Personal Best: Makers on Their Poems That Matter Most

Erin Belieu and Carl Phillips, editors
Published in 2023
by Copper Canyon Press

For this lively and engaging anthology, fifty-seven poets, including Kaveh Akbar, Diane Seuss, Solmaz Sharif, and Ocean Vuong, choose one of their own poems and explain in an essay why it represents their “personal best.” Together the poem-essay pairings provide an insightful look at the life of a poem and the personal experiences that shape the writing process. “We hope the essays here remind that there’s always a singular consciousness behind a poem, a maker with unique feelings and ways of thinking about the world,” the editors write in their introduction. A probing honesty is the common thread that runs through the best essays in the collection, including Danez Smith’s notes on the poem “waiting on you to die so i can be myself,” in which Smith writes, “Let me slow down my language, let me be dissatisfied with what comes first, let me finds the poem that answers to no one, that sings not for the high notes but for the deep, earthly truths.”