I’ve been collecting this series since it began in 1988, and though my enthusiasm for each volume differs, I love how it’s become an historical artifact of sorts. Each volume features a guest editor (2021 is curated by Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the U.S. 2017-2019), who, along with their picks for the 75 “best” poems of the year (culled from literary journals), writes an introduction. The introduction serves as a lens on what was fashionable in poetry that year as well as what was happening in the country. The collection itself shows a shift from the ivory tower of poetry to one that better represents diverse voices and experiences: in the first 22 years of its existence, only two guest editors were people of color (Rita Dove and Yusef Komunyakaa); in the last decade, there have been seven. The series regularly addresses the value of labeling something “best,” an imperfect measure if there ever was one, but it’s heartening to see that its own aperture is widening.
–Erin, Queen Anne Book Company, Seattle, WA