by William (edited by) Harmon
“Kind of the most indispensable collection of poems ever formed. So, it sucks that I don't own a copy. I know several people who do, so it never seemed financially sensible.
Since a more personal approach to compiling great poems will result in books like Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn, or Mark Strand's The Making of a Poem, where the collection is made or broke by your connection to the compiler's taste, The Top 500 Poems takes a far more reliable route. The poems presented are simply the 500 that appear most frequently throughout English textbooks and newspapers and the like, worldwide. What this presents is an encouraging (or cynic-making depending) look at what the earth deems good poetry.
If five million Frenchmen can't be wrong, can the entire world of editors and publishers be?
What's lost from this collection is a lot of the more experimental and visual forms of poetry that have developed in the last century, neither bpnichol nor Christian Bok making any appearance. But given the breadth of genres, subgenres, and curiosities included within these pages, one is sure to come away with a taste for where poetry is headed. And, muse willing, the will to seek it out.
Since modern work hasn't had much time to circulate, it's not surprising that the last hundred years of work make up a tiny fraction of the 500. If one is disappointed by the volume of familiar and retreaded works here included, remember that, considering the rate at which newer poems will in the future circulate electronically, a Top 500 Poems released in 2099 may include nothing written before 2007.
Still, you'll find Plath's Daddy, and Williams' Red Wheel Barrow, to balance out the Old English rhymes that might not tickle your adventurous, poetry-exploring spirit.
The guts of the book is a distilled tome of the best works by the best poets in history. Who could say no to that?”
Joe Girard wrote this review Saturday, November 10, 2007.