Donna Vorreyer

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour (plus occasional non-tour poetry bloggers: this week, Kristin Berkey-Abbott and Ian Gibbins). If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poetry bloggers mourned departed writers and pondered questions of poetic craft, audience, how to keep the creative pump primed and where to go for renewal.

I am very sad to note the death this week of Ursula Le Guin, whose books I read in high school and who was an inspiration for speculative writers everywhere. She demanded – I saw her speak a couple of times, most memorably on the Oregon Coast during a giant storm where the windows were rattling with wind and thunder – that speculative writing not be put in a separate and lesser category, that women’s writing get equal considerations as men’s, and that poetry be given equal attention as fiction. She didn’t act like any of those demands were unusual or impossible. I still hope to one day gain her bravery and refusal to put with nonsense as well as her ability to imagine a better world.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, What is the Lifespan of a Poetry Book, Saying Goodbye to Ursula Le Guin, and the Value of Little Girls’ Voices

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It wasn’t just that she had incredible talent; she understood how writing as a woman might be different than what the mostly male canon dictated. Everything she wrote was infused with an incredible generosity that might at any moment turn into a lesson in intelligence as a spear to deflate wrong-headedness. But my heart, my heart lived in Earthsea.

The Wizard of Earthsea was a book that spoke to the deepest part of me. The part that longed to accept that my shadow, the bad self that was so often pointed out and scorned, might be integrated and necessary. The part that admired balance, equilibrium, friendship. The part of me that longed to know the true names of things, to work the magic of language.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, There is no other power. No other name.

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Is this going to be the year of losing our female literary lights? It’s only the fourth week of the year, and I just discovered the Claribel Alegria died on Thursday, as the rest of the world still mourned the loss of Ursula K. Le Guin.

Alegria’s loss did not go ringing across the literary world. She was not as famous as Le Guin. But I still feel the loss keenly, even though she was 94, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. […]

I did a search to find out more about Alegria’s death, but it’s missing from our newspapers in a way that Le Guin was not. There are plenty of term papers that I could buy–so that makes me happy in an odd way, knowing that she’s taught enough that there’s a term paper industry about her work.

I also discovered this wonderful interview done at the turn of the century in Bomb magazine. It includes a picture of Alegria and Carolyn Forche. I had forgotten that Forche had translated Alegria’s work.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Loss of a Mirror, Claribel Alegria

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When I found a few years ago that I genuinely wanted to find out what I needed to articulate, I chose to to write poems. Probably because I haven’t the stamina or the invention for anything longer. Whatever. The other thing I was surprised to welcome was the silence of the process. And finding language coming out of a silence in which I wasn’t imagining an audience, and therefore at no risk of imagining argument or opposition. It was just the business of concentrating on the moment, to find out if it was as significant as it seemed. Sometimes it was. More often, not. I found great consolation in this, and subsequently in the quiet company of people who wrote and shared poems.

I don’t know when I became aware that, as in almost any walk of life, there were factions and competitiveness in this business of writing poems; unhealthy kinds of ambition, too, and also envy and mean spiritedness. I do all I can to avoid the company of the vexatious, because what I need more than anything is serenity. But sometimes the noise of it all is too loud, and you can’t escape it. But maybe you can say your piece and walk away. So I shall.
John Foggin, The rest is silence : that P N Review thing

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Al Filreis may be the world’s most enthusiastic cheerleader for the formal aspects of modern poetry. He’s engaging and entertaining and a bit dorky and funny. He knows more about 20th century poetry than almost anyone I know in real life.

But what I really valued from the course was not Al’s comments so much as the sense of wonder at watching poems unfold over the course of a close reading in a group, like tea flowers in hot water. There’s something remarkable that happens to many of these poems during a group reading.

In the same way that I have found memory to be deeply social, this course showed me that reading poetry is, too. […]

Do we really want to address the modern era’s blurring and confusion of language by crafting poetry that is also blurry and confused? Now that public discourse is getting even more incoherent and multivalent, do we really want our poetry to do the same? ModPo seems to suggest we do. I am not so sure. Personally I would appreciate a return to someone like Oppen, or the Imagists, who sought a more crystalline, precise use of language.

Or maybe we want to think about the ways language could be used magically, in an incantatory way, like Jack Spicer.
Dylan Tweney, A few thoughts on ModPo

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I’ve always taken issue when someone says, “I don’t have time to write,” because what I hear is, “I have not made time for my writing.” Listen, if you’re reading this, if you have watched a TV show in the last week, gone onto any social media site, stayed up for fifteen minutes longer than you should, you have time to write.

Your life is happening right now, and you can make choices to use your time for writing. Even if it’s only 15 minutes. I have written poems in 15 minutes. Blog posts.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Distraction, Our Time, & My Best Morning Routine

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Ultimately, if I’m a writer I’m creating work that is intended for an audience, and that’s about purpose more than it’s about the superficial trappings of what we call ‘career’. I guess lately I’ve been thinking about audience and whether or not I have one — and not necessarily in a self-pitying way (although, let me be honest, there’s been a good deal of self-pitying going on in this blog). I’m thinking about who I’m writing for, who I create the work for, whether or not it does any real, good work in the world — otherwise, what’s the point? I want so much for my writing to be useful for something other than my own catharsis, my own navel-gazing, but what evidence exists that it IS serving some purpose other than meeting my own creative and psychological needs?
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Living with Your Work

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Amongst the racks of skeletons,
the glass-cased arthropods,
the frozen flights of butterflies,
the stalking bear, a jar of moles.

Like a pickled audience, they float,
hands in mid-applause, their mute
approval a thing of palms and fingers,
viscous suspension hiding faces,

lumping bodies into a mass of
saturated velvet.
Dick Jones, A Jar of Moles

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Writing an inauguration poem wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Once I sat down to do it, I had a moment of clarity about my process: I am a procrastinator. I spend too much time worrying about time lost when I should accept this is where I am and get on with it. And that’s what I did. I wrote it in a day and took three more to revise. You can make the case that I had been writing it in my head all along, but pressure is part of my process. When the poem was done, I felt relieved in a “mission accomplished” sort of way. Woo hoo!
January Gill O’Neil, Legacy

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I love the idea of video poems providing that extra dimension in trying to represent the strange mental limbo between memory and imagination and forgetfulness… the half-formed images, ideas, thoughts that flit through your mind pretty much constantly: this is the zone where conventional language and linear narrative fails.

All the footage in this video was shot specifically for the project around where I live. It took me months to do, learning the animation and layering techniques that are in nearly every scene… I made all the text animations from scratch, and well as many of the lighting effects. Almost every scene is constructed from several raw images… Almost nothing is as it seems.
Ian Gibbins, heist: what’s going on here?

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When the pen is stuck, my first inclination is always to read. To crack open a book or journal and roll around in someone else’s words and syntax for a while, let my vision guide me to a key that will unlock something new inside my own lexicon. Being a reader is an important practice for every writer, but I often forget how important it is to use the ear, to listen to the work of others to concentrate the mind and the ear on words that are NOT in front of me, to process them in a purer, more challenging way. I have been doing this electronically through the wonderful Commonplace Podcast with Rachel Zucker, but I always learn something from hearing poets read live.
Donna Vorreyer, The Ear as Portal

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Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Over the years, I have heard many poets and writers complain about writer’s block, and my suggestion for those who are staring at a blank page is to do something else, like go for a walk, organize a drawer, do the dishes, exercise, go for a drive in the country, take a break from your busyness. Depending on the activity, your creative consciousness can be subtly working on whatever you want to write. It’s quite remarkable how this works. For example, before I wrote my MFA thesis for Rainer Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, I knitted it. Weeding our three vegetable gardens gave me Small Worlds Floating (Cherry Grove Collections, 2016) and This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). This method works, and you accomplish two things.
Shannon Steimel, Restless / An interview with poet M.J. Iuppa

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Q~How is the poem representative of your work?

A~“The High Road” is a poem that deals with my two greatest obsessions: the terrain of Texas and the terrain of my heart. It’s a poem that focuses on something deeply personal, and the ways in which the personal is woven into the far west Texas landscape, the way in which I am constantly surrounded by something greater than myself. I always find myself returning to the idea of place and space. After both of my chapbooks, I thought I’d said all I needed to say about landscape and its effect on a person, but as I delved into my thesis, I found myself returning to those themes yet again. Geography is, for me, as large and mysterious as God, and the way I wrestle with place is akin to spiritual exploration.
Shannon Steimel, The High Road / An interview with poet Allyson Whipple

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In addition to our regular months-long summer hiatus in Maine, for the past several years I have also been making regular trips to far northern New Hampshire during the height of winter (which also include detours into nearby Vermont, Maine and Québec). Trekking the ridges and hollows of the Great North Woods, among the chain of Connecticut Lakes hard on the Québec border, has proven a palliative for whatever ails me at the time, and it has helped me put my life into perspective on more than one occasion. I went there to ponder plans to retire only to return home confident it was time to move on with the rest of my life. Regardless of the season, this region has become my “panic hole” which, as defined by Gerald Vizenor, is a physical or mental place offering respite from the real or imagined pressures and stresses of daily life and the responsibilities that go with them. Who could not use one of these? Yet it has been the winter visits when I have connected most to this region. Much as Brodsky did in Venice.
Steven B. Rogers, Winter Dreaming

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Art-making is our attempt to find and express meaning—and to participate in the cosmic unfolding, whether to revel, rue, praise, lament, witness or question. There’s nothing to really “practice” here, as the urge is innate and happens by itself. We can cultivate awareness of forms and their effect on us as a species and personally. We can remember that we embody these fundaments. My own contemplation leads me to the understanding that all art-making is ritual and spiritual (and functional)—without any effort to make it that way. No matter what, it can’t be divorced from this essence, it can’t become single, alone, unmoored. When we struggle, when our work gets little recognition, even when it fails, it is grounding to remember that we are graced to be working in this archetypal realm, reflecting the cosmos, refocusing and dispersing it like lenses, little prisms. In making art, we are enacting behaviors as old as the human race. And we are continuing the unending re-expression of cosmic order. Underneath our struggles and the more mundane goals we have for our work, that is what we are doing.
Rosemary Starace, The Crocheted Cosmos

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One night it came to me
as I listened from the balcony
The ocean is the world’s pulse

The beach will teach us
dishevelment and disorder
and how to hang onto light
Hannah Stephenson, Family Vacation

poet bloggers revival tour 2018
Hallelujah, it’s a revival!

A few weeks ago on Twitter, poets Kelli Russell Agodon and Donna Vorreyer were talking about how much they missed the camaraderie of blogging circa 2010. So they started a revival movement to encourage poet-bloggers, especially those who have lapsed or strayed, to come back to Jesus poetry blogging and commit to posting at least once a week in 2018.

Since I’m already blogging about poetry at Moving Poems and sharing drafts of new work (these days mostly erasure poems) here, I thought my contribution could be to revive the old “smorgasblog” feature with a once-a-week digest of posts from across the network that catch my eye. I’m hoping some other participants might do the same. The official list of blogs may be found in this post of Donna’s:

It’s been a while, readers. It’s almost 2018, and I haven’t posted in over a year here. Which I miss. And I’m hoping you’re still there.

If you are, then stick around for what I hope you will consider good news. Many writers like myself found their first poetry communities online. By reading posts like this one and participating in forums (like ReadWritePoem), we built relationships and learned from one another. Since I do not have an MFA and have been primarily an autodidact when it comes to poetry, this was very important for me. And, although I now use social media to connect with a large literary community, many of us have been mourning (for lack of a better word), the opportunity to have access to each other’s extended thoughts on the writing life and poetry in general.

So, sparked by a Twitter conversation with Kelli Russell Agodon, and in honor of that more intimate connection that we so dearly miss, a group of writers have vowed to TRY to post once a week in 2018.

TRY is the operative word. Life happens. Some weeks are harder than others, busier, more complicated. But once a week, we will TRY to share something about poetry or our writing lives with you.
Donna Vorreyer, It Feels Just Like Starting Over

 

Blog posts topics you may see here and on other blogs:

  • craft discussions
  • reviews/sharing reading lists
  • poem drafts
  • process discussions
  • Successes and failures
  • interviews
  • prompts
  • market news/suggestions
  • news of the “writing world”
  • ANYTHING that could be interesting to a reader

Kelli Russell Agodon, The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour! Featuring…

 

I’m not sure about everyone’s motivations, but I find that if I have a community of writers to turn to, I stay motivated to write and share my process with others. The 2016 elections and the onslaught of trolls and bots has left me fatigued with and leery of other social media outlets, and so I return to my own private Idaho on the web–my blog!

Of course, blogging is another form of social media, but on my site, at least, I don’t have ads popping up.
Christine Swint, Writing in Community

 

Back in 2006 when I had two young kids and the Internet was young(ger), blogging was my lifeline. I would not have published my first book without the community of poets and writers encouraging me along the way. And, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing about new topics on a regular basis.

At some point, it became a grind.

This tour comes at a great time. My life is so busy that I am excited to make space for blogging. Lately, I’ve felt as if I’ve lost the ability to look forward, to wonder. Does that make sense? I lost that when I stopped blogging. Writing without limitations was an important part of my creativity, and I lost that when I stopped posting on a regular basis. It shows in nearly all of the poems I wrote in 2017.

This is a chance for me to reconnect with writers I love while recapturing a part of myself.
January Gill O’Neil, 2018 Revival Tour

 

I think of blogging as the sweet spot where the lyric essay, scrapbooking, and pen pal letters all come together. A high and low culture of the internet.
Susan Rich, Coming Soon to a Blog Near to You — Or A Blog Far From You~

 

Cleverly, this poem manages both to reject reality and to immerse itself in it. In saying what he wishes, the narrator takes a journey through the harsh reality of a father’s death… and not getting what we need from people in the end. The layers are impressive because in the poem, the father is out of touch with reality. The details in it are spectacular: “plastic shunt sticking out of his skull,” “a tuna sandwich you bought for him in the cafeteria” and “his calloused hands cutting up the beef for the pozole.”
Carolee Bennett, 3 more poems inspiring me right now to write / #amreading #amwriting

 

The poet’s subtle use of anaphora brings us back to the narrator, over and over: I think, I think, I wonder. Wonder itself is reinforced through natural imagery: the sky, planets, moon and mountains. The poem’s shape- short three lined stanzas stacked like waves lapping on a shore- gently alludes to the imagery. And although the poem references a father’s death and family trauma, we aren’t given all the details. Sometimes it’s the withholding of information where the poet lets the most people in.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, who’s poetry blogging in 2018?

 

Your blood slows, your thoughts turn sluggish and you misplace your phone, despairingly search through the alley trash, raw and pink as any unfurred thing in the snow.

So much ache and sting; this numb, stale freezer burn.

Such a brutal hostage taking: this confessional spill of the body’s most intimate heat and light, this non-consensual vulnerability.
Lee Ann Roripaugh, A Poetics of Cold

 

Presence and attention create a kind of open water, encouraging what is new and not yet known to appear, like a whale spout or gleam. Our attention is wide, up in the crow’s nest, not down at the ship’s wheel, focused ahead. This produces a sense of impending discovery, giving pleasure and satisfaction in the work itself. And our presence is unique; the less distracted we are by false goals, the more likely our seeing will be original, un-beholden. Artists can have confidence, not in the questing, determined self, but in the sea-worthiness of “the craft” that carries us. Process is nearly autonomous. We don’t steer it, we learn to ride it. It’s also a gift, available to everyone, wind to a sail.
Rosemary Starace, Ships at Sea

 

During the dark and difficult times of my life, I try to return to my breath: its pattern, constancy and immediacy help to center me again. The ocean is like that, too, and because of the hours I’ve spent watching it in so many different temperaments and clothings — from the rocky Atlantic shores of Atlantic of New England, to the black volcanic sands of Iceland and the North Atlantic, the shell and sand beaches of Florida, and most recently the very different waters of the Mediterranean — I have new images of ebb and flow, of constancy and immediacy, that I find calming and helpful in the midst of so much that is not. […]

This has been a terribly difficult year for anyone who thinks and feels. I’ve made a conscious decision to limit my time on social media, and watching and reading the news, not only because I find much of the discourse toxic, but because it leads nowhere. We need to be informed and involved, but not to the point of losing ourselves. The bright lights in my life continue to be love, friendship and intelligent, searching conversation, the arts, and nature: I am so grateful for them, and look forward to continuing to find ways to communicate and connect as another year opens up to us. Thank you all for being there, and I wish you all the very best for the new year.
Beth Adams, The Sea at Year’s End

Don’t you kind of hate those year-end “best of” lists that magazines love to compile? They always seem more about positioning the authors as Serious Culture Critics who are hip to what’s fashionable rather than showcasing potentially over-looked works that they sincerely enjoy. And sure, Luisa Igloria and I could’ve set ourselves up as judges to pick a Top 10 list from among our personal favorites, but I thought it would be more fun to throw it open to poetry lovers at large and ask (here and on Facebook) for mini reviews of your single favorite poetry book from the past year: a new book, an old book, a book in whatever language.

The responses have been wonderfully varied and interesting, and Lord help me I want to read (or in a few cases, re-read) every one of these books right now! I’m presenting them in the order they came in. I haven’t numbered them, lest that imply some sort of ranking, but there are 28 books in all.

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Paradise Lost original coverParadise Lost by John Milton (Samuel Simmons, 1667). I nominate it (short answer) because of the rhythm and concision of the text, but also (long answer) because I read it in a book club with people much smarter than myself, including my daughter. (None of us “believers” — but that maybe made it better.) It reads aloud like Creation itself. We only had two meetings for the book, but they were the best of conversations.
Steven Arnerich

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cover of "Of This World"The single book that’s been among the rotating 10 bedside books of mine — probably for two or three years now — has been Joseph Stroud’s Of This World: New and Selected Poems, from Copper Canyon (2008). Just can’t get enough of it. I came late to Stroud, and this is the first & only book of his I know. It’s hard to generalize about Stroud’s virtues, not just because this book collects decades of work, but also because he’s a master of many forms, themes, and tones. He can do a tight lyric in the mode of the classical Chinese masters, and he can stretch out in longer sequences. I love that he doesn’t either hide or particularly flaunt his erudition. He keeps his eye on the things of this world at all times (I guess you could call him a nature poet), but the things of his world definitely include his wide reading in literature. Anyway, his poems are consistently smart, sharply observant, and gorgeous. One of the few books I’ve bought based on a blurb — in this case a rave from the late Jim Harrison (“I don’t recall when a poet unknown to me has struck me so deeply.”)
David Graham

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cover of Luminous SpacesOlav H. Hauge’s Luminous Spaces: Selected Poems & Journals (White Pine Press, 2016). Why? Because he can see into things in a way that few can. The poems are terrific and journal entries are special.

Tom Montag

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cover of Teaching My Mother How to Give BirthTeaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Mouthmark, 2011) by Warsan Shire. I think this is really only chapbook-length. This is just a superb little book by a London–based Somali poet. These words of hers have already been often quoted:

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Though her experience is particularly hers, her truth is all women, and this is what will make her work last. Beautiful, dangerous, and syntactically diverse, her poems enthrall me, something that I am finding rare these days. “At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.”
Susan Elbe

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cover of The RiverI’d like to recommend The River by Irish poet Jane Clarke (Bloodaxe Books, 2016). It’s a wonderful collection of accessible, musical poems that illuminate daily life. I was lucky enough to meet Jane at the Los Gatos-Listowel Writers Week, held in Los Gatos, California (where I live) in October of this year. Jane’s poems are full of rain, fishermen, farmers and flowers; they seem innocent at first, but pull you into a deeply affecting, emotional undertow. I love lines like “Piebald and skewbald” from “Broken” and “I have known storms that buffer and batter the heart. / I chose a hard bed, bare boards, a bulwark” from “Enclosed.”

This is a book of poems you could give to almost anyone, including people who insist that they don’t like poetry. I return to my copy again and again.
Erica Goss

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Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón (Milkweed Editions, 2015) is full of set-down-the-book-because-you-are-weeping poems. Reading it is to be intimate with the extent to which life — joy, loss, etc. — transforms us every minute. Reading this book is to be stung. There is pain. Specifically, the electrical, intense sort of pain. A physical sensation. It’ll give you goosebumps long after the initial zap, and you’ll be glad for the experience. There’s so much beauty in it.
Carolee Bennett

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Rabbit Rabbit coverThe best poetry book I read this year would have to be Rabbit Rabbit by Kerrin P. Sharpe (Victoria University Press, 2016). I was blown away by the poet’s superb control of language, how she used the surreal to illuminate the world. It is saved from perfection by virtue of hitting the same note every time — but what a note. Though I am a comically slow reader of poetry, I swallowed this whole.

She’s new to me, and I’m now a fan.
Ivy Alvarez

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Seam coverSeam by Tarfia Faizullah (Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry, Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). It’s a beautifully wrought collection that weaves together history and personal narrative with tender attention to craft and form.
Christine Swint

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Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (Copper Canyon Press, 2016).

Beautiful. Raw. Gutting. Luminous.
LouAnn Shepard Muhm

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cover of Saint Aldhelm's RiddlesI’m picking the most unusual (for us, in our day) book of poems I reviewed this year. Here’s the opening of my review, “Riddled with Light,” from a recent issue of First Things: “The riddle of Samson’s strength, the riddle of the eagle’s way with the sky and the ship’s way with the sea, the riddles in royal dreams of Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar, the riddle of things hidden since the world began, the riddle of a temple that can be destroyed and yet rebuilt in three days: riddling runs like a seam of gold through the rock of the Old and New Testaments. The mystery and praise of Creation and sub-creation that we find in the books of the Bible emerge again as bright knowledge in Saint Aldhelm’s Riddles (University of Toronto Press, 2015), poems of the seventh-century Aldhelm, noble and bishop and poet and saint. Translated by poet A. M. Juster from Aldhelm’s Aenigmata, these poems suggest that all things possess a mystery. Salamander and raven, candle and cauldron find their secret wonders revealed in riddle.”
Marly Youmans

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Death Tractates coverOf the many excellent poetry books I read this year the standout was Brenda Hillman’s Death Tractates (Wesleyan, 1992). The title makes it sound like some kind of plodding, ancient tome — and it is suffused with grief — but Hillman puts suffering off to the side to ask questions about existence. It’s gorgeous.

The poems convey death’s mystery, and treat the deceased as if she were still present, only separated a little, and unreachable. The dead woman is often referred to as a bride and she is nowhere and everywhere. The poems aren’t filled with tears or wailing, but with questions and careful wondering. Here’s the start of “Seated Bride”:

She had died without warning in early spring.
Which seemed right.
Now that which was far off could become intimate.

I said to the guides, let’s stand
very close to the mystery
and see how far she’s gone…

One of the best poems is “Much Hurrying,” which begins:

—So much hurrying right after a death:
as if a bride were waiting!

Crocuses sliced themselves out
with their penknives. Everything well made
seemed dead to them: Camelias. Their butcher-
paper pink. The well-made poems

seemed dead to you …

Sarah Sloat

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To The House of the Sun coverThe best poetry book I read this year was To the House of the Sun (S4N Books, 2015), Tim Miller’s epic poem about the travels of an Irish-born Georgian seeking revenge against his own father during the Civil War. Miller contacted me back in the spring because he found me online and thought I might like his work. He was right: To the House of the Sun is a sprawling, strange, deeply moving poem inspired by the the world’s great religious texts and definitely in conversation with them. It’s a difficult, harrowing, inspiring, incantatory book, and I’ve never read anything like it.
Jeff Sypeck

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De Willekeur coverThe book that got to me the most over the last few ye​ars was De Willekeur by Jan Lauwereyns (De Bezige Bij, 2012). It’s a bundle of death and happiness, adversity and cruelty, the paradoxical aspects of human life, which sometimes produce ironic discoveries. But more than the subject it’s the poetic adventure in which Jan Lauwereyns takes us in this particular book full of alternation: pieces of prose (on a seventeenth-century pornographer, for example), epic pieces of text, simple poems, a senile sonnet. The randomness is itself a poetic tsunami that drags you in. It’s poetry about the miserable, great humanity.

In my view Jan Lauereyns is the most exciting writer/poet that we have in Belgium. And he’s an inspiration to me. I created several videos for his poems and his latest novel led me to make an entire EP based on certain lines from the book.
—Marc Neys A.K.A. Swoon

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A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon - New (Soma)ticsA Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics by CA Conrad (Wave Books, 2012). I liked the structure, somatic exercises (none of which I have tried at home) followed by the poems they generate. I liked the urgency of the voice moving between rage and laughter. I just like CA Conrad’s wildness, the feeling that he will say anything that needs saying.
Martha McCollough

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The Country Gambler coverThe Country Gambler by Erica McAlpine (Shearsman, 2016). First collection from a UK-based American poet who writes a lot in strict form, both rhymed and unrhymed, and with such skill that it melds entirely with content: sublime, brief evocations of nature, relationships, mood and emotions. A scholar and translator of Horace, her favourite form is Sapphics (see first poem in sample at link).
Jean Morris

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cover of Every Love Story Is an Apocalypse StoryEvery Love Story Is an Apocalypse Story by Donna Vorreyer (Sundress Publications, 2016). This tightly themed full-length collection chronicles a relationship that starts out rocky and seems to have more passion than promise. By itself, that topic might have kept this book in the “seen it before” category, but then a sharp twist pushes the stakes much higher and the collection morphs into something else, a meditation on the indelible but fallible nature of memory and how it bleeds into everything that comes after. Vorreyer’s lean, elegant verse takes occasional leaps into prose poems and hybrid forms, a welcome change of pace, but the book is anchored by her tight, pared-down poems that pay close attention to line length and visuals while wielding powerful language stripped of all but the essentials. This is a book to read in one gulp and then savor again in small pieces.
Amy Miller

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cover of Jane Kenyon's Collected PoemsThe Collected Poems of Jane Kenyon (Graywolf Press, 2007) I’d known “Let Evening Come” and “Otherwise” for a long time but after reading “Let Evening Come” to a women’s group struggling with the election aftermath I decided to dive into the corpus of her work. Two features fascinate me — the similarities in our life paths. Born in 1947. Dealing with severe sadness on and off. The simple work of a gardener to clear the garden and compost. And then, the relationship between titles and subject matter in her poems. I’ve been covering up the titles before I read a poem to guess what she titled it. Every poem takes some sort of twist down to the final lines that surprises me.
Tricia Knoll

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cover of The Book of QuestionsThe best book of poetry I read this year was The Book of Questions, Volume I, by Edmond Jabès, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop (Wesleyan, 1991). In a 1989 LRB review of several books by or about Samuel Beckett, Patrick Parrinder wrote:

…[I.A.] Richards suggested that a good test of a poem’s sincerity would be to meditate for a while on the following topics: 1. Man’s loneliness (the isolation of the human situation). 2. The facts of birth, and of death, in their inexplicable oddity. 3. The inconceivable immensity of the universe. 4. Man’s place in the perspective of time. 5. The enormity of his ignorance. The poem should then be recited, slowly and silently, and, Richards thought, ‘whether what it can stir in us is important or not to us will, perhaps, show itself then.’

The Book of Questions in its entirety passes Richards’s “sincerity” test more definitively than any book of poetry I’ve read in the past decade or so.
—Kuahine Makalapua

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Four Reincarnations coverMax Ritvo, Four Reincarnations (Milkweed Editions, 2016). I don’t read as widely in new poetry as I ought, probably, but this book seems head and shoulders above anything else I’ve read this year. Ritvo’s poetry is a bit like Ocean Vuong’s in that it’s incredibly emotional, vivid, difficult to read simply because of its horrible intensity. But his language is amazingly restrained, precise, almost ordinary. And yet he manages to convey very surreal and strange images through this plain language. It’s the work of a very accomplished writer with an unusually vivid imagination and a surprising sense of humor. Someone I am happy to have inhabiting my mind for an hour at a time.

I do however have to ask myself the uncomfortable question of whether I’d be taking this book as seriously if he hadn’t just died at the age of 25. And the awkward answer is no. I didn’t even hear about Ritvo until the day he died, and everyone who mentions him talks about his early death, so there is no question that his terribly shortened life has amplified the reach of his poetry, as awful as that sounds. I think he knew this, and his writing addresses his terminal illness head on, without pity or melodrama. It doesn’t make it any less awkward for us, his readers, though.

I will be reading and rereading this book for some time, I think.
Dylan Tweney

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Reasons (not) to Dance coverMy favorite poetry read this year was yet another re-read of the poetry chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance by José Angel Araguz (FutureCycle Press, 2015). Other layers of meaning seem to keep unfolding from each poem every time I read through them, each a three-way hybrid of parable, koan, and poem.
Laura L. Kaminski

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cover of bindweed & crow poisonbindweed & crow poison: small poems of stray girls, fierce women by Robin Turner (Porkbelly Press, 2016) reminded me how much I love chapbooks. I’ve been reading mostly full-length collections (some quite wonderful), but I single this one out because it’s the only chap I read this year and it reminded me how much I love these one-sitting collections, so easily reread. I had the pleasure of publishing two of these poems at Gnarled Oak (and nominating one — “bindweed” — for a Pushcart) in 2015, and it was nice to reread them in the context of this beautiful little book. The poems in this collection come mostly from the family of erasure, remix, collage and found poems. They are short and wonderfully open, letting the reader catch glimpses of the stray girls and fierce women of the title. They remind me how much can be said with just the right few words. I will probably reread it a time or two in the coming weeks.
James Brush

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Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude coverAmong the best poetry books I read throughout 2016 (and which I will continue to use in the poetry workshops that I teach, either in part or whole) is Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (Pitt Poetry Series, January 2015). I will return to this book again and again because it reminds me that we should not have to apologize for poetry: for making poetry, for wanting to write poetry, share poetry, read poetry, make poetry out of everyday experience, eat poetry, pluck poems like fruit from a fig tree growing in the middle of the city. And we should not be ashamed to say thank you, to be grateful as we sit in the mud of all of it: for “what do you think/ this singing and shuddering is,/ what this screaming and reaching and dancing/ and crying is, other than loving/ what every second goes away?” The book won several major poetry awards, including the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize.
Luisa A. Igloria

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The Halo coverI read C. Dale Young’s The Halo (Four Way Books, 2016) earlier this year, and I thought it was stunning. It’s the narrative of a young man who has been in a horrible car accident, a young man discovering his sexuality, a young man who finds wings growing out of his body. All of these are true, and the metaphor keeps slipping so that we’re never such what is metaphorical of what. The physicality and music of this book are extraordinary.
Ed Madden

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cover of The Whole Field Still Moving Inside ItThe best book of poetry I read this past year (other than the ones I published!) was Molly Bashaw’s The Whole Field Still Moving Inside It (The Word Works, 2014). The poems, ostensibly about farming and farm life, are of course — as Heaney showed us so convincingly — about life itself, in all its beauty, bewilderment, and violence. I was impressed by Bashaw’s use of language, and deeply moved by her ability to describe but not over-explain, because so much of what she talks about defies explanation or even analysis. She leaves things as they are, but also leaves a great deal of room for the reader. Barshaw grew up on small farms in New England and upstate New York, but graduated from the Eastman School of Music and worked for 12 years in Germany as a professional bass-trombonist — so it’s probably no surprise that her poems resonated with me. She’s young and her work has won a bunch of prizes but that doesn’t matter to me; I certainly wish I had published this first book of hers myself and hope to meet the poet someday so I can tell her.
Beth Adams

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The Black Flower coverI keep re-reading The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems by Natalia Toledo, translated by Claire Sullivan (Phoneme Media, 2015), puzzling over a seamless blend of the wild and the domestic, the real and the surreal; wondering at the understated, even casual assimilation of astonishment; and greatly admiring the fractal-like completeness of the smallest fragments. In a year when indigenous people throughout the hemisphere have mobilized and joined forces like never before in support of the Standing Rock Sioux, poetry such as Toledo’s stands as a reminder of just how diverse and vital literary traditions are in the Americas. (Not to mention ancient: Zapotec culture and writing go back at least 2500 years.) Here’s a bit of an untitled poem:

Fire is reborn on the soil of the earth
a tender leaf sleeps upon my eyelids.
My shadow walks the four paths
content, my skin shivers with ants.
A garden is my house
and the firefly on my back makes me translucent.

—Dave Bonta

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Bodymap coverReading poetry is one of my guilty pleasures. I tend to wander by the poetry section in the local bookstore (Literati) around each payday, and if I miss the bus and have to walk to the bus, well, life has FORCED me to walk past the poetry books, right? Recently (meaning months to years), I’ve been asking the bookstore over and over to stock more diverse poets. I was finding classics, and new books by academically acclaimed poets, and poetry books I’d already read, but was longing for the poems and voices of people of color, women, from other countries, people who are poor, or ill, or disabled, or immigrants, or… well, you get the idea. Diversity. I’d had a tough year, had lost several dear friends, friends who were diverse, so very diverse. I wanted poems that reverberated with experiences that stretched views and minds and hearts.

Then one day I stumbled upon Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Mawenzi House, 2015). I felt the electricity shiver through it even before I bought the book. I couldn’t buy it fast enough, and that was just based on the back cover blurb: “Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha sings a queer disabled femme-of-colour love song filled with hard femme poetics.” Oh, yeah, baby, that’s what I need. The book itself did not disappoint. I read it luxuriously, in strict order, as if it was a story and each poem depended on the poems before. I read about terrible, terrible fatigue, and people who get it and don’t judge you for it. I read about growing up poor and colored and with so many cultures around you it becomes confusing to others when you are just being you. I read about hard life, hard sex, “alternative” sex, and vibrators for pain relief. I read about going to the hospital with friends who are afraid. I read about rape, best friends, moving from one country to another. I read about people who look at you, and you know they are afraid of you because you are ‘different,’ whatever that means.

I carried the book with me everywhere for months. I showed poems to people on the bus, in choir rehearsal, at orchestra concerts. I shoved it in their faces, scrambling through the pages, and saying, “Here! Read this! And this one! Isn’t it AMAZING?” I am not quoting from the poems because they are too powerful and too real to section, and squeeze the juice from them. These are poems to read greedily, and carefully. Stuff your mouth and mind full of them, and let the juice run down your chin. Then read another one, peeling it carefully, removing every shred of bitter white, and marveling at the glorious architecture of how each word glistens inside.

I cried, and laughed, and gasped reading this book. I went back and read who commented on the book, who wrote the “Praise for…” sections, and I bought books by all of them. This was a book that opened to me a mature world of poetry like the one I fell in love with as a teenager, when I discovered “Mountain Moving Day” and “Beginning with O” and “Queen of Swords.” This is woman’s poetry that opens a window on lives rarely witnessed in our culture, powerful poetry, poetry for the excluded and marginalized, poetry for those who want or need to bear witness, to understand, to peep inside a life that is unfamiliar in print but oh so very familiar in the lives of my friends and neighbors. I love this book of poetry in a way I haven’t loved a poetry book in many years. I cannot praise it enough.
PF Anderson

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If I Go Missing coverMy pick for the book of my year is Octavio Quintanilla’s debut collection, If I Go Missing (Slough Press, 2014).

The poetry sings true and the matter matters.
Katherine Durham Oldmixon

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Highway Sky by James Brush (Coyote Mercury Press, 2016). It reads like a road movie, and there are film references in it. Diverse poetic forms give a range of rhythmic experiences, like musical variation. The poems evoke nostalgia for a wilder freer time, a time of wrestling demons and coming to a new understanding of life. The tone is serious, at times confessional, and also at times humorous, at others uplifting: many shades as the narrative progresses. Themes of history in the American landscapes traversed are a strong thread in the collection. I love the pared back writing style, which is also somehow rich with detail.

My disclosure of interest in this collection is firstly that I had the pleasure of reading and commenting on the manuscript prior to its publication. I was later also involved in a musical piece and video incorporating one of the poems, ‘God Bless Johnny Cash’. This was possible because James has licensed the whole of ‘Highway Sky’ on a Creative Commons remix license, though he also gave his permission when I contacted him by email. He and I are friends over the net.
Marie Craven
[Click through to the book’s webpage to watch all the videos and listen to the music based on its poems. —Dave]

Watch on Vimeo.

I made a videopoem this afternoon for Moving Poems based on a text at The Poetry Storehouse, a new site offering “great contemporary poems for creative remix”: in this case, “Giacometti’s Pears” by Donna Vorreyer — one of my favorite poets. I’ve been involved with the Storehouse as an adviser, but I’m as interested as anyone in taking advantage of the remix potential of the works there.

Vorreyer’s own reading, available for download at the Storehouse, struck me as more than adequate, and I combined it with a snippet from a soundscape I found on freesound.org from someone called Deneb al Giedi, who describes it as “one very long deconstructed recording of a string quartet with metallic stereo and echo effects.” For footage, I had the idea of searching the Prelinger Archives for videos of canyons in the American southwest, thinking I might find some sensuous curves to complement the imagery in the poem. Imagine my delight when I found an old home movie that combines wind-sculpted rock with hard angles: Glen Canyon Bridge, from 1958.

This is the tenth videopoem for a text at The Poetry Storehouse. You can watch them all at the group page on Vimeo.