When we decided, in 2003, to try to put together an anthology of poetry, our original idea had little to do with the book we ended up editing. We noticed we had spent a lot of time on the phone between New York and Houston discussing our shared interest in what we began to refer to as “artful recklessness” in poetry. We kept talking excitedly about new poems were reading—by such writers as D.A. Powell, Joyelle McSweeney, Lisa Jarnot, Josh Bell, and Olena Kalytiak Davis, to name a few—that deliberately flew off the rails, engaged in rhetorical subterfuge, and actively sought to rattle the reader out of their comfort zone, or were otherwise unapologetically irreverent and improper. We thought we would put together an anthology of transgressions of form and content, which we saw as an important generational trend that deserved being investigated and documented. However, as we began reading for this project, we kept encountering poetry that would not necessarily fit the original narrow parameters of our idea but that we felt was so compelling and exciting that it deserved broader dissemination.
At that same time, our friend the poet Rodney Jones had told us that our generation of poets had not yet taken stock of its historical moment and that “someone needed to do an anthology.” Meanwhile, Michael, who had been working toward his PhD, had a particular professor who kept bemoaning what he would characterize as the contentlessness, vacuity, inaccessibility, and general irrelevance of an entire generation of younger poets. To Michael’s surprise, when he would attempt to rebut the professor’s claims with specific examples from recently published poetry, the professor in question had not heard of virtually any of the poets Michael would bring up. We felt that there was a need for a book that sought to refute this claim that contemporary younger poets were not doing anything new or interesting, a book that would serve as a broad introduction to a diversity of younger poets for readers not yet familiar with them.
The project was truly collaborative. While our tastes and interests overlap, the two of us don’t share an aesthetic, so we spent a lot of time compensating for each other’s aesthetic oversights, learning from each other’s opinions, and duking it out as to which poets and poems should go in. As a result, this is definitely not the anthology either of us would have done on our own—in some ways it became the anthology we never predicted. It is possible that either of us, editing a book by one’s lonesome self, would have served up a more provocative volley. But we were less interested in articulating a particular vision than we were in providing a snapshot of some of the stuff that was happening across a broad swath of American poetry between the years of 2003 and 2006. When an anthology comes out, reviewers inevitably treat it as though it’s inherently trying to make a grand and definitive generational or aesthetic claim. But the only claim we were consciously trying to make was that our generation of poets was rich, exciting, unpredictable, ambitious, and aesthetically diverse.
We weren’t trying to edit our generation’s version of Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry 1945 – 1960 or some kind of anthology of a school, movement, or aesthetic style, such as Arielle Greenberg and Lara Glenum’s later anthology of the Gurlesque. Instead, we wanted to edit the kind of generational anthology that served for each of us as an early but formative experience in reading contemporary poetry: for Cate that book was the William Morrow anthology from the mid-1980’s edited by Dave Smith and David Bottoms, whereas for Michael it was Paul Carroll’s 1968 The Young American Poets and the Poulin anthologies of contemporary poetry published in the 1990’s by BOA. In some ways, we wanted an even broader, more aesthetically inclusive view into contemporary poetry practice than we ended up producing. We had asked Sarabande, our publisher, for permission to include 100 poets, and Sarabande had told us they wanted a leaner book with only sixty writers. 85 poets ended up being the final compromise. In a different year, we may have picked 85 different poets than the poets we ended up choosing, as poetry evolves and individual tastes continue to change.