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.

April Diary 25: migration time

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
This entry is part 25 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April it’s odd you don’t hear people rhapsodize about the first spiders of spring

there’s nothing like watching a low-angled sun glistening on gossamer threads between the bare shining branches of mid spring

out on the porch i debated whether to dip into Charles Simic or John Stevenson. settled on the latter, read a couple pages and came upon a haibun that could’ve been written by Simic:

the temperatures are due to climb into the low 80s today. glad i got some greens planted yesterday but i’m champing at the bit to get all the other early things in. but it’s blog digest day and besides the Amish-run greenhouse where i hope to get most of my seedlings won’t be open on a Sunday

Amish understand the concept of a day of rest though it’s a luxury most non-Amish can no longer afford. it’s a shame that such things get thrown out as society gets secularized. even so i wouldn’t support bringing back the blue laws. i’d just like to see a cultural shift on the work/life balance — which the pandemic response did seem to spark but it will take a hugely revitalized union movement to really change society-wide ingrained habits

or so the brilliant Maximilian Alvarez argued in a video editorial which i watched during my lunch break on Friday. it made me realize yet again how lucky i am that so much of my time is my own. of course i have to live with the trade-off: no life as most people understand it meaning no wife or kids or career or mortgage or pickup truck. #blessed

anyway here’s Max

cool summer morning
I take my thoughts
out to the porch

John Stevenson with Seneca Kennedy

out at 10:30 for a less strenuous version of my usual walk but i use the time more to plan out my vegetable garden than to focus on what’s around me. i walk right past the trillium patch without remembering to look and i have to backtrack. (they’re still not fully out but probably will be by tomorrow)

walking up Rhododendron Trail I hear my first black-throated green warbler of the year and on the bench in that ravine have a spectacular view of a singing blue-headed vireo making his rounds while another sings 100 yards away

the distant sound of church bells—must be noon

iced herb tea for the first time this year. it was worth the hike

and here’s Stevenson proving that senryu can be just as deep as haiku:


hawk going over high i presume a broadwing since my brother mentioned this morning it was a big day for them (he saw six at once)

discovered a great way to get rid of flies: rather than swat them try photographing them instead, they’ll disappear immediately

two more high hawks drifting northward. i see what Mark meant

living on a mountain that’s part of a linear ridge system hundreds of miles long means we’re on a highway for migrants

(which 200 years ago would’ve been used by human migrants too as part of the Underground Railroad)

finally a blooming shadbush! i was beginning to think we weren’t going to see any this year. of course if it continues warm like this we won’t have them for more than a few days, which will be sad. seeing those little white clouds on all the mountainsides is one of my favorite things this time of year

weezaweezaweezaweezaweeza! black-and-white warbler

i can see why death metal started in south florida—humid heat sends my mood straight to hell

black metallers think that despair is a thing of the cold but no. especially on a rapidly warming planet

(just to clarify this is still what they’d regard as a cool day in south florida, i’m just a wimp)

working on the poetry blog digest I love this typo from Kristy Bowen: “I feel more string as a poet than I ever have”

(no disrespect to her of course—it’s always astonishing to me how much she gets done and still makes time to blog. understandable that copy-editing the blog might be low on her list of priorities)

speaking of south florida, my mother informs me that she and Mark had a brief sighting of a swallow-tailed kite zipping along the ridge just after noon. this was accepted by eBird because Mom had had one other sighting many years ago… and doubted her own sanity until other birders verified that the bird does sometimes wander very far afield from its usual range

and even more warblers are back than i heard on my walk, indifferent birder that i am. also the first wood thrush apparently. which according to family lore always used to return on the day we planted peas. if i were planting peas this year, this would definitely be the weekend to get them in

when i went to open my bedroom window and let in the evening cool, i saw that the cardinals had hatched: blind, naked, trembling, but quick to open their beaks for food when they hear a sound above them—the ersatz shutter on my camera phone

here’s something i wrote back on March 24 about the tree the cardinals are nesting in:

Standing outside my front door on this rainy night is the closest thing to a son or daughter I’ll ever have: an eastern red cedar tree, which I found and transplanted when it was one or two years old back in 1993, and has since grown into a bit of a monster, towering over the house. The old place in Maine where we lived till I was five had a number of juniper bushes in the former pasture, where I used to play a lot, and I think that’s what appealed to me about having a closely related species right by the door. And sure, I knew it would turn into a tree rather than a bush, but I still thought it would stay on the small side. It hasn’t — much to the delight of roosting songbirds. I have to prune branches that rub against the roof, but still, on stormy nights, I hear it thump, thump, thumping against the house.

adding our darkness
to the night

April Diary 15: all my best friends are books

This entry is part 15 of 31 in the series April Diary


sitting on the porch first thing in the morning going back and forth between Phoebe Giannisi and Zang Di: two cerebral humanist ecopoets both born in 1964

both reward slow reading are often tongue in cheek and discuss ideas in a very concrete, embodied way

they have different concepts of what’s most primal though: for Giannisi it’s smell or touch; for Zang Di it’s taste

both translators Brian Sneeden and Eleanor Goodman are highly regarded by their peers. imagine pouring so much selfless effort into a product that in the end may garner three or four glowing reviews and fewer than 500 sales i’m guessing. heroes

i now want to buy every contemporary Chinese poet translated for Zephyr Press not all at once but as i finish the previous one (though that means a lot more money on shipping)

though my previous such book was from those wacko hipsters at Ugly Duckling Presse, I name him me: Selected Poems of Ma Yan a young Sichuanese Muslim poet whose work really took off in China after she topped herself in 2010, sigh. in her lifetime just two self-published collections drawn from her blog

hi my name is Dave and i’m a bookaholic

here’s a short poem by Ma Yan:


The butterflies climb against the wind,
they hobble on the cable.
Sunlight in mid-spring and
roadside trees smothered in dust
say hello to each other.
In this heavy Beijing,
the thick smell of oxygen,
the TV sign happens to cut out
like thunder at noon.

I name him me: Selected Poems of Ma Yan, translated by Stephen Nashef

this is a perfect haiku pairing:

John Stevenson, from quiet enough

the problem with people who want to be poets i find is that they want to have written poems more than they want to write them. they are in love with the idea of being someone who loves to write

some of these people end up committing literal plagiarism. others limit themselves to passing off commonplace ideas, conventional wisdom and other such calcified thoughts as their own original insights

all of these people need to be encouraged. there’s too much good poetry getting published these days—one simply cannot read it all. it’s appalling

also i love me a good plagiarism scandal, although it’s a little sad when you know the plagiarist and had thought well of her. still, i stand with Ira Lightman all the way. he’s a genuine hero for exposing so many cases of well-published, reputable poets committing plagiarism. it raises so many questions about originality and why it matters (or doesn’t matter if you’re an idiot). and why the hell some people want so badly to have written that they can’t be bothered to write

Dear April when the high finally blew in late this afternoon, I was four-fifths of the way through my walk and drinking my tea up at the vernal pools. Great timing, as it turned out, because I suddenly found myself writing a poem that was neither a haiku-like thing nor an erasure poem. i know, i’m shocked too. the germ of it was a childhood memory, actually: a rare moment of pure happiness such as one has maybe a half dozen times in the course of an ordinary life.

of course, that was only the germ. it sprouted into something different and a bit darker i’m afraid:

pine trees say
a sigh can be happy

and the sky is bluest
in a mountain pool

between the parentheses
of salamander embryos

birds fly

one falling maple blossom
sends a shock wave

in this universe it’s easier
to talk to the dead

this blogging thing could become a habit. i’d better be careful

April Diary 7: wolfish

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
This entry is part 7 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April your daffodils are as late as I’ve ever seen them

their yellow buds ease open like swimmers dipping a toe into the cold and the wet

I’m sitting on the ridgetop and as i wrote that last line two deer came up behind me caught my scent and bolted, bounding down the steep, rocky slope toward I-99

Dear April today is a moss and lichen day, the tree trunks dark with rain under heavy skies and the gray-green sleeves of their upper limbs

It’s almost axiomatic i think that any place where you have a close encounter with a charismatic creature becomes forever marked by your memory of its presence. approaching this stone seat where i had a brief staring contest with a coyote a month ago, i noticed a somewhat wolfish piece of old lichen-encrusted pine

earlier, standing in the kitchen i’d started humming that song “the bare necessities” from Disney’s original animation of the jungle book and a few lines of a new bear poem came to me:

as for the bare necessities
Balu I am still looking

I have been unbearable
to some but like you

I am a sluggard
I go to the fancy ants

my tongue works far
harder than my teeth

yeah I thought i’d just throw in a fun little riff on a Bible quote there because I have an imaginary audience of fellow KJV nerds. oh hell yeah

Dear April I read one poem in the course of half an hour sitting in the woods. is that good or bad? Charon’s Cosmology still

there aren’t too many poets so brilliant that a practiced reader can’t anticipate where a poem is going from one line to the next but Simic is one of them

there are natural landscapes like that, so full of surprise that even a practiced hiker can’t imagine what’s around the next bend. we call such places old growth if they’re forest

if we truly pay attention they confound every effort at an easy narrative

there’s nowhere i’m really going with this thought but feel free to expand upon it at your leisure

but there is a terrifying arbitrariness to our choice of narratives isn’t there

what does this mean in the age of the novel and the TV script that it might not have meant in the age of the ballad and the epic, i wonder. in slower times people might’ve had more time to think their own thoughts but history suggests that many if not most of those thoughts, especially where war was concerned, were utter dogshit

in a time of war we are reminded of the immense destructive power of official narratives, our propaganda more insidious than Russia’s because, at least in its liberal version, so few members of the professional/managerial class even recognize it as propaganda

and so we are being memed and emoted into a war that could end nearly all life on earth

Dear April there was a raccoon on my Mom’s back porch late this afternoon when i got back from my walk and at first we were excited because, you know, not really all that many raccoons up here

but then we noticed how skinny and how scroungy her fur and she seemed to have a limp no wait she’s staggering oh hell poor thing must be rabid

and our neighbor came over with a shotgun because all i have are rifles and a shotgun is the right tool for this grim but necessary job but the raccoon had disappeared probably under my house

Dear April i won’t lie: seeing that raccoon stagger felt like a haiku moment

poets are monsters

I don’t want to end on such a dark note so let me instead leave you with a haiku by a living master of the art, John Stevenson

this is from his 2004 collection with Red Moon Press quiet enough (one of the two books that came yesterday from bookshop.org)

leaves budding
a little girl
spinning in her dress

John Stephenson

such a pure, perfect, timeless moment. with that is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-metaphor frisson I get so often with Buson