Settling down

Up, and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and here I had a letter from Mr. Brisband on another occasion, which, by the by, intimates my Lord Hinchingbroke’s intention to come and dine with me to-morrow. This put me into a great surprise, and therefore endeavoured all I could to hasten over our business at the office, and so home at noon and to dinner, and then away by coach, it being a very foul day, to White Hall, and there at Sir G. Carteret’s find my Lord Hinchingbroke, who promises to dine with me to-morrow, and bring Mr. Carteret along with him. Here I staid a little while talking with him and the ladies, and then away to my Lord Crew’s, and then did by the by make a visit to my Lord Crew, and had some good discourse with him, he doubting that all will break in pieces in the kingdom; and that the taxes now coming out, which will tax the same man in three or four several capacities, as for lands, office, profession, and money at interest, will be the hardest that ever come out; and do think that we owe it, and the lateness of its being given, wholly to the unpreparedness of the King’s own party, to make their demand and choice; for they have obstructed the giving it by land-tax, which had been done long since. Having ended my visit, I spoke to Sir Thomas Crew, to invite him and his brother John to dinner tomorrow, at my house, to meet Lord Hinchingbroke; and so homewards, calling at the cook’s, who is to dress it, to bespeak him, and then home, and there set things in order for a very fine dinner, and then to the office, where late very busy and to good purpose as to dispatch of business, and then home. To bed, my people sitting up to get things in order against to-morrow. This evening was brought me what Griffin had, as he says, taken this evening off of the table in the office, a letter sealed and directed to the Principal Officers and Commissioners of the Navy. It is a serious and just libel against our disorder in paying of our money, making ten times more people wait than we have money for, and complaining by name of Sir W. Batten for paying away great sums to particular people, which is true. I was sorry to see this way of reproach taken against us, but more sorry that there is true ground for it.

I had an intimate discourse
with three or four lands

will I be wholly prepared
to set things in order
to get things in order
to take just one
particular ground


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 27 November 1666.

The children take pity on the lobsters,

  
their pincers trussed with rubber bands
though they're still immersed in water

(a sad-looking tank in one corner of
the grocery store); and we are sad for all
the exotic fruit no one will buy: cherimoyas

and horned jelly melons, softening to tallow
in their trays. Who thinks anymore of the glut
of cranberries, as soon as foil-wrapped

pots of poinsettia appear in the island
displays? A while ago, a show played
on the TV monitors of a sushi bar;

we watched as two chefs rowed extra-long-
handled wooden ladles in water, prodding
four eels awake. When they lit a fire beneath,

we understood it was a giant chafing dish.
The water boiled; the eels burrowed into
the cool center of a large block of tofu

near the top, floating half in, half out
of the water. Can you think of one good
reason to justify making our hunger

more pointed than it is, or more like a fable
meant to demonstrate how danger whips
the blood into a more delicious frenzy?

Most everything we eat is something we first
need to change from its raw state into a form
that won't protest when we tear it into bits.


December

We've bagged most of the leaves that finally fell 
from the fig and two maples. The grass is drab
and brown, threadbare like a garment that's seen
better days. The wooden fence has the look
of waterlogged cardboard; it's starting to cave
in the middle. Along one length, mushrooms ripple
like a lace hem. The men who trim and edge the lawns
won't come again until the middle of spring.
So it's quiet as evening approaches, no sounds
of motorized whirring. When night drops its dark
dishcloth on our roofs, we pull the blinds close.
Passing cars and delivery trucks turn on the outside
lights and motion sensors, or neighbors out with their
dogs. The man who's always walked with two grey poodles,
one young and one old, passes by; but now with only one dog.

Reformed

Up, and to my chamber to do some business. Then to speak with several people, among others with Mrs. Burroughs, whom I appointed to meet me at the New Exchange in the afternoon. I by water to Westminster, and there to enquire after my tallies, which I shall get this week. Thence to the Swan, having sent for some burnt claret, and there by and by comes Doll Lane, and she and I sat and drank and talked a great while, among other things about her sister’s being brought to bed, and I to be godfather to the girle. I did tumble Doll, and do almost what I would with her, and so parted, and I took coach, and to the New Exchange, buying a neat’s tongue by the way, thinking to eat it out of town, but there I find Burroughs in company of an old woman, an aunt of hers, whom she could not leave for half an hour. So after buying a few baubles to while away time, I down to Westminster, and there into the House of Parliament, where, at a great Committee, I did hear, as long as I would, the great case against my Lord Mordaunt, for some arbitrary proceedings of his against one Taylor, whom he imprisoned, and did all the violence to imaginable, only to get him to give way to his abusing his daughter. Here was Mr. Sawyer, my old chamber-fellow, a counsel against my Lord; and I am glad to see him in so good play. Here I met, before the committee sat, with my cozen Roger Pepys, the first time I have spoke with him this parliament. He hath promised to come, and bring Madam Turner with him, who is come to towne to see the City, but hath lost all her goods of all kinds in Salisbury Court, Sir William Turner having not endeavoured, in her absence, to save one penny, to dine with me on Friday next, of which I am glad. Roger bids me to help him to some good rich widow; for he is resolved to go, and retire wholly, into the country; for, he says, he is confident we shall be all ruined very speedily, by what he sees in the State, and I am much in his mind. Having staid as long as I thought fit for meeting of Burroughs, I away and to the ‘Change again, but there I do not find her now, I having staid too long at the House, and therefore very hungry, having eat nothing to-day. Home, and there to eat presently, and then to the office a little, and to Sir W. Batten, where Sir J. Minnes and Captain Cocke was; but no newes from the North at all to-day; and the newes-book makes the business nothing, but that they are all dispersed. I pray God it may prove so. So home, and, after a little, to my chamber to bed.

a doll with a tongue
to whom he did all
violence imaginable

his daughter
for the first time spoke
in court to save him

who says he is ruined
by what he sees now
having nothing to eat

and little in the news
but that they pray it may
prove little


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 26 November 1666.

Lives of the saints

(Lord’s day). Up, and with Sir J. Minnes by coach to White Hall, and there coming late, I to rights to the chapel, where in my usual place I heard one of the King’s chaplains, one Mr. Floyd, preach. He was out two or three times in his prayer, and as many in his sermon, but yet he made a most excellent good sermon, of our duty to imitate the lives and practice of Christ and the saints departed, and did it very handsomely and excellent stile; but was a little overlarge in magnifying the graces of the nobility and prelates, that we have seen in our memorys in the world, whom God hath taken from us.
At the end of the sermon an excellent anthem; but it was a pleasant thing, an idle companion in our pew, a prating, bold counsellor that hath been heretofore at the Navy Office, and noted for a great eater and drinker, not for quantity, but of the best, his name Tom Bales, said, “I know a fitter anthem for this sermon,” speaking only of our duty of following the saints, and I know not what. “Cooke should have sung, ‘Come, follow, follow me.’”
After sermon up into the gallery, and then to Sir G. Carteret’s to dinner; where much company. Among others, Mr. Carteret and my Lady Jemimah, and here was also Mr. Ashburnham, the great man, who is a pleasant man, and that hath seen much of the world, and more of the Court.
After dinner Sir G. Carteret and I to another room, and he tells me more and more of our want of money and in how ill condition we are likely to be soon in, and that he believes we shall not have a fleete at sea the next year. So do I believe; but he seems to speak it as a thing expected by the King and as if their matters were laid accordingly.
Thence into the Court and there delivered copies of my report to my Lord Treasurer, to the Duke of York, Sir W. Coventry, and others, and attended there till the Council met, and then was called in, and I read my letter. My Lord Treasurer declared that the King had nothing to give till the Parliament did give him some money. So the King did of himself bid me to declare to all that would take our tallys for payment, that he should, soon as the Parliament’s money do come in, take back their tallys, and give them money: which I giving him occasion to repeat to me, it coming from him against the ‘gre’1 I perceive, of my Lord Treasurer, I was content therewith, and went out, and glad that I have got so much. Here staid till the Council rose, walking in the gallery. All the talke being of Scotland, where the highest report, I perceive, runs but upon three or four hundred in armes; but they believe that it will grow more, and do seem to apprehend it much, as if the King of France had a hand in it. My Lord Lauderdale do make nothing of it, it seems, and people do censure him for it, he from the beginning saying that there was nothing in it, whereas it do appear to be a pure rebellion; but no persons of quality being in it, all do hope that it cannot amount to much.
Here I saw Mrs. Stewart this afternoon, methought the beautifullest creature that ever I saw in my life, more than ever I thought her so, often as I have seen her; and I begin to think do exceed my Lady Castlemayne, at least now.
This being St. Catherine’s day, the Queene was at masse by seven o’clock this morning; and. Mr. Ashburnham do say that he never saw any one have so much zeale in his life as she hath: and, the question being asked by my Lady Carteret, much beyond the bigotry that ever the old Queen-mother had.
I spoke with Mr. May who tells me that the design of building the City do go on apace, and by his description it will be mighty handsome, and to the satisfaction of the people; but I pray God it come not out too late.
The Council up, after speaking with Sir W. Coventry a little, away home with Captain Cocke in his coach, discourse about the forming of his contract he made with us lately for hempe, and so home, where we parted, and I find my uncle Wight and Mrs. Wight and Woolly, who staid and supped, and mighty merry together, and then I to my chamber to even my journal, and then to bed. I will remember that Mr. Ashburnham to-day at dinner told how the rich fortune Mrs. Mallett reports of her servants; that my Lord Herbert would have had her; my Lord Hinchingbroke was indifferent to have her; my Lord John Butler might not have her; my Lord of Rochester would have forced her; and Sir ——— Popham, who nevertheless is likely to have her, would kiss her breach to have her.

the plain lives of the saints
have seen no saints

have see the world like a rose
grow from pure rebellion
into the fullest life

more than any zeal
beyond bigotry to a god
forming his contract with us
like a kiss


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 25 November 1666.

Desideratum

All I want is more time; nice if in the shape of a reading room, 
zero emergency phone calls or text messages, with a plain
bench and uncluttered desk. But would it be unseemly to also
yearn for a karaoke mic for belting torch songs when one's
capacity for solitary endurance has reached its limit?
Except I'm currently stuck in the flaps of this mood; can't
ditch it for good, despite light therapy. You know
women aren't the only ones afflicted. Given the global
environment, everyone I talk to seems on the verge;
vulnerable, feeling all the feels. We commiserate, mostly.
Food is also diversion: nothing like old-fashioned pigging out;
unlike the fakeness of that Peloton commercial in which these
good-looking, what-do-they-need-to-work-out-for-anyway people
touch a screen and, voila, simulate a slalom down winding
hillsides, even if they're in an uncluttered room with a window
sleeker than a giant plasma screen. They hop off, gushing
I'm changed! The price of that glowing makeover machine
runs over $2K: more than an adjunct's monthly salary; or
just a bit more than the cost of a new fence. And we need one
quickly, or before winter does the old one in. Things are so
killjoy like that. What I want, what I need: though I've said
pah to every Black Friday sale, another kind of void, a secret
laryngitis, makes the soul feel scratched, hoarse; or worse,
opiumed into silence. Weariness, wordlessness: almost
made from the same disheartenment. Remind me again of the
numinous: that reverent feeling, entering a temple or mosque.

Best Poetry Books of 2019: Bloggers’ Choices

best poetry books of 2019

It’s a hectic time of year, so I’m grateful to the poets and bloggers who found the time to respond to my call for write-ups of their favorite poetry collections from 2019 (or late 2018). The idea was to showcase some books that might have been neglected by the standard taste-makers and gatekeepers, but I suspect that, poets being poets, the results would have been equally idiosyncratic even if I hadn’t specifically encouraged contributors to stray from the beaten path. I’ve done little editing except to standardize title presentation and to excerpt from and link to longer posts. In addition to formal submissions by email or DM, I’ve also included three short takes at the end: responses on Twitter of at least a sentence in length. There were just two books selected by more than one contributor.

Something Like Forgiveness by Rebecca Schumejda (Stubborn Mule Press)

Something Like Forgiveness coverI have the pleasure of knowing Rebecca Schumejda in real life. Our paths don’t often cross — even though she lived a couple miles down the road for a while — but I’ve heard her read at a number of local poetry events over the years. I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time, and I’m so much in awe of this book. As a single long poem about a family tragedy, it’s a massive undertaking both emotionally and poetically, and she hits it out of the park. This book is engaging. It’s breathtaking. Her torment is palpable. I paused more than once to cry. I actually had to put the book down and sob. And it’s not because I know this story already. This is the first and only telling of it that I’ve heard, and it’s stunning. […]

The question with a long poem is how to sustain it. In this case, Rebecca drops and picks up a number of threads (some are narrative elements; others are images) as the poem progresses. These threads usher us through the poem, like Ariadne helping Theseus through the maze. The narratives/images tangle with one another and flow into one another, but a familiar one is always present. There’s always at least one to hold onto. They include the tragic event at the core of this piece and the forgiveness the narrator pursues, a cat that hunts birds, home renovations, the woods, motherhood and childhood, childhood trauma, the jail, cockroaches, bodies of water, fish, etc. These repeat and recur at various paces, something like a fever dream, but the reader knows from the beginning they’re going somewhere. And so we follow. [Read the full blog post.]

Carolee Bennett

A Machine for Remembering by Justen Ahren (Shanti Arts)

A Machine for Remembering coverFull disclosure: Justen is a friend of mine. But I’d pick his book even if he weren’t. This collection was born in part of his work with refugees on Lesvos, so it’s a work of witness. But it’s also a work of hope and redemption. Ahren pairs his poems with his photographs, and both are luminous.

The collection is both ravishing and gutting. In word and image, it deals with the ubiquitous violence of the human condition – from the overt violence of bombs to the more subtle violence of our choices and even memory itself – but it renders that violence with love, by looking at it head-on. The poetry and photography become a kind of prayer. Many of the poems share the same titles, reinforcing this almost compulsive prayer-like drive. Likewise, certain voices cycle and recur – an “I” who is (some version of) Ahren himself, but also one who is Giacometti (these are gorgeous poems…), and others who are refugees and civilian victims of war. In one of the “Fragment: East 2nd Avenue” poems, Ahren describes how he and his partner “make a quiet love in the dark”: this is precisely what the book does. It’s dark alright, and many of the realities it describes unflinchingly are grim, but the poet’s and photographer’s witnessing (and use of language and light) is a gift of love.

Lisken Van Pelt Dus

Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner by Tariro Ndoro (Modjaji Books)

Agringada coverTari tells of growing up in Zimbabwe, of being one of only two black girls in a white classroom, of being “the girl who has to hesitate before she speaks because she must double-check that she is thinking in the correct language so that her words are not misconstrued.” (Mustang)

She tells of struggling with verb forms in Shona, of watching Bollywood movies with subtitles, of insecurities in speaking either Shona or English, of what it is to expect drought and famine, of gender inequity, wealth inequity, racism, classism, detentions, demands to conform.

Self-portrait-poems of a child who shrinks into silence because there is no safe way to use language: “You wear silence / sitting on the concrete floor of a library / a shroud like speech // Language does not belong to you” (self portrait at nine).

Definition poems. Prose poems. Semi-erasures, strike-outs, lists. And poems that do things I myself have never dared to do with poetry. Poems that succeed in saying things I’ve never quite found the way to express in my own lines, and have mostly given up trying.

Tariro Ndoro, though…she didn’t quit. And Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner, succeeds and stuns. [Read the full blog post.]

Laura M. Kaminski

Space Struck by Paige Lewis (Sarabande Books)

Space Struck coverIf I could choose only one book I’ve read in the past year to read again and again, it would be [this one] … A look at the titles of the poems lets us know that we’re in store for a treat: “You Be You, and I’ll Be Busy,” “God’s Secretary, Overworked,” and “So You Want to Leave Purgatory.” It’s one of the few volumes of poetry where I’ve put a star by the title of one of the poems because it delighted me so.

Let me look at that poem, “On the Train, a Man Snatches My Book.” I love the way she describes how she’s feeling, if she decided to pay attention to the man who sneers at her with such contempt and dismissal:

… I feel

as if I’m on the moon listening to the air hiss
out of my spacesuit, and I can’t find the hole. I’m

the vice president of panic, and the president is
missing. …

This book is full of musings of our current existential despair–both on an individual level and a species level.

Gravity Assist by Martha Silano (Saturnalia Books) and Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50 by Lee Ann Roripaugh (Milkweed Editions)

It’s been a good year for poetry collections that use science in interesting ways. I’d add [these two books] to my list too. Regular readers of this blog may remember that I wrote a post about Roripaugh’s book back when I first read it in the summer.

Nightingale by Paisley Rekdal (Copper Canyon Press)

Nightingale coverI’m also including a book that I’m not likely to read again–it was a tough read the first time. Paisley Rekdal’s Nightingale revisits Ovid and all those metamorphoses. The description sounded like it would thrill my inner English major who loves to see the connections to older literature.

I had forgotten how much of Ovid’s work revolves around sexual assault and rape. Perhaps all of Greek mythology does, and I’ve forgotten. In this Me Too world, the book was a tough read for me, as much of it revolved around sexual assault.

It’s important work, and “Nightingale: A Gloss” is an amazing poem. It also makes me nauseatingly afraid to leave my house with its depiction of threats at every corner, no matter how idyllic. [Read the full blog post.]

Kristin Berkey-Abbott

Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova (Coffee House Press)

Without Protection coverThe testimonials and review excerpts on the back cover (by Diane Seuss, Cynthia Cruz, and Airea D. Matthews) emphasize the Russian mythological and erotic aspects of the book, but these were not what primarily resonated with me.

For me, having lived in Chicago, her memories studded throughout the book take me back to walking through Avondale in Chicago, wiry old men chatting in the gray booth in the Busy Bee Polish pancake house, waiting for the bus while two prostitutes wrestled in the intersection tearing out each other’s earrings, the woman who did not believe I was American or French and insisted on speaking Russian to me, the dark gray of the buildings laced with strips of sunlight. They remind me of here and now, the butchers at Kerrytown, the ones from Hamtramck, blood sausage for breakfast. For me, as someone with PTSD, I read her poems as if they are fragments of flashbacks, as if I have become the disembodied spirit that floats in the dissociative darkness just behind and over one shoulder, bearing witness to a life that is in no way my own. For me, as a self-identified asexual enby (pursuant in part to the traumas which caused the PTSD), the queer eroticism praised by the other readers becomes a window into terrors and joys which are not and cannot be part of my life. They are simultaneously persuasive and repellant, snippets of experience alien and curious, a beauty that baffles and bemuses. Her phrase which demands I respond is on page 13 — “When we ignore the body, we become more easily victimized by it.” I return to this over and over, unpersuaded and perturbed.

You said we could share up to four other recommendations. These may not be quite what you were thinking of, as they aren’t exactly always books. This year I discovered the emerging world of poetry journals devoted to disability themes. There are many of these, but Nine Mile is an exceptional standout to me, taking center place with their Fall 2019 double issue of “neurodivergent, disability, deaf, map, and crip poetics.” The actual book-as-a-shining-star of this space for 2019 has to be the sizzling, quirky, snarky

Cyborg Detective by Jillian Weise (BOA Editions)

Cyborg Detective coverwhich reads for me like sitting down in a coffee shop for a bitch session with a best friend who isn’t holding back. Social justice and marginalized voices in poetry are becoming so much more visible and are essential to my reading, but I know others are including many of those titles. I’ve become a huge fan of Button Poetry through their videos, then snarfing up as many of their books as I can. Science and medicine in poetry are new themes I am exploring, with

Soft Science by Franny Choi (Alice James Books)

as a leading 2019 exemplar.

P.F. Anderson

Nobody by Alice Oswald (Jonathan Cape)

Nobody coverI love the verbal incantation, the spell of words cast by poetry. Our current social crisis, with its urgency and ER alarms, seems to overwhelm the lure of musical sound. It’s no wonder that I love the power that poet Alice Oswald, keen magician versed in multiple voices, summons in her new book Nobody.

Oswald takes as her starting point a hapless side story from Homer’s Odyssey, the fate of an anonymous poet. “The poet” is taken to a remote island, left to die in a triangle of love stories between mortal and divine. The narrative gives Oswald the occasion to write immersively, from the inside out – immersion and dissolution in water a theme she works with seeming inexhaustible attention and imagination. For instance: “and the waves pass each other from one colour to the next/and sometimes mist a kind of stupefied rain/slumps over the water like a teenager.” The poet delights in her mystical moves – closeups, long shots – with meditative intelligence. In the chaos of our world, a willful individual divorced from and standing against the natural world is quaint and unsustainable. Nobody is classically old and radically new in this elegy of human consciousness. The process of dissolution is also a process of recovery, a baptism in the experience of universal nothing. What remains is the song, many-voiced, long-lasting – a moving incantation.

Jill Pearlman

Saint Worm by Hailey Leithauser (Able Muse Press)

Saint Worm coverI catch myself complaining that I hardly ever have time to read anymore. That’s not true. I read constantly as a writer, editor, and teacher; what ebbs sometimes is my ability to fully immerse in a book. What I love about my friend Hailey Leithauser’s second collection—about all of the picks I’ve named here—is that the first time I read it, while it was still in manuscript form, I could entirely relax into the play. “So rarely does music / so clearly resemble / the creature who makes it,” declares the poem “Rrribbit.” These poems have set aside the political moment, and there is no sustained speaker, so in that sense it exists outside the zeitgeist. But good lord, these poems are lively and glistening in their love of language as they consider the enduring themes of nature, indulgence, and mortality. We need poetry to fill a variety of roles: to document, to confront, to testify. We also need poetry to frolic, to weep with one eye and wink with the other.

Other top picks:

come see about me, marvin by brian g. gilmore (Wayne State University Press)

Tap Out by Edgar Kunz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Space Struck by Paige Lewis (Sarabande Books)

[See Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s write-up above.]

Lima :: Limón by Natalie Scenters-Zapico (Copper Canyon)

Cyborg Detective by Jillian Weise (BOA Editions)

[See P.F. Anderson’s write-up above.]

Sandra Beasley

Long River by Yang Jian, translated from the Chinese by Ye Chun, Paul B. Roth and Gillian Parrish (Tinfish Press)

Long River coverThough published in December of 2018, I read this in 2019… twice in two months. Shout-out to Poetry Daily for the excerpt that brought the book to my attention—and in general for including so much poetry in translation these days. Unfortunately my copy currently sits on the other side of the Atlantic, but I think I can do this from memory. I loved the spareness of the poems and their deep evocation of places and people, especially rural people left behind by the economic and political upheavals of modern China. The poems are often quite short but always evocative, like ink-brush paintings able to suggest whole landscapes with just a few strokes, and I was reminded a lot of the great contemporary Korean poet Ko Un. There’s an earthiness that at times verges on Rabelaisian, helping to balanced the elegiac tone. Yang Jian also manages to balance passionate engagement with detached observation, which apparently reflects his background as a factory worker and a practicing Buddhist. Here’s the sample poem on Tinfish’s order page, “Night Deep”:

Birds
shriek above the field, scatter.

The pig-herder
looks at the sunset, astonished,
cannot stop crying.

Years later,
I find his corpse by the river,
like a bundle of firewood at the door.

Like many writers, I suppose, the poets I love the most are those whose work is like the Platonic ideal of what I’m groping toward in my own poetry. Yang Jian is certainly writing the sort of thing I strive for (without nearly as much success) in my ecopoetry and micropoetry. Another 2019 book I absolutely loved couldn’t be more different, at least on the surface, exemplifying another approach that I also long to be more proficient at: extreme playfulness and surrealism. I’m talking about

Dunce by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books)

Dunce coverwhich I pre-ordered with great anticipation and did not disappoint. Her choice of title poem suggests she’s embracing the role of the wise fool here, especially in its riddling conclusion:

There is in my house, she said, a stovelight
that never goes off. And in my car, I said,
there’s a dashlight that never goes off.
What warning has no end and ends without warning?
She thought I didn’t know.

I felt a jolt of recognition when I read that, because I’ve also written a poem in which an oven’s pilot light was a key, concluding image. Damn you, Ruefle! Oh well. This book is simply a masterclass in lyrical absurdism. Like the best stand-up comedians, Ruefle lulls us into a receptive mindframe for serious social and environmental concerns that emerge clearly from time to time with devastating effect. As would-be dunces go, she is easily as subversive as Nasruddin.

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky (Graywolf)

Deaf Republic coverThis has made so many people’s lists, I don’t feel I have to say much more about it here except to acknowledge that it really is All That. Not merely one of the best, most surprising, beautiful, tragic, gripping, and sadly relevant books of the year, but arguably of the entire decade. California poet and blogger James Lee Jobe told me on Twitter that it was his top book of the year, but that he didn’t feel he could write about it without gushing. Carolee Bennett, who blogged her reading notes as part of her ongoing project to read 100 poetry books in 12 months, wrote, “I want to both read this book over and over and never speak of it again.” Yep.

Dave Bonta

SHORT TAKES

Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne (New Issues Poetry & Prose)

Lauren Alleyne’s risky, crafty, brilliant powerhouse of a book deserves big love and many readers.

Lesley Wheeler

Battle Dress by Karen Skolfield (Norton) and Hail & Farewell by Abby Murray (Perugia Press)

Two distinct but equally compelling takes on military life by women poets.

Amy Dryansky

Scattered Clouds: New & Selected Poems by Reuben Jackson (Alan Squire Publishing)

Scattered Clouds coverTrue confession – I was the acquisitions editor for this one. His first book was fabulous and long out of print. He was sharing really powerful new poems on Facebook. I approached him about a New & Selected that would include the complete first book and two sections of newer work. It makes for a beautiful reading arc.

Rose Solari

The burning

Up, and to the office, where we sat all the morning. At noon rose and to my closet, and finished my report to my Lord Treasurer of our Tangier wants, and then with Sir J. Minnes by coach to Stepney to the Trinity House, where it is kept again now since the burning of their other house in London. And here a great many met at Sir Thomas Allen’s feast, of his being made an Elder Brother; but he is sick, and so could not be there. Here was much good company, and very merry; but the discourse of Scotland, it seems, is confirmed, and that they are 4000 of them in armes, and do declare for King and Covenant, which is very ill news. I pray God deliver us from the ill consequences we may justly fear from it. Here was a good venison pasty or two and other good victuals; but towards the latter end of the dinner I rose, and without taking leave went away from the table, and got Sir J. Minnes’ coach and away home, and thence with my report to my Lord Treasurer’s, where I did deliver it to Sir Philip Warwicke for my Lord, who was busy, my report for him to consider against to-morrow’s council. Sir Philip Warwicke, I find, is full of trouble in his mind to see how things go, and what our wants are; and so I have no delight to trouble him with discourse, though I honour the man with all my heart, and I think him to be a very able and right honest man. So away home again, and there to my office to write my letters very late, and then home to supper, and then to read the late printed discourse of witches by a member of Gresham College, and then to bed; the discourse being well writ, in good stile, but methinks not very convincing. This day Mr. Martin is come to tell me his wife is brought to bed of a girle, and I promised to christen it next Sunday.

burning the otherland
are we on the side of light

is the man with all ink right
to let witches become a sun


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 24 November 1666.

I could sing in a confident way about nothing so I do—

                     although I am not entirely without purpose; just that the current
economies feel increasingly toxic to the propagation of meaning.
                     Bourgeois doesn’t even seem to carry any stigma anymore:
how many will blithely chime in with Let them eat cake?        
                     Citizen, meaning freeman or inhabitant of an urban center, legally
recognized member of the state or nation; “not an alien,” in
                     distinction from a city-dweller (14th c.). Thus, in distinction too
from  countryfolk, villager, peasant— the marginal,
                     easy to dismiss as without sophistication, lacking education. Or, 
as the poor but happy with their simple pleasures of palm wine,
                     farming while singing folk songs in the blistering sun. Is it nothing,
then, to be able to sing while under physical duress, while
                     gashing a path with machetes or burning a field to take it
from fallow to fruitful?  Regarding the right to regard as
                     human what or who is human: the arbiters of such standards,
always historically gilded with conscience, morality,
                     intelligence. As when those representatives of the future
heavenly kingdom reaped flocks of dark bodies, 
                     joined them in chains, and ferried them over to their new
world (guess who supplied the labor). In the names of
                    kings and queens, archipelagos were tagged and numbered;
all their denizens cataloged and inventoried, like fish.
                    Long lived the majesties. Longer abiding, the contracts
that passed from indenture to indenture. O
                    my children, my children’s children, imagine such a future
as  a rope that lengthens but wears itself down as we climb; 
                    non-renewable only perhaps with the proper fee…
Or what’s that thing they say?—if you have to ask 
                    outright about the price, you probably can’t afford it.  
Though the idea of value in this case is a construct,  the op-        
                     pressions people actually live through are hardly that.  
There’s enough research established to show how poverty is un-                      
                     questionably related to mental health.  A 
decent wage,
a living wage, might have prevented Yang Gailan from feeding
                     rat poison or pesticide to her four children and herself.

They found them lifeless on the hillside, among the sheep and goats.
                     So many variations of this kind of story,  each worth more
than “nothing.”  So we’ll sing and write about such nothings; we’ll 
                     try to zoom in closer, focus so the distant dots on our
screens become a shape, a form—refugees fleeing, soldiers
                      unbuckling their weapons. Children run  into school
closets as, seemingly out of nowhere, someone orchestrates clipped
                   volley; the sound of slugs and shells skittering on linoleum.
Coming to this part, and the parts afterward of counting: no one could 
                      withstand, bear up against such grief that 
will come in waves 
as if without ending. Even the bravest who’ve seen the worst of war with
                       xerotic eye would weep, grow weak at the sight of hallways
lined with the dead and dying. And what is confidence but forceful
                       yearning for the lark that lifts from the thorny tree, to which
I might pin my voice? O bright nooses and lassos of belonging, nights
                       zapped with alternating currents: offering and burden and brunt.      
                    

 

In response to Via Negativa: https://www.vianegativa.us/2019/12/soloist-2/.

Soloist

Up, and with Sir J. Minnes to White Hall, where we and the rest attended the Duke of York, where, among other things, we had a complaint of Sir William Jennings against his lieutenant, Le Neve, one that had been long the Duke’s page, and for whom the Duke of York hath great kindness. It was a drunken quarrel, where one was as blameable as the other. It was referred to further examination, but the Duke of York declared, that as he would not favour disobedience, so neither drunkenness, and therein he said very well.
Thence with Sir W. Coventry to Westminster Hall, and there parted, he having told me how Sir J. Minnes do disagree from the proposition of resigning his place, and that so the whole matter is again at a stand, at which I am sorry for the King’s sake, but glad that Sir W. Pen is again defeated, for I would not have him come to be Comptroller if I could help it, he will be so cruel proud. Here I spoke with Sir G. Downing about our prisoners in Holland, and their being released; which he is concerned in, and most of them are. Then, discoursing of matters of the House of Parliament, he tells me that it is not the fault of the House, but the King’s own party, that have hindered the passing of the Bill for money, by their popping in of new projects for raising it: which is a strange thing; and mighty confident he is, that what money is raised, will be raised and put into the same form that the last was, to come into the Exchequer; and, for aught I see, I must confess I think it is the best way.
Thence down to the Hall, and there walked awhile, and all the talk is about Scotland, what news thence; but there is nothing come since the first report, and so all is given over for nothing.
Thence home, and after dinner to my chamber with Creed, who come and dined with me, and he and I to reckon for his salary, and by and by comes in Colonel Atkins, and I did the like with him, and it was Creed’s design to bring him only for his own ends, to seem to do him a courtesy, and it is no great matter. The fellow I hate, and so I think all the world else do. Then to talk of my report I am to make of the state of our wants of money to the Lord Treasurer, but our discourse come to little. However, in the evening, to be rid of him, I took coach and saw him to the Temple and there ‘light, and he being gone, with all the haste back again and to my chamber late to enter all this day’s matters of account, and to draw up my report to my Lord Treasurer, and so to bed. At the Temple I called at Playford’s, and there find that his new impression of his ketches are not yet out, the fire having hindered it, but his man tells me that it will be a very fine piece, many things new being added to it.

drunk on sake again
I could sing in a confident way about nothing
so I do

I want the evening light
in my chamber to tell me
many things


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 23 November 1666.