In 1988, poet and editor David Lehman began his project "to see whether a single annual volume can accurately reflect the diversity of American poetry and honor excellence regardless of what form it takes, or what idiom it favors, or from which region of the country it comes." Flash forward, the Best American Poetry series has become one of the mainstays of the poetry publication world. For each volume, a guest editor is enlisted to cull the collective output of large and small literary journals published that year to select 75 of the year's "best" poems. The guest editor is also asked to write an introduction to the collection, and the anthologies would be indispensable for these essays alone; combined with Lehman's "state-of-poetry" forewords and the guest editors' introductions, these anthologies seem to capture the zeitgeist of the current attitudes in American poetry.
The list of guest editors reads like "Who's Who in Contemporary American Poetry": Yusef Komunyakaa, Robert Creeley, Robert Hass, Rita Dove, Robert Bly, John Hollander, James Tate, Adrienne Rich, Richard Howard, A. R. Ammons, Louise Glück, Charles Simic, Mark Strand, Jorie Graham, Donald Hall, and John Ashbery. A series compendium has also appeared, The Best of the Best American Poetry 1988-1997, in which literary critic Harold Bloom selected what he regarded as the 75 best poems from the previous ten collections.
The series and its editors are often criticized for their selections and assessments (common complaints include the exclusion of experimental poets, lack of diversity, and allegiance to poetry's "old guard") and editors can be extremely contentious (see Bloom's diatribe against the 1996 volume edited by Adrienne Rich), but Best American Poetry remains one of the most popular and best-selling poetry books published each year and the series continues to provide a bird's-eye view of the breadth of American poetry.