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The State of the Art

A Chronicle of American Poetry, 1988-2014


David Lehman (View Bio)
Hardcover: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015.

The State of the Art

The acclaimed annual, The Best American Poetry, is the most prestigious showcase of new poetry in the United States and Canada. Each year since the series began in 1988, David Lehman has contributed a foreword, and this has evolved into a sort of state-of-the-art address that surveys new developments and explores various matters facing poets and their readers today. This book collects all twenty-nine forewords (including the two written for the retrospective “Best of the Best” volumes for the tenth and twenty-fifth anniversaries.)  Beginning with a new introduction by Lehman and a foreword by poet Denise Duhamel (guest editor for The Best American Poetry 2013), the collection conveys a sense of American poetry in the making, year by year, over the course of a quarter of a century.

"In 1987, Lehman, the prolific poet, critic and editor, somehow talked Scribner into publishing an annual anthology to be called The Best American Poetry, and so became the Casey Kasem of American verse. More than a quarter-century later, likely to the surprise of everyone except the indefatigable Lehman himself, the series is still going strong. Each year Lehman chooses an eminent poet to make the 75 selections, and the nation's versifiers spend the next 12 months arguing over geniuses overlooked and charlatans canonized, or pretending they're too cool to care. Best is of course the fighting word, but also undoubtedly the key to the success of the series; the joy of the project, for me, arises exactly from the fact that its click-bait cachet gets people reading and discussing contemporary poems. Lehman has contributed brief forewords to every volume; this book collects them. They aren't scholarly, and aren't meant to be. Read end to end, they form a swift, dishy, insightful, entertaining account of American poetry's fashions and trajectories as one century sputtered out and the next cleared its throat." — Joel Brouwer, The New York Times Book Review

"A concentrated, high-caliber, and exhilarating overview of the intensity and artistry that have made American poetry so splendidly varied and vital since 1988.... This is an anthology of broad scope, serious pleasure, and invaluable illumination." — Booklist

"Lehman, though primarily known as a poet, is a fine editor and nonfiction writer who teaches in the graduate writing program of the New School in New York City. He has also written the forewords to the prestigious annual showcase of new poems, The Best American Poetry, since its inception in 1988. This volume gathers his forewords into a collection of 29 essays that encourage poets and readers to explore the evolution of poetry over the last 27 years…. This title offers insightful observations about the genre. Readers and scholars who love poetry will find much to return to again and again in Lehman's fine collection of essays." — Library Journal (starred review)

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