Poet to Poet is a sangria pitcher of ars poetica. Each of the 74 contributors has written a poem inspired by, and dedicated to, another poet. One of the collection’s strengths is the sheer boundlessness of its variety: the sources of inspiration – Sappho, Rilke, Auden, Ashbery – spring from different time periods and geographical locales, and the contributors, who stretch from coast to coast, are as stylistically diverse as their mentors/muses.
To varying degrees, these poems are written in the style of the person to whom they’re addressed. The poems that work best are the ones that do not try to emulate the voice of the inspirational poet too closely. For example, John Donlan’s “Wire,” for Roo Borson, is unmistakably his own: “After the show, let’s have / a drink: let’s have whatever the spruces are having / if it’ll make us as wild as them.”
Depending on the reader’s background knowledge, it may be possible to refrain from such comparisons. For instance, in the case of Jim Christy’s poem for Charlie Leeds, I don’t know which poet is ultimately responsible for the wonderfully surreal, carnivalesque feel: “It was in the day of the tap dancing / cuckold and the blasé rabbit, Why / The diving horse was still a yearling / That kept missing the ocean and Bill / Fields wiped suds from his lips / With the back of a chorus girl.”
Least effective are the “Back Stories” describing how the poems occurred to each contributor. For one thing, many (but not all) of these blurbs are written in an unimaginative plainspeak. More important, such expository information is unnecessary. In the enduring words of Archibald MacLeish, “A poem should not mean / But be.” I never need to know the “how” of creative writing. If the drink is cool and sweet, what matters least is its vintage.