Last week as I made my bi-monthly trek to the Canadian section of the library to closely examine row upon row of tightly shouldered books (I love the smell of book spines early in the morning), I stopped for a moment in the anthology section and began to ponder the usefulness of the anthology beyond the shelf. And that alone seems to be a rather ridiculous thought, because, in fact, almost all of the books produced every year meet the same fate of the anthology, resting their hard card (or soft card) bones on the grey metal shelf.
But, how often are these anthologies removed from their perch? Are they ever removed? Who takes them out off the shelf? I must admit I, on more than one occasion, have removed some of the newer ones, took them home for a good meal, let them hang out in my bathroom, or my computer room, but I also admit to never reading them from cover to cover. And I’ll even admit to buying older anthologies in book sales, or at used book stores, anthologies that are out of print that contain quite a few important poets, or once important poets. It’s interesting to me to see the contemporaries of those poets. And, as well as buying the odd older one, I have extra copies of recent anthologies that I’ve been in, and what do I do with them? Don’t get me wrong, I like being in them as much as anyone; I enjoy seeing my poems butt butts with others, but (I apologize in advance for the repetitiveness of the “but’s” in this post, it can’t be helped) do we really need so many?
In the university library, there are shelves upon shelves full of anthologies. The ones in the Canadian section were probably only a cross selection of the past 20 or so years. Out of curiosity, I did a World Cat search: anthology canadian, 2007, 2008. World Cat came back with a tidy number of books: 76. After glancing at the list, I figured half a dozen could be eliminated so it would suffice to say that in the past two years, there have been roughly 70 anthologies produced. Is this too many? Sure, I understand the educational significance of the anthology, and that many professors will use them, but who reads the rest of these (I was going to add some of the obscure anthology titles I found in my search, but I decided that that would be targeting unfairly books that may well be fine books, so I’ll leave the title-imagining up to you, hoping you’ll do something more in this post besides read (glance quickly at))? Do they sell? Are they worthwhile ventures?
I quizzed a few writers at a recent reading and they all claimed to like anthologies, but of course, a number of them had edited them, some were in them, and others hoped to be in some one day. They were genuinely surprised when I mentioned the amount produced in a two year period, and while the writers all proclaimed a valuable quality to them, no one could say they were used for anything other than educational purposes, or on occasion, a celebratory occasion. No one said they bought them on a regular basis. No one made claims of anthology addiction.
So, this brings me to my last gasp. As I stood before the rows of anthologies I couldn’t help but wonder, is the anthology (gasp) overdone?