There’s another top (whatever list). This time it’s the top 10 poetry books. Followed by the top 10 20th century collections.
Honestly, I agree with Leaves of Grass (though I might put that one in the top 3) and Lyrical Ballads. But those are just my preferences. Again, we’ve got a list that makes proclamations without any defense whatsoever.
It is really difficult to make a list like this because what’s the criteria? Who’s to judge? I’m sure we’d all have our favorites but there should be some kind of across-the-board criteria for disqualifying certain works on an objective basis. Bear in mind that I’m using the word ‘objective’ rather loosely. There is no true objective in judging a creative work.
For instance, if we said we were going to only pick poets who were not living then we’d disqualify Seamus Heaney. His work is fine (I like his poetry), but he can’t be included because his work hasn’t met the time standard. He may eventually be as canonized as Shakespeare or Pope, but until several generations have passed he is merely a hopeful and therefore should be left out of the running.
Another way to judge could be to leave out any work that is not yet in the public domain. That would disqualify Philip Larkin. Fine poet. But should he have anything listed in the top 10 of all time? Possibly. But who’s to say?
I’m merely making suggestions. The criteria could be something else entirely. One could say by judging from the list that the person making the call on this one has already made exclusions, but we haven’t been told why. This particular list is exclusive of any Eastern poets. Where’s Basho? Rumi? Tagore? Were they considered?
How about the avant-gardeists? They don’t appear to be represented either. It seems the author of this list has an unspoken rule about them as well. Perhaps we’re only talking about poets of the English canon and their descendants.
We don’t know. All we have is a list with no defense. No criteria, either subjective or objective. Just a proclamation. And that’s the problem with most lists of this nature.
My question to you is this: How would you judge such a list? What criteria would you impose on a list that promised to name the top 10 (50, 100, ?) poetry books in history? Would you draw a line somewhere? Where?