Finding Solace in Anthologies
May 09, 2016
By David Mucklow, Colorado Review Editorial Assistant
Since starting my MFA and working at the Center for Literary Publishing, I’ve discovered a lot of new books of poetry. That has been probably one of the most exciting and helpful experiences as I start to work on my own full-length manuscript of poetry. With so much going on in our lives and an abundance of amazing books of poetry to read, though, sometimes it’s really hard to focus on the intricacies, the detailed poetics that a book has to offer. When I think about how much work someone has put into not just the writing of poems, but the compiling of a manuscript, not being fully present while reading a book feels like an injustice to the work of the poet. When I’m struggling to find energy and time to be a fully involved reader of a poetry collection, one alternative I’ve found is reading poetry anthologies.
It took me a long time to trust the word anthology after so many undergraduate survey classes where you buy a very spendy, thousand-page collection of everything important written for the past, you know, several hundred years. Then you only read relatively a tenth of it, and if you find some poetry that is exciting, it is only a few pages of brightness in a black hole of a collection. Inevitably, and problematically, excellent writers get left out. But in the midst of so many books of contemporary poetry, I’ve found a lot of solace in being able to open an anthology of poems to any page and enjoy that singular moment of brightness. This is certainly true of many books of poetry as well, but the pressure to consider the holistic arc of an anthology feels lighter. I feel I can give the energy I have to a poem in shorter bursts, without the pressure of missing larger poetic elements of a book. This has led me to read further into anthologies, think more about their themes, and discover new poets that I never knew about.
Anthologies are great tools to consider larger elements of genre and theme, as well as discover new voices, and I’ve found some great anthologies of contemporary poetry. I’m from a small town in rural Colorado, and so I’ve always had an interest in pastoral, rural, and regional poetry. Two related anthologies I’ve been reading a lot from recently are Hick Poetics, from Lost Roads Press, and The Arcadia Project, from Ahsahta Press. Knowing the thematic concerns of the poems in these anthologies, I’ve found a large breadth of poems and poets I haven’t been able to access from an individual book of poetry. When I can carve out a little time at the busy end of the semester, I’ve been flipping to a page in one of these books and finding amazing post-modern pastoral poems from established poets like C. D. Wright and Yusef Komunyakaa, and great poems from poets that I haven’t read a lot of (Tim Earley’s first poem in Hick Poetics is worth buying the whole book). I’m excited to delve deep into single-author poetry collections when I have more free time over the summer. But if you’re feeling pressed for time and energy, try spending the little time you have to looking through an anthology and exploring the types of poetry you are excited about, finding new voices in them. Between the storm of spring’s gray skies, finishing semester projects, and finding time to write, I’ve found much needed moments of solace reading poems from these anthologies.