Manthology, a poetry anthology edited by Craig Crist-Evans, Kate Fetherston, and Roger Weingarten (Univ. of Iowa Press)

Since everything human not specifically about women is about men, and even much about women is also often about men when told by a man (or a woman), the idea of an anthology of poems about "the male experience" may seem somewhat inane, and its choices fated to be arbitrary. Too much fits into this demographic and, still stigmatized by its longstanding (but highly eroded) paternalistic dominance, it isn't deserving of a "new male poets of the 21st century" anthology. Plus, perhaps fiction offers the best means of watching the male in action, coldly assessing his essential nature? How often does one find a poem that is as fluently perceptive about men as, say, Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night in the following lines? " 'Your wife does not love you,' Tommy said suddenly. 'She loves me.' The two men regarded each other with a curious impotence of expression. There can be little communication between men in that position, for their relation is indirect, and consists of how much each of them has possessed or will possess of the woman in question, so that their emotions pass through her divided self as through a bad telephone connection."

I approached Manthology reluctantly -- but came away grateful for this group of 94 poems. The interest in assessing an anthology is usually in the judgment, taste and biases of the selectors. This trio of editors shows a preference for straightforward, demotic narrative, topicality, and portraiture. With these general features in mind, they've picked poems that deliver a wide variety of experiences, told with impeccable skill. Simply put, there are a lot of wonderful poems here, more first-rate work than one usually finds in anthologies.

If some of the work is familiar, this is because it was memorable to begin with and thus worth another look: Tony Hoagland's "Dickhead," Bob Hicok's "The Bald Truth," Tom Sleigh's "In the Park," Mark Cox's "The Moles," Marvin Bell's "The Uniform," B.H. Fairchild's "Body and Soul," Rodney Jones' "Nudes." But many of the poems, at least in 2006 when this book was published, had not yet appeared in collections, including work by Elinor Benedict, Gillian Conoley, Stuart Dybek, Philip Levine, Sydney Lea, Maureen Seaton, Naomi Nye, David St. John, Anthony Sobin, and Dara Wier. There are also some special treats: "Going Wrong in the House of Neptune" by David Clewell and Cynthia Huntington's lovely and sensual "Hot Wind, Provincetown Harbor." There's also Jason Shinder, who opens "Growing Up" with "The trouble with me / is I don't know / if my penis // is too small / and I don't know / who to ask."

Incidentally, Fitzgerald asked Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, having been taunted by Zelda.

[$22.95, 200,pages]