Dark Horses: Poets on Overlooked Poems

 

Dark Horses is a lovingly performed excavation of poems that have eluded canonization. A hundred poets were invited to share a favorite neglected poem, as well as write a short essay on it. The essayists, all published poets, are eager and passionate readers; the format of poem-and-response lends the book an appealing intellectual energy. It’s fascinating to see how one poem, however uncelebrated, can nudge another poet into a swoon, and sometimes a career .... Dark Horses serves a noble purpose in rounding up loose, lost voices ... giving them a chance to meet with readers once again.       —Jenny Gillespie, Time Out

Poets Katz (The Garden Room) and Prufer (Fallen from a Chariot; The New Young American Poets), both editors of the journal Pleiades, asked over five dozen poets (ranging from some of America's most well-known, like Billy Collins and John Ashbery, to rising talents, like D.A. Powell and Susan Wheeler) to each pick one obscure or underappreciated poem and to write an accompanying explanation of their choice. The resulting anthology gathers a host of surprising poems—works by Emily Dickinson, Sara Teasdale, Man Ray and Laura (Riding) Jackson all find their way here—along with passionate prose. Carol Muske-Dukes picked the tragically lush Thomas James ("...here is my new mouth,/ Chiseled with care") and Mary Jo Bang introduces a youthful Sylvia Plath ("I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead"). In one of the anthology's most moving moments, Stanley Plumly movingly revisits Elizabeth Bishop's "Poem," which he calls "more 'personal' and less 'finished' than what this inveterate writer is commonly committed to." While the curatorial process—which involves so many other people—ensures that few readers will like every poem, it also guarantees that most will find new favorites.      —Publishers Weekly


Creating an anthology of overlooked poems may not be original, but editors Katz and Prufer added a clever twist by including brief essays from the poets who submitted their personal favorites. Both little-heard voices and well-respected titans of the poetic universe are represented. Curiously, what becomes apparent is the randomness of their selections. Billy Collins aptly states, "One could probably locate a poem that deserved more attention by simply throwing a dart blindfolded at the wall of American poetry." Katz and Prufer claim to have simply set out to showcase forgotten works, but their anthology achieves a nobler outcome. It demonstrates that powerful poetry can be found anywhere. Poetry that, as Emily Dickinson so famously stated, causes us to feel as if the top of our heads were taken off is generated by the rarely published and the famous alike. And without randomness, preferences, and biases, readers would not have such a wide "wall of American poetry" at which to aim our passion-seeking darts.        —BookList / American Library Association


Editor's Choice—The Chicago Tribune
In Chicago we love an underdog, whatever its form. In this collection, dozens of poets--including Billy Collins and Dana Gioia--select one poem that has fallen into obscurity. Each poem is accompanied by a short essay explaining its brilliance, why it fell from favor and why it matters.       —Elizabeth Taylor


The premise of this book is simple: ask accomplished poets (including John Ashbery, Billy Collins, Richard Foerster, Charles Bernstein, and Carolyn Kizer) to recommend a forgotten or overlooked poem and explain their choice in a few paragraphs. But the results are anything but ordinary. The poems chosen for this delightful collection are, almost without exception, little marvels that truly deserve to be rescued from oblivion. The accompanying mini-essays (short enough not to overshadow the poems) offer valuable insights into poet and poem and could serve as a primer on poetics. Included are obscure poems by famous poets like Whitman, Dickinson, Bishop, and Berryman as well as work by less familiar poets Alvin Feinman, Joseph Ceravolo, Vasko Popa. One can only hope that the collection will spark renewed interest in the latter. Noteworthy are essays by Dean Young on Man Ray, Linda Bierds on Margaret Avison, Wanda Coleman on Penny Gasaway, Lloyd Schwartz on Joyce Peseroff, and Dana Gioia on lost WW I poet John Allan Wyeth. Katz and Prufer (themselves award-winning poets) organize the collection not by period or style or school, but instead by their intuitive judgments. This supplies an element of surprise. Summing Up: Highly recommended.          —Choice


Dark Horses is a lovingly performed excavation of poems that have eluded canonization. A hundred poets were invited to share a favorite neglected poem, as well as write a short essay on it. The essayists, all published poets, are eager and passionate readers; the format of poem-and-response lends the book an appealing intellectual energy. It’s fascinating to see how one poem, however uncelebrated, can nudge another poet into a swoon, and sometimes a career .... Dark Horses serves a noble purpose in rounding up loose, lost voices ... giving them a chance to meet with readers once again.       —Jenny Gillespie, Time Out


The wide breadth of the poetry, and the many ways and the conciseness with which these poets write about the work, make Dark Horses a captivating read. The editors have put together an anthology that is three-pronged in its successes: All of it is entertaining, most of the poems in it warrant (for many reasons) new light in this new century, and the prose of the poets here reveals a great deal.   —Alex Lemon, The Bloomsbury Review


Laurels to Joy Katz and Kevin Prufer, the editors of Dark Horses: Poets on Overlooked Poems.  Katz and Prufer did something simple but effective here: They asked 75 contemporary poets to select an “unjustly neglected poem” and write a brief commentary on it. Those comments appear along with the poems. The result is an excellent volume, both readable and thoughtful.     —Kansas City Star


In a culture that frequently overlooks poetry, this collection fights valiantly against the dying of the light.  —The Washington Post


[T]his anthology can help us understand the ways that issues of disregard and rescue intersect with those that underlie competing schools of American poetry. By choosing selectors from both traditional, referential poets on one hand and radicalized, poststructural poets on the other, Katz and Prufer provide an especially helpful view of the key differences between the two groups.  —The Georgia Review

 

The idea behind Dark Horses started as a conversation among five poets about “wonderful, obscure poems we’d come across over the years.” After musing on the topic and sending poems back and forth for a couple of months, two of the poets, Katz and Prufer, decided to send out invitations to a hundred poets, asking them for an “unknown or underappreciated poem written by anyone, in any language, from any era.” What ensues here are seventy-six poets who responded and the poem each chose, followed by a brief essay about the poem. Dark Horses reintroduces readers to both obscured poets and obscured poems by well-known poets. “Guide to Marine Mammals and Sentence Structure,” by Adam Hammer, chosen by Jim Daniels, is likened to “Walt Whitman on acid” with lines like “The Teeth-Mammal was sad, and cried real teargas, and was naked at last.” Richard Foerster reacquaints us with the Dickinson gem “This Word is not Conclusion. / A Species stands beyond — / Invisible, as Music — / But positive, as Sound —.” And C. K. Williams gives a touching and generous response to Chase Twichell’s “The Ruiner of Lives,” writing, “A poem of the intensities of the mind, of our astounding ability to trans-figure matter to spirit, yet, because humans never sufficiently appreciate the responsibilities which the gift of consciousness entails, also of our dreadful capacity to destroy both.” As a testament to the bond between reader and poem, the anthology gives us the personal stories of many poets who took this project on as a way to reveal how they first came to love poetry—Lucia Perillo writes of John Logan’s “Three Moves:” “I’ve always been a tad afraid that my enthusiasm for this poem springs from the fact that my first hearing of it was an inaugurating moment in my life as a poet. But, as always when I revisit this poem, I am amazed.”     —Virginia Quarterly Review


Best Books of 2007! —Kansas City Star


Dark Horses: Poets on Overlooked Poems might seem at first glance merely another collection in the plethora of literary anthologies that have recently become, like the locust swarms in ancient times, a plague upon the land. Closer inspection of this compilation by Joy Katz and Kevin Prufer, however, reveals that Dark Horses is truly a treasure house of neglected poems . . . both the poets and the poets who appear as their advocates give all who wish the best for poetry a real reason to hope that the best will be recognized and will live among us.       —Smoky Mountain News


Missing from this anthology are three poets who matter greatly to the contemporary reader. One is Philip Larkin. The other two are the editors themselves, Kevin Prufer and Joy Katz. Editorial etiquette may have excluded their  poetry but etiquette be damned,  Prufer’s “Death Comes in the Form of a Pontiac Trans Am” or “Ode to Rome” belong in these pages as does Katz’s “Daffodils.”  Caveats aside, Dark Horses tells us what individual poems mean to the poets who chose them. As such, they open old, forgotten worlds—and wounds--to those of us who can’t remember how much a single poem can change our lives. Dark Horses  resuscitates the poetry cemetery where “Sic transit, Gloria” is buried.   —The Writing Doctor


A collection of new ways of looking at and hearing poems ... In Dark Horses is found poetry, genius, and passion.  —Tom Holmes, Mid-American Review


A wonderful agglomeration of eclectic tastes, ranging from formalist to experimental, estalished to up-and-coming, academic to the non-academic. Although, at first glance, this anthology might seem intended for the poetry aficianado, it is diverse and accessible enough to delight any poetic ear.  —Ohioana Quarterly


Dark Horses will add insight and breadth to any well-established collection of literature and enrich those who read it.  —KLIATT

 

The community assembled here can form a microcosm of a new history of reading .... Though poetry is not a race, exactly—for one important thing, it lacks a finish line—I am glad to put money on this collection.   —Angela Ball, American Book Review

 

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