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Poetry 180

A few weeks ago at the local library I found Poetry 180, the book version of this project. Thumbnail review: it's a collection of poems in one-a-day easy-to-swallow doses for high school students, selected by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Most of them are sugar-pill placebos, but one did give me an instant buzz: "Tour" by Carol Snow.

Near a shrine in Japan he'd swept the path
and then placed camellia blossoms there.

Or — we had no way of knowing — he'd swept the path
between fallen camellias.

OK, I'm a sucker for foreground-background illusions and abrupt perspective shifts—and brevity, clarity of vision, and coy Zen definitely add to its appeal. Sure, there are other good bits in Poetry 180; Billy Collins himself has a delightful Introduction to Poetry, and I love the adroit inversion of William Stafford's At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border. But there's far too much sameness among the bulk of the offerings in this anthology, too much tell-a-little-story with ragged-right-margin prose that calls itself a poem. Maybe it's good to set the bar low and encourage kids in their own efforts. (I could use some encouragement too!) But maybe young people should see a few of the more brilliant, classic examples of verse—poems that burn and sting and tickle, not just ones that toss their hair and flounce across the page.

(cf. InMyJournal (2005-01-29), DangerousLiterature (2006-06-03), PoeticLines (2007-07-12), MAPCO Logo (2009-07-05), ...) - ^z - 2009-09-30