Cate Marvin and Michael Dumanis recently edited an anthology together. This week, they’re trading journal entries about the process.

Cate Marvin here.

I first came to poetry through anthologies. My parents are by no means scholars, but they’ve always been voracious readers. A typical family evening in my youth would involve the three of us seated in the living room in complete silence, each of us nose-deep in a book or magazine. I’m an only child and my parents never considered it their responsibility to entertain me. I was bored, as I was only allotted an hour of television each day. Eventually I started lifting books at random from my parents’ shelves and came across Oscar Williams’ Immortal Poems of the English Language. I was not the type of kid to studiously read each of the volume’s poems in sequence, but I loved dipping into the volume for a poem by Auden, then dipping out of it for days, returning later for my first encounters with Thomas Wyatt and Wordsworth. The way I interacted with the book illustrates what I value about the anthology as a genre. One can leaf through, dismiss some poets for the time being, find others puzzling but worth returning to later. I tracked down the poets I was most interested in, first by checking other anthologies out from the library, later by buying their individual books. Thus began my immersion in poetry.

At the age of 16 I turned up Dave Smith and David Bottoms’ hefty 1985 collection, The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets at the mall bookstore and convinced my mother to buy it for me. I can recall exploring the book with real interest, but also being frustrated that many of the poems were beyond my comprehension. This makes sense, as I’d never had instruction on how to approach reading a poem. Reading fiction comes more easily to us, as narratives are basic rhetorical structures we become familiar with at a young age. Several years later, when I was very much a student of poetry, I’d pick up the battered Morrow Anthology and discovered that I had in fact dug deeper into the book than I’d remembered. Page corners were turned down where I’d found poems I liked. An orange popsicle wrapper fell out from between the pages of Louise Glück’s “Mock Orange.” I was surprised to discover that many of the poets I’d liked back then would later become my favorites.

More later.

Originally Published: January 23rd, 2006

Cate Marvin was raised in Washington, DC and earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Houston, an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a PhD in English and comparative literature from the University of Cincinnati. Her poetry collections include World’s Tallest Disaster (2001), which won the Kathryn A. Morton Prize...