The Three That Speak to Us: “The Call,” “Sects From A to Z,” “A Worldly Country”

After reading all seventy-five poems from the 2006 edition of Best American Poetry, we were suddenly faced with both the liberty and agony of choosing the top three poems we believed best represented the year 2006. While shuffling through the possibilities, we decided to choose three diverse poems, each with a different emotional pull, subject of interest, and . As we finalized the list, the ideas we had narrowed it down to were playful religion, unexpected mourning, and precious reality within R.S. Gwynn’s “Sects From A to Z”, David Yezzi’s “The Call”, and  John Ashbery’s “A Worldly Country”, respectively.

With a sense of humor so antagonizing and swift language that keeps the reader going, R.S. Gwynn’s “Sects From A to Z” is a large satirical mass in which Gwynn is able to pair comedy with an upbeat rhyme-scheme to tear apart some of the most popular religions in our dear country and their adherents, ranging from Roman Catholics to Quakers to the Zealots. Gwynn, a 1948 North Carolina-born poet, is famously known for his association with the New Formalism movement in contemporary poetry that tends to work against the complex, random verse that poems now seem to be filled with. “Sects From A to Z” is a great example of Gwynn’s traditional style, each stanza representing a new religion with new sarcasm and rhyme scheme: “The blue-eyed Episcopal ladies And gentlemen look like the Brady’s. Their children are blond And they are all quite fond Of the Escalade and the Mercedes” (Gwynn). The poem’s behavior and extensive irony directly works to expose an amusing truth beneath the stereotypes of world religions. We praise Gwynn for this epic poem, it’s uncanny humor making it impossible to stop reading or take any offense to.

A more serious piece that extracts a deep emotional response, David Yezzi’s “The Call” is a poem that deals with the initial shock and aftermath of learning someone you know has died. We chose this poem for our final three because we felt it sheds a light on a subject that is (obviously) not easy to discuss and smoothly transitions between emotional ignorance and a realized acceptance. Yezzi’s use of descriptive language details the narrator’s experience of receiving the news of a man´s death, and feeling nothing. But the mood of the poem shifts as the news begins to settle in, and the narrator starts to imagine his hands ¨With nicotine-stained fingertips and hair like desert weeds fetched up on chicken wire” (Yezzi). The images that Yezzi is able to construct with his vivid language help to relay the messages and emotions of the poem to the reader, and help to support Yezzi´s reputation for his ¨mastery¨ of creating approachable, traditional poetry like that of renowned mid-twentieth century poets Donald Justice and Philip Larkin. As before mentioned about R.S. Gwynn, we appreciate the directness and clarity within Yezzi´s work.

Taking a more complex approach to modern poetry comes John Ashbery´s ¨A Worldly Country”.  Knowing Ashbery to be one of America’s most awarded and celebrated poets, we paid special attention to this poem while going through BAP and challenged ourselves to try and see what about Ashbery’s work makes it so ¨great.¨ What we found was, surprisingly, the contrary to what we would have assumed; Ashbery’s poetry, especially within the disjunctive storyline of ¨A Worldly Country,¨ highlights an importance on the vagueness of surrealism in a style that simultaneously appears to be both intelligent and incomprehensible. Rather than a single narrator telling a story in ¨A Worldly Country,¨ the poem seems to be observing the surrounding world in one, elongated stanza, chronicling how “One minute we were up to our necks in rebelliousness, and the next, peace had subdued the ranks of hellishness” (Ashbery). It seems as though the poem is attempting to reach the reader’s inner consciousness and, through questioning, invites the reader to have an open-mind while embarking on his or her quest to understanding the piece’s message. We believe the choice to not separate the poem’s ideas into stanzas reflects Ashbery´s intention for the perplexing poem to flow in a constant motion alongside an enticing rhyme scheme. John Ashbery’s “A Worldly Country” would be a beneficial poem to teach to poetry/english classes around the country because of how far it asks the reader to go to confront what might be true of his own reality.

These three poems all displayed an ability to grab the reader’s attention that few other poems in the Best American Poetry edition did. While reading through the 75 poems in the book, it was easy for us breeze through many of them without getting too drawn into the poem, and therefore, not be able to fully appreciate the deeper meaning. In the three poems we chose to take a closer look at however, we were immediately sucked in, whether it be by the authors humor, use of rhyme scheme, descriptive language that each author used.

-Emily Lashendock and Matt Meyjes

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