Favorite poetry books of 2022

In a year when I re-read a half-dozen early Charles Simic books, among other old favorites, I want to look back just at the new-to-me books I read this year and remind myself which ones really kicked ass… so that in future years, these might be the old favorites to re-read! Links go to publishers’ webpages (or to Bookshop.org if they don’t have one) .

Here are ten poetry collections I loved this year, any one of which wouldn’t have been out of place in my top five:

Why I No Longer Write Poems by Diana Anphiamiadi, translated by Natalia Bukia-Peters and Jean Sprackland (Bloodaxe Books, 2022)

Close to the Teeth by Elisa Biagini, translated by Sarah Stickney and Diana Thow (Autumn Hill Books, 2021)

(Creature Sounds Fade) by Shanna Compton (Black Lawrence Press, 2020)

Can’t resist sharing Compton’s excellent videopoem trailer:


Coffin Honey by Todd Davis  (Michigan State University Press, 2022)

Sentences and Rain by Elaine Equi (Coffee House Press, 2015)

Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season by Forough Farrokhzad, translated by Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. (New Directions, 2022)

keep walking by Bill Kenney (Red Moon Press, 2021)

Aporia by Rebecca Lilly (Red Moon Press, 2021)

Dear Selection Committee by Melissa Studdard (Jackleg Press, 2022)

The Roots of Wisdom by Zang Di, translated by Eleanor Goodman (Zephyr Press, 2017)

And the aforementioned top five…

The Echo Chamber by Michael Bazzett (Milkweed Editions, 2021).

I was very excited to discover Bazzett’s work as a result of a random Mastodon post; he’s got a number of books out. This one was brilliant, both clever and insightful. I’m not usually a fan of re-worked Greek mythology, but the Echo and Narcissus cycle really works as a critique of the selfie era.

The Threadbare Coat: Selected Poems by Thomas A. Clark (Carcanet, 2020)

Minimalist ecopoetry is obviously very much my bag, so there’s no way I wasn’t going to love this collection by “Scotland’s most distinctive contemporary writer” as the possibly overheated jacket copy calls him.

The Nightfields by Joanna Klink (Penguin Random House, 2020)

Klink was, like Bazzett, a major new addition to my personal pantheon of contemporary poets: someone who stands out for the quality of her thought as well as her complete virtuosity as a poet.

My Red: The Selected Haiku of John Stevenson (Brooks Books, 2021)

Stevenson is a master of modern haiku, and it’s great to have this selection in such a high-quality, hardcover edition. It traveled with me on many walks this spring, and doubtless will come along on many more.

Thanks to Catherine in the comments (see below) for reminding me of this video trailer:

Without further ado, my top pick of the year:

Startling by Linda France (New Writing North/Faber, 2022)

France is, despite her name, England’s best contemporary ecopoet IMHO. Like Clark, she knows her birds and wildflowers. And this collection feels especially urgent and stylistically experimental (including credible versions of Japanese short forms).

Fimmaker Kate Sweeney made a poetry film with some of France’s words:

As I wrote somewhere in my April Diary, I’ve never been terribly good at talking about why I love books, so I mostly don’t. But it seems unfair to the authors not to at least enthuse a bit from time to time.

Firefly moon

firefly moon
a rabbit’s high, thin shriek
cut short


I keep killing the same fly over and over. Sometimes it’s green; sometimes it’s blue. Its blood is always yellow. And always it returns to the same spot on my knee, rubbing its forelegs together, ready for another taste of my salt.


There are still two red squirrels in the spruce grove, one in the trees around Dad’s grave and the other a hundred feet up the hill. This seems unusual given how territorial they are, according to the resident naturalist.

The sandstone slab from down the ridge is doing an excellent job as a reflecting pool. And even when it’s dry, it remains an object for reflection.


I’m increasingly coming to prize experiences that I don’t write about and don’t share with anyone. They feel like a form of wealth. Especially after nearly a decade of telling virtually every memorable thing to my then-partner.


The first drops of rain start falling just as I reach my front door after a three-and-a-half hour ramble. I stand under the portico watching the sidewalk briefly turn into a pointillist watercolor.


I am really feeling this poem by Joanna Klink called “3 Bewildered Landscapes” in Excerpts from a Secret Prophesy. Here’s the third landscape:

STARS, SCATTERSTILL. Constellations of people and quiet.

Those nights when nothing catches, nothing also is artless.

I walked for hours in those forests, my legs a canvas of scratches,

trading on the old hopes—we were meant to be lost. But being lost

means not knowing what it means. Inside the meadow is the grass,

rich with darkness. Inside the grass is the wish to be rooted, inside the rain

the wish to dissolve. What you think you live for you may not live for.

One star goes out. One breath lifts inside a crow inside a field.

“What you think you live for you may not live for.” It’s always such a pleasure to find a poem that says precisely what I need to hear, like meeting a true teacher.

A hummingbird visited the beebalm next to my chair as I was typing that—the last hummingbird visit of the evening. Now a wood thrush is singing from the top of the crabapple tree.

I am still thinking about a photo I took this morning:

Cross, guitar, railroad tracks. All the promise and heartbreak of America in one shot.

I should sell it.

Starting with a thunderclap

morning thunder
a fawn dancing
with deer flies


Alaskan poet Erin Coughlin Hollowell posted a Joanna Klink poem to Instagram and I immediately went and dug out my copy of Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy, whence it came. The bookmark was only a third of the way in, but in my defense it had been my second Klink book in a row, and she is not a poet to read quickly.

But my impression from April is soon reaffirmed: she is a poet of unquestionable genius, one of our best. Terrance Hayes uses the term “Rilkean elegies” in his blurb and that’s not hyperbole. In fact Rilke does rather well by the comparison, I think. Here for example is a section of the poem “Novenary”, where my bookmark was parked:


between the doe’s teeth
thorns and all


dark clouds
the robin revisits
his dawn repertoire


so many memories
smell like the earth


If I am only hull to what happens,
let me at least feel more deeply that flitting,
the dead light of stars over my hands,

into my throat. Oar of my body.
Things that were sensed but not known.
Joanna Klink

That’s how “Novenary” ends. And I am reminded that typing out another’s poem prompts a deep reading when you type as painstakingly as I do, with one clumsy finger, on my phone, as if with “the dead light of stars” indeed.


They’re still forecasting a high of 90 this afternoon—32C—but at the moment it’s 56F/13C and I am fighting the urge to put long johns on. “Rain stopping in 19 minutes.” That’s global weirding for you.


This morning’s earworm is from Blackwater Park, a masterpiece of an album by the progressive metal band Opeth, which I had on in the car last Tuesday. So much great music about serial killers! Bartok’s Lord Bluebeard’s Castle comes to mind.

A cheerful thing to hum while fixing breakfast.


One of the great climbing trees of my childhood finally gave up the ghost this spring. Red maples don’t live long but they also don’t die easily.

Enjoy the climb, Virginia creeper! You can’t help that your name makes you sound like a sex offender and an outsider. Hell, I was born in Virginia myself.


Stopping to write down a thought, I see that I left another thought unfinished and expand on that instead, forgetting what I had intended to write. As so often in life one redirects energy from one thing to another. Would I have been a more productive poet if I’d had a career, related or otherwise? Undoubtedly. But I always prioritized happiness in the moment.

lucky day
the coins I keep forgetting
in my pocket


blowing my nose
a maple leaf’s dry


Half-way down the hollow, the sun comes out. And so, I’m afraid, do the midges. Black flies, I suppose we should call him, a call-back to the North Woods of my early childhood. But the white supremacy embedded in that common name makes me more than a little uncomfortable. As does this cloud of midges. Global weirding—what can you do? My nose begins to itch, a psychosomatic reaction as old as my earliest memories of being engulfed by small biting insects.

A small hole in the middle of the gravel driveway which I always thought was the entrance to a chipmunk bureau has filled with water. What an unexpected thing! (The dictation app heard burrow as bureau, and it’s just too perfect to change.)

I decide to head straight up the mountainside to escape the midges. I forget just how many spring wildflowers hide out on the steep slopes where no one ever goes. They’re past blooming now, of course, but it’s good to know they’re here. And I say no one, but in fact I did meet another climber on the way:

red eft

the hollow
between twin oaks
collecting leaves

rain-soaked ghost pipes


This crook-handled umbrella is the best: a cane when I need it climbing a hillside, or a stick to shake rain off vegetation before I walk through it. I was pleased to see, walking with my mother recently, that she uses her folded umbrella to deftly toss fallen sticks off the road just as I do.


ghost pipes
sweating through the longest
day of the year

via Woodrat Photohaiku


I’m seeing lots of evidence that this year’s much smaller cohort of spongy moth caterpillars has almost entirely succumbed to its main natural control, a fungus. Fingers crossed that oaks won’t be as stressed again as they were in 2020 for a long time—I’m convinced that’s what allowed the caterpillars to build up in sufficient numbers to cause last year’s widespread defoliation, because trees busy fighting drought, after a late hard frost had required them to re-leaf, would’ve had very little energy left over to produce their usual insecticides. Two years later, there are as many dead trees from that frost as there are from last year’s outbreak, though they’re not concentrated on the ridgetops like the latter, but here and there throughout the woods. In either case, just the sort of small openings that are great for overall biodiversity, as long as they don’t presage a new disturbance regime that will turn forest to savanna, as seems to be happening on Plummer’s Hollow’s southeast-facing slopes without oak-hickory cover, where things are kept at a weedy stage of succession—a kind of arrested development—by increasingly harsh ice storms in the winter and thunderstorms in the summer.

If/when sudden oak death aka Phytophthora ramorum arrives here, I may need to be put on suicide watch.

However, it has not escaped my attention that Disturbance Regime would be a great title for something. Or as we GenXers invariably like to joke: if you were ever in need of a rockin’ name for a garage band…


At 12:42 the midges find me on top of the ridge. It’s getting hot. The lucky coins are still in my pocket. My feet are damp but the rest of me feels pretty damn good.

The world is always ending somewhere. Today, so far, it’s not ending here and for that I am grateful. North America as a whole might get through the current economic state-change relatively ok, given our economic, natural and demographic advantages. But I fear for friends in other parts of the world. And for wildness and biodiversity dwindling everywhere.

A shadow of a red-tailed hawk passed over me as I was writing that.

(I love augury right up to the point where it stops being about the birds and starts being about us. How dull.)

When I got home, I found a stowaway on my sleeve:

An immature northern true katydid, if I’m not mistaken.


For the second day in a row I actually manage a mid-afternoon nap, which is great this time of year when the nights are so short but also so enchanting—and keep in mind that Shakespeare etc. never saw fireflies, which are such a feature of June nights here.

After supper, sitting on the porch to begin editing this post, a fringe of grasses at the edge of my weedy front yard, illuminated by the low sun, caught my eye:

Watch on Vimeo

When I knelt to shoot the video, I looked around to make sure there wasn’t any poison ivy. Instead, I was delighted to discover a baby tulip tree! I had been looking all over for seedlings to transplant a couple weeks ago, because they’re such excellent yard trees—grow straight and tall, are lovely in bloom, and can live for hundreds of years—but couldn’t find a one. So when I’m not looking, one appears. And in a very good spot, too.

I lost no time making a deer cage for it. Blog posts can wait!