Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century

When this anthology came out, it caused quite a stir. People expressed appreciation, anger, anxiety, even confusion–and I think this anthology itself caused a lot of other groups, movements, and publications to develop into succinct efforts.

Every anthology is a failure–to someone, for some reason. The job of the editor is a difficult and often thankless one, and this volume is a great example of that. Rather than simply critcize any perceived shortcomings of Legitimate Dangers, though, it’s more effective to identify and discuss them. Everyone will feel that not enough ______ poets were included. This is not unfounded. Not enough _______ poets were included. Perhaps even too many _________ poets were included at the sacrifice of other voices. It’s true. But, the job of the editor is a difficult one. Many voices must be excluded. A book can only be so big. (And I imagine if space were made for all the excluded voices, the anthology would be so watered down that people would then complain about that as well).

I don’t think Legitimate Dangers is perfect, but I do think it’s important, both because it had this huge impact on the dialog about editorial responsibility and inclusion/exclusion, and also because it is just a good anthology of a new generation of poets. There are full plates served of each poet included so that readers get a sense of the breadth and depth of each writer’s work, and it’s organized democratically in alphabetical order.

My friend Stephanie and I spent almost a year choosing two poets to read from this anthology, an experience we dubbed the “Legitimate Dangers Death Match,” and each week we’d meet for coffee and talk about our responses to the work. For me, this was the true value of the book, those meetings. We often had divergent points of view, and both because of the book and because of Stephanie I gave chances to poets I probably would have otherwise overlooked or not even found. Some of those Death Match conversations are immortalized on this blog, and some were left behind in that little Tempe coffee shop. But the book lives on and continues to provide an interesting and provocative snapshot.

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