Our reporter conducted a survey of anthologies, trying to find out which poems appeared most often. He stacked the books in front of him, and methodically counted "hits." What follows are the hit lists he compiled and a description of his process.
1. Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats (12 hits)
2. Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (11 hits)
3. To Autumn by John Keats (11 hits)
4. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love by Christopher Marlowe (10 hits)
5. The Tyger by William Blake (9 hits)
6. My Last Duchess by Robert Browning (9 hits)
7. Love (III) by George Herbert (9 hits)
8. Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson (9 hits)
9. The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy (9 hits)
10. To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell (9 hits)
11. Sonnet LXXIII: That Time of Year Thou Mayest in Me Behold by William Shakespeare (9 hits)
12. Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson (9 hits)
13. La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats (8 hits)
14. Lycidas by John Milton (8 hits)
15. Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds by William Shakespeare (8 hits)
16. The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats (8 hits)
17. London by William Blake (7 hits)
18. Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley (7 hits)
19. Go, Lovely Rose by Edmund Waller (6 hits)
20. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot (6 hits)
Unlike the Columbia Grangers Index, which is a kind of scientific indexing of all the poems anthologized by 400 contemporary editors, my unscientific method worked like this: I gathered the anthologies that made the strongest claims of presenting the best poems. I collated the contents of the seventeen anthologies listed below, and counted each “hit” or appearance of a given poem. Each time a poem appeared it received a point; thus, some poems received the same number of hits, and share positions on the ranked listing. Where poems share ranking, I list in alphabetical order. William Harmon notes that according to the ninth edition of the Grangers Index (1998), “To Autumn” gained position as the most anthologized poem, having superceded the previous #1 poem, “The Tyger.”
- The American Poetry and Literacy Project, ed. 101 Great American Poems. New York: Dover, 1998.
- BBC, Ed. The Nation’s Favourite Poems. London: BBC, 1998.
- Bloom, Harold, ed. The Best Poems in the English Language. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
- Cairns, Huntington, ed. The Limits of Art (3 vols.). Princeton: Bollingen, 1948.
- Carruth, Hayden, ed. The Voice That Is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century. New York: Bantam, 1970.
- Harmon, William, ed. The Classic Hundred Poems. New York: Columbia, 1998.
- ——. The Top 500 Poems. New York: Columbia, 1992.
- Hollander, John, ed. Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize. New York: Riverhead, 1996.
- O'Brian, Geoffrey, ed. Bartlett’s Poems for Occasions. New York, Little, Brown, 2004.
- Paglia, Camille, ed. Break Blow Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World’s Best Poems. New York: Pantheon, 2005.
- Palgrave, Francis, ed. Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language 1861-5th edition supp. J. Press, 1987.
- Parisi, Joseph, ed. The 100 Essential Modern Poems. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2005.
- Pinsky and Dietz, ed. America’s Favorite Poems. New York: Norton, 2000.
- Smith, Philip, ed. 100 Best-Loved Poems. New York: Dover, 1995.
- Strand, mark, ed. 100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005.
- Warren and Erskine, ed. Six Centuries of Great Poetry. New York: Dell, 1955.
- Wiliams, Oscar, ed. Immortal Poems. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1952.
1. Howl by Allen Ginsberg (9 hits)
2. Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath (9 hits)
3. Dream Song 14 (“Life friends is boring. We must not say so.”) by John Berryman (8 hits)
4. The Day Lady Died by Frank O'Hara (8 hits)
5. Daddy by Sylvia Plath (8 hits)
6. Love Calls Us to the Things of this World by Richard Wilbur (8 hits)
7. The Armadillo by Elizabeth Bishop (7 hits)
8. The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell (7 hits)
9. Skunk Hour by Robert Lowell (7 hits)
10. For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell (7 hits)
11. The Broken Home by James Merrill (7 hits)
12. Why I Am Not a Painter by Frank O'Hara (7 hits)
13. A Blessing by James Wright (7 hits)
14. Dream Song 76 (Henry’s Confession) by John Berryman (6 hits)
15. America by Allen Ginsberg (6 hits)
16. I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You by Charles Olson (6 hits)
17. Maximus, to Himself by Charles Olson (6 hits)
18. Riprap by Gary Snyder (6 hits)
19. The Colossus by Sylvia Plath (6 hits)
20. Ariel by Sylvia Plath (6 hits)
21. Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota by James Wright (6 hits)
As with the “Best Of” Hit List, my unscientific method gathered the anthologies that made the strongest claims of presenting the best contemporary poems. I collated the contents of the 22 anthologies listed below, and counted each “hit” or appearance of a given poem. Each time a poem appeared it received a point; thus, some poems received the same number of hits, and share positions on the ranked listing. Where poems share ranking, I list in alphabetical order. Poets in the ranking tier below Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock...” received five hits, and include Ammons, Dove, Hayden, and Levertov. I consulted only those anthologies that make an explicit case for inclusion in the category of “contemporary” (Contemporary American Poetry) or an implicit one (Norton Anthology of Poetry). I avoided all other claims for categorization, such as poems expressing ethnic and sexual identities; topicality, such as poems against the U.S. war on Iraq; regionalism, such as poets of the American West; and institutional affiliation, such as poets who teach at a specific school; and the like. I start the period of “contemporary” with Olson, born in 1910, in part because his work marks a clear break with high modernism (the work of poets born between 1874 [Frost] and 1899 [Hart Crane]); in part because of his influence as a teacher of important postmodern poets such as Duncan and Creeley; and because—as Paul Hoover reminds us in the introduction to his Norton Anthology—Olson introduced the term postmodern in a 1960 letter to Creeley. One notes the fact that there’s little consensus on the best contemporary American poems after the early 1970’s, despite that most of the sources have been published after 1975.
- Allen, Donald, ed. The New American Poetry. New York: Grove, 1960.
- Berg, Stephen, and Robert Mezey, eds. Naked Poetry. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969.
- Carruth, Hayden, ed. The Voice that Is Great within Us. New York: Bantam, 1970.
- Collins, Billy, ed. 180 More. New York: Random House, 2005.
- Collins, Billy, ed. Poetry 180. New York: Random House, 2003.
- Ellman, Richard, Robert O’Clair, Jahan Ramanzani, eds. Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.
- Ellman, Richard, ed. The New Oxford Book of American Verse. Oxford: Oxford, 1976.
- Ellman, Richard, and Robert O'Clair, eds. Norton Anthology of Modern American Poetry. New York: W.W. Norton, 1973.
- Ferguson, Margaret, Mary Jo Salter and Jon Stallsworthy, eds. Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th eds.. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.
- Hall, Donald, ed.Contemporary American Poetry. New York: Penguin, 1986.
- Hall, Donald, Robert Pack, and Louis Simpson, eds. New Poets of England and America. New York: Meridian, 1957.
- Halpern, Daniel, ed. The American Poetry Anthology. New York: Avon, 1975.
- Hoover, Paul, ed. Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry. New York: W.W. Norton, 1994.
- Joris, Pierre, and Jerome Rothenberg, eds. Poems for the Millenium. Berkeley: California, 1998.
- McClatchy, J.D., ed. Contemporary American Poetry. New York: Vintage, 1990.
- Myers, Jack, and Roger Weingarten, eds. New American Poets of the ‘90s. Boston: Godine, 1991.
- Nelson, Cary, ed. Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Oxford: Oxford, 2000.
- Nelson, John Herbert, M.L. Rosenthal, and Gerald DeWitt Sanders, eds. Chief Modern Poets of Britain and America. Newm York: MacMillan, 1975.
- Parisi, Joseph, ed. 100 Essential Modern Poems. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2005.
- Silliman, Ron, ed. In the American Tree. Orono: National Poetry Foundation, 1986.
- Vendler, Helen, ed. The Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry. Cambridge: Harvard, 1985.
- Weinberger, Eliot, ed. American Poetry Since 1950: Innovators and Outsiders. New York: Marsilio, 1993.
Joshua Weiner was born in Boston and grew up in central New Jersey. He is the author of three books of poems, The World’s Room (2001) and From the Book of Giants (2006), and The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish (2013).Weiner earned a BA from Northwestern University and a PhD from...