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This article is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

The Chinese Woman's Feet Michael Hulse


LATE LAST YEAR I was sent a copy of The Best American Poetry 1991 (Scribner's), by the series editor, David Lehman. It is a sturdily bound book with Edward Hopper's uncannily unpeopled Rooms by the Sea adorning a gracefully pastel jacket. Inside there are two hundred and seventy pages of poetry - or, as the blurb describes it, 'seventy-five poems from nearly three dozen magazines published in the previous year', chosen by the 1991 volume editor, Mark Strand, 'during his stint as the nation's poet laureate'. These two hundred and seventy pages are sandwiched: at the top there is a three-page foreword by David Lehman and a five-page introduction by Mark Strand, while underneath are contributors' notes and comments, acknowledgements, and the addresses of the magazines surveyed.

In their comments, the contributors try hard to preempt seminar talk, stake claims to the aesthetic or moral higher ground, or confess endearingly that the poem ended where it did because an eighteen-month-old son wanted attention. 'Because of the many split-second decisions I had to make on my narrator's behalf,' writes one, 'I felt as if I were steering a motorboat through a waterway filled with cyprus stumps and floating mangroves and at the same time the water-skier hanging on for the ride.' One writer, 'a lecturer in the creative writing program at Princeton' and, perversely enough, the author of one of the outstanding poems in the anthology, tells us that her poem 'is meant to illuminate ...

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