“One of the most important pieces of busywork that I do as a poet is to keep a running anthology of my favorite poems. I have an actual manila folder where I gather these poems, and it contains, at any given time, up to a hundred poems. It’s vital to me to have a hard copy of each poem, even if I own the poet’s book. In this way, at any moment I can sit with the folder and leaf through the poems. The collection in the manila folder feels like an ongoing representation of my poetic affections. And, in addition to my affection and admiration, the collection represents my envy, as it contains those poems I wish I had written myself.
When I talk to my students, I always challenge them to start and maintain a personal anthology like mine. I tell them that if they ever feel stuck in their own default ways of writing, reading through the anthology is a way of re-knowing their values as a poet, through the prism of these other poems. The anthology is also a trove of possible exercises you can give yourself, when your own ideas aren’t coming through. Maybe imitating the shape of the poem by A. R. Ammons that’s in your anthology will get you to the next place in your writing. Or writing a poem about language that responds to the Cathy Park Hong poem in your anthology is what you need next. Just for the fun of it, I’ll list a handful of the poems in my anthology right now: W. S. Merwin’s ‘Paul,’ Natalie Diaz’s ‘Skin-Light,’ Kimiko Hahn’s ‘Resistance: A Poem in Ikat Cloth,’ Terrance Hayes’s ‘Root,’ and Susan Mitchell’s ‘Venice.’”
—Rick Barot, author of The Galleons (Milkweed Editions, 2020)