The best way to celebrate National Poetry Month is to savor poetry in all its diversity, from Elizabethan sonnets to stark contemporary verse. Three new anthologies offer opportunities for discovering (or remembering) poems that can inspire, intrigue and enlighten readers of all tastes.
The most ambitious and eagerly anticipated new collection is The Best Poems of the English Language (HarperCollins, $34.95, 1,008 pages, ISBN 0060540419) by Harold Bloom. One of America's most acclaimed scholars and critics, Bloom offers his assessment of the best poets from the 14th century (Chaucer) to the 20th (Hart Crane is the final entry). For readers who share Bloom's opinions on what constitutes great poetry, this is a magical volume, filled with classic delights. Bloom offers brief biographical information and commentary on every poet, never shying away from sweeping assessments. He identifies Walt Whitman, for example, as "the central American poet," and his poem "When Lilacs Last At the Dooryard Bloom'd" as "the summit of our imaginative literature to date." This hefty volume is a worthy addition to any home library and an ideal book for browsing.
An eclectic sampling of contemporary poetry can be found in Poetry Daily: Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website. Editors of the site selected 366 poems, one for each day of 2004, to introduce readers to new poetry.
Also out this month is Bartlett's Poems for Occasions (Little, Brown, $25, 672 pages, ISBN 0316735019), which takes the concept behind Bartlett's Familiar Quotations and applies it to poetry. More than 500 poems are listed according to themes, from the cycles of nature to the phases of human life.