologies. Mostly, you know, the little bootleg ones I’d make for my students when I was still adjuncting at three colleges in Denver and then the first “real” one, called 12x12—which featured conversations and poems that Christina Mengert and I gathered up. It took years. It was a ton of work. But it was really pleasing to finish, and then see out into the world in the small and smaller ways our works appear and return, and maybe visit us from without in a little note or a thoughtful review, even in a passing conversation with a stranger in the conference bookfair. (Yeah, no, I’m not ready for Seattle either.)
Anyways, last year I completed the brunt of the work on three new anthologies (essays on all of Anne Carson's books; poems by fifty poets; and a book of prose from writers on accessibility and the avant-garde, edited with Lily Hoang)—all still forthcoming. And I thought it might be instructive to those hundreds of us who do this work—and maybe even to the thousands beyond who benefit from anthologies in various ways—to gather a slew of responses from editors of anthologies about their work and thinking, the trials and dilemmas and pleasures that went into these books. I’m grateful for all the responses we got; I hope it radiates out in some of the good ways these things can.
Tucson, AZ / Late January 2014