The first thing I will say about the first poem in this year’s BAP is a heartfelt thanks that it is not by John Ashbery. I have nothing against the Godfather, but too many of the BAPs start with his work, and the autobiography and comment in the back of the book is always the same.
Bodhisattva – Sarah Arvio
While I was excited that a new voice would grace the front door of this tavern I was disheartened almost immediately to learn that the new voice was just one generation removed from the previous innkeeper. It’s a game I play with the BAP. Can I guess the age and college associated with the writer? I know my generation, know my people. Over the years it has been heartening to see my Xers start to pepper, and then become fully integrated into, and then be the old guard of the BAP as the millennials come marching in.
But I can tell from the first couplet of the first stanza of Bodhisattva, I can tell that sound is more important than meaning in this poem, that meaning is something I am going to have to find or give up on. It frustrates me. It frustrates me at the end of a poem if I am unmoved, and uninformed, and uninspired. Call me a neo-romantic. Call me a post-postmodernist. Call me a reconstructionist. Call me a snob. I come to a poem to hear the genuine heart-story of a human being. I detest being toyed with.
At the end of the poem I guess the author was born mid-century, maybe Ivy League. I look at the bio and comment in the back of the book (my favorite part of the Best American Poetry). 1954. Taught at Princeton. What infuriates me more are the comments afterwards. Paraphrased: ‘I like how words sound. I played with the sound. I found out later what Bodhisattva meant.’
You have an opportunity to move minds, to raise consciousness, to share your experience and life and truth. And you use it to play a children’s game. And that is then considered the best American poetry. Baby boomers.