Francis Janosco asked me to nominate some poems from which you will selected the best poems of the first years of this century. I don’t believe in the “best” in the abstract since what I may most value in a poem is likely to be despised by other readers. Poetry is more like politics in that sense, but the stakes are aesthetic. In making this list, I am assuming you are relatively new to poetry and I selected works that are very different in approach, so your preferences would reflect as much the kind of poem you are interested in as the “best”. I also picked poems that raise issues worth discussing. --Charles Bernstein, July 31, 2016

Lyn Hejinian, "The Unfollowing"
From Hejinian's new book, where each line is supposed to be a non-sequitur. The poems are each 14 lines but she says they are not sonnets. Would other combinations of the lines make for equally good poems? Why do non-sequiturs put into this form become connected to one another? Could this be an structural allegory for human organization in families, groups, cities, nations?

David Antin:  “Hiccups” – pdf, audio (search for C324)
“Hiccups” –  Antin gives improvised "talk poems" and then transcribes the talks. You can read the written version and also listen to the audio on which Antin based the text. What’s the difference in experiencing the recording versus reading the poem? Is it one poem or two? Why call this a poem?

Maggie O'Sullivan, All Origins Are Lonely
O'Sullivan is the only poet here from Great Britain. She sometimes publishes her work with her own collages.

Tracie Morris, From "Slave Sho to Video aka Black but Beautiful" (2002) (3:40): MP3
There is no "text" version of this poem, only the recording of the performance.

Felix Bernstein, "If Loving You Is Wrong"
This one is by my son. How does nepotism affect the selection of the "best'? The poem lists the number of Google search hits for each of the dozens of contemporary poets listed. Is this a legitimate form for a poem? Do “hits” represent popularity, distinction, or value? The poems ends with a reference to David Antin’s quip, “if robert lowell is a poet i dont want to be a poet           if robert frost was a poet i dont want to be a poet     if socrates was a poet     i’ll consider it.”

Ron Silliman, "from Caledonia"
Silliman has been publishing since 1970. This is his most recent on-line magazine appearance.

Tonya Foster, "In/Somniloquies” in A Swarm of Bees in High Court
I wrote this intro for Foster. Do you read the poem differently after reading this?

Robert Grenier, two poems with rough translations
Many people would not consider these drawn works poems at all. How does handwriting affect the meaning?

Christian Bok, Eunoia ("o")
Each chapter is composed with just one vowel (lipogram).

Elizabeth Willis, "The Witch"
Are you one?

Charles Bernstein, "War Stories"
This is not my best poem, but a good one for discussion. Does that make it a better candidate for this classroom use?