Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Weeks 4-5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This time, I am playing catch-up, which of course meant twice as much reading as usual, but I can’t say it hasn’t been a pleasant way to spend a lazy Sunday while recovering (I hope) from a mild virus. Poetry bloggers have been in fine form over the past two weeks.

Incidentally, for those craving a poem-a-day exercise this month, it’s not too late to join NaHaiWriMo or Post-It Note Poetry — or both!


I discovered wordpools in Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy. “I collect…hats, coins, cougars, old Studebakers,” she writes. “That is, I collect the words. Pith helmet, fragment, Frigidaire, quarrel, love seat, lily. I call gathering words this way creating a wordpool. This process helps free us to follow the words and write poems.”

When I read this, I’d been writing poems a long time, but the idea of collecting words to spark creativity was new to me. That a poem might be lurking in some random words—surge, hit, new, kiss, overallfork, innocence, bumblebee, fingers—was exhilarating.

Around this time, the late 1990s, Magnetic Poetry kits appeared. I received many as gifts. They came in sheets, requiring the recipient to detach the words from each other. I’ve lost count of how many kits I processed this way, only to find the words I’d carefully separated uninspiring. Staring at a refrigerator covered with words that someone else selected did little for my creativity.

Erica Goss, Dive Into the Wordpool

public library
the little girl skips
to the door

Bill Waters, Public library

Funny how, once a character is on the page, the author loses control.

Sometimes I stumble on my own writing – an old poem, or a bit of a journal entry – and it is completely foreign to me.

I wrote a draft of a novel once.
And realized that I am a poet: fragmented.

Shattered.

Ren Powell, Being Seen and the Value of Journaling

Maggie Smith talked about embracing brokenness and error in poems.  She talked about the kintsugi method of ceramics, where cracks and even broken pieces are filled in with metallic lacquer.  She talked about ways to use this technique in poetry through the things we mistype, the spelling errors, the things we hear wrong, and all the other ways we should embrace our mistakes.  If we’re open to our imperfections, the poems may take us to surprising places that a rigid poet would never discover.

My favorite quote of hers:  “I don’t got to poetry for comfort, as a reader or a writer, but to be changed.”

Her craft lecture was paired with Adrian Matejka, who talked about persona poetry and issues of history, culture and appropriation.  I wasn’t familiar with his work, but he was a dynamic, engaging speaker, and I enjoyed the topic.  How interesting to be talking about these issues during a week when the nation has been talking about these issues in the latest Oprah book pick, American Dirt.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Craft Talks at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Days like these, it’s hard to tell up from down. Days like these, when the flow and deluge of the cosmos rubs up against our flesh, the universe hymning and howling the joys and sorrows for which we struggle to find words.

Days when our hearts strain against the unknown until the pain becomes a part of us.

Days like these, when all we can do is put our shoulder to the wheel. Lean into love.

Rich Ferguson, Days Like These

And, of course, there are always the ‘let’s-all-spread-across-the-sidewalk-and-take-up-as-much-room-as-we-can’ walkers. And dog walkers. And a woman who must have splashed through the ocean’s shallows, standing one-legged at her open trunk wiping sand from her feet. And a man wandering the boardwalk with a phone in his hand, who could be waiting for someone. Or even for himself.

And here’s me, trying to remember to keep right not left but forgetting when I run back to the beach, and spit some water onto the rocks, which way the wind is blowing.

sunrise
all of us
in this
together

Lynne Rees, Deerfield Mile

I forget how much I enjoy the camaraderie of other writers, especially foreign writers here in Finland. We’re a good mix of nations, last night there were British, American, Hungarian, Romanian and Jamaican writers attending. We usually have a Finn or two as well. We went out for a drink afterwards, to talk shop, politics and just generally blether. We may not agree on everything politically and I was grateful the conversation did not turn to Brexit, but I feel we can actually debate and break open subjects that touch on writing, teaching, literature and being immigrants.

Though the other writers and I are on different paths in our writing careers, there are few poets in the group, it’s nice to have a small community to share worries, successes and struggles. If someone asks, how do you decide when a piece is finished, there are lots of different points of view and stories shared, poems that get rehashed to death, stories that never get finished. They understand. I’m so glad I’ve managed to find this in a place where I can’t properly engage with the local literature because my language skills just aren’t up to it. Even if I can’t make it every week, I know it’s there when I have time. 

Gerry Stewart, A Bright Light on a Dark Brexit Day

I often like to think that the paid employment I do on week-days gets in the way of my true vocation. Yes, I know that sounds pretentious, but how I envy those who can set aside time when they are fresh and alert to do some writing. Like many others, I mostly make do with writing on evenings and weekends when all I really want to do is slouch; and doing so is knackering. Lately, though, I seem to have snatched some decent writing time on bus journeys, from Hampton Court or Kingston to Twickenham, which has been a boon. My wife’s mantra is, “It’s later than you think” – wise words made wiser recently by news of the deaths of three friends and acquaintances of my age. So I’ve been trying to make the most of my time with a mantra of my own: “Get running, get writing, get the fuck on with it.”

Matthew Paul, Writing time

I like to write, but boy, do I have trouble at times settling down.  I love to write, even, but the other pole – the love of motion – makes it rough to sit at that desk.  I’ve got to keep moving.  I’m not the kind of writer to dictate into an IPhone as I’m walking, or as I’m doing spins on the dancefloor; so I do need my desk.  Once I re-discover my desk as a long-lost love, I start to wander in my head.  

I’ve paired up with a compatible subject for a poetry sequence — home/homelessness. It troubles the idea of home and explores the commonality of homelessness. Is it something about me, my tribe? Wandering Jews are well-known entity, starting with God ordering Abraham and Sarah to leave their home and get moving into the unknown.  In the current cyclical readings of Torah, we are in Exodus, wandering in the desert. 

My tribe as human?  Metaphorically we might now feel that we are all wandering in the desert.  The first thing my IPhone showed me this morning was a suggestion on the Home Screen: “It’s true that nothing makes sense.” What the —? 

Jill Pearlman, The New Vertigo

THIS is the best thing about this week: a stunning cover for my forthcoming poetry book, featuring a painting called “Censer” by Ida Floreak and designed by Nikkita Colhoon. Nikkita’s work was one of the draws, for me, in working with Tinderbox Editions–all her covers stop you in your tracks. I feel really lucky. I owe thanks, too, to Clover Archer for bringing Ida’s art to Staniar Gallery on campus, and to Kevin Remington for getting a high-quality photograph of the work. I went to Ida’s talk just as I was puzzling over possible covers, so there was something magical about the convergence.

Like Ida’s other work, “Censer” has a meditative quality I love. She’s arranged a shrine out of natural objects, highlighting their grace–and the cracking egg suggests rebirth (when am I being reborn again? I’m ready!). Ida says she’s influenced both by botanical drawings and religious art, and this book is full of plants, creatures, and spirit-questions. I had wondered what colors Nikkita would choose for the words on the cover; the pink is both surprising and right. The poems reference pink constantly, from pussy hats to magnolia blossoms to rose-tinted medicines. And somehow the pink lettering makes the shadows more striking, which feels appropriate to this collection, too. Yes, I know I’m close-reading my own cover at length, but I’m excited, dammit.

Lesley Wheeler, She’s in a state, all right

I’ve parked the hedgerow
where the bees might be

can’t find the way into my book
I don’t know where it will take me
it’s quite fugitive

oak-gall ink
copper pomegranate and avocado
I’ve never wanted to do this

the Red Dress is coming next weekend
a kitten is arriving on March 1st
I can’t stop drawing trees

Ama Bolton, ABCD: January 2020

[Colleen Anderson:] What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

[Jeannine Hall Gailey:] I think that definitely the mood of our current age is one of apocalypse–there’s a reason there are so many disaster movies and superhero movies. We look to the mythological and the epic to try to make our own stories make more sense.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I have two book manuscripts in circulation to publishers and I have a speculative poem coming up in the latest issue of Ploughshares called “Irradiate” and an upcoming poem in Poetry called “Calamity.”

Is there anything else you would like to say about horror and speculative poetry and fiction?

I am really glad the horror and speculative communities exist and I’ve made friends within the SFPA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association) and the HWA (Horror Writers Association) that are really important to me. Often, we can be treated as “outsiders” in the literary world, but we aren’t really outsiders–I guarantee there are more poetry fans of speculative and horror work than people think.

Colleen Anderson, Women in Horror: Jeannine Hall Gailey

Alice Oswald, who is definitely “the great Alice Oswald” and is also now the first woman Oxford Professor of Poetry (though not the first to be elected – that was Ruth Padel), performed at Kings Place on 17 January with live music by Ansuman Biswas. Oswald does specifically “perform” rather than “recite” or “read” – even her more conventional appearances involve her almost chanting her poems off by heart, unforgettable performances unlike anyone else’s. I have written about seeing her a couple of times before, and this was one of the less conventional appearances. It started with a “sound calendar” or seascape by Chris Watson, and the actual performance was mostly in total darkness, although there was partial lighting for sections of it.

Oswald was performing Nobody, her most recent book, based on stories of water, humans and gods from Greek mythology. I’m only superficially knowledgeable about the Odyssey and related works, so I appreciated Nobody more from a sea-perspective, but the tales that washed in and out sometimes had an odd familiarity. Ansuman Biswas performed on the aquaphone, which reminded me of sea sounds washing into a cave, and also an enormous gong, which was overwhelming to the point of being almost distressing at certain points. The whole performance was mesmerising, thrilling and absolutely haunting.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Alice Oswald’s Nobody at Kings Place, and Anselm Kiefer at White Cube

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but reading Sharon Olds’s Arias has released something in me, and I’ve been writing a lot of new poems! Olds writes about anything–troubled family relationships, her mother who beat her, sex, death, childbirth, the intense love of one’s children, scattering ashes, how California got made tectonically, etc.–so she probably gives me “permission” to write about anything, too! Or sing (in the shower, arias) about anything!! And I have to say I like the coincidence of how the black-and-white book cover matches that of Hope in the Dark!

Kathleen Kirk, Arias

We’re taken  through a series of good and bad days, self-obsession and tortured thoughts. The world through this person’s eyes is full of squirming creatures, human and otherwise, destined for the slaughterhouse, the dustbin, ‘squelching late-night screenings’, or just dead, fossilised, taken, ‘yawning for air in their anxious hell.’ The narrator saves his harshest criticism for himself, who he sees behaving badly in some scenarios, and victimised in others.  Catching the reflection of his face as he tortures a fish out of boredom ‘I hate myself, / loathing whatever thing is watching me.’ (‘Siamese Fighting Fish’). A game of pool is going well, and then: ‘He’s back, that version of me, / the choker who doesn’t deserve it. So I choke again’.

I found myself compelled onward through the sequence and really enjoyed the form – each poem just two stanzas of four lines each – there’s a loose narrative arc driving it and the sheer exuberance and creativity is wonderfully gripping. Not so much a romp as a yomp – there’s no missing the real anguish here, but it’s worked through with such wit and originality. Sin Cycle succeeds in being luscious, gruesome, poignant and hilarious somehow all at once.

Robin Houghton, Sin Cycle, a new poetry sequence from Peter Kenny

In Almost Famous, the fourth chapbook by the consummate literary citizen, Trish Hopkinson, we find powerful and painful coming-of-age stories crafted as poems. The book starts with a vivid depiction of her own birth, written from her perspective, and it carries forward into the childhood and teen years, and every poem packs a potent gut-punch. While there were parts of my own life that diverged widely from the childhood Hopkinson describes, there was enough here that was familiar and shared.

For me, the strongest parts of the book were the first and last poems. The first, “Third Day, Third Month, 1972,” describes Hopkinson’s birth, which included the use of forceps:
 
                 A doctor,
or a man rather, pressed
a tool inside her, like the back

of a soup spoon reaching in
to a bowl of cold grits,
fished around for my tender

skull, and excised me for comfort.


The image here — forceps in a birth canal as a spoon in cold grits — casts the birth scene into an otherworldly sphere, I think mainly because the grits are cold. What kind of birth is this? It’s such a small touch, but a smart poetic decision because of its perfect not-quite-rightness.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: “Almost Famous”­­ by Trish Hopkinson

I was captivated by the intersection of motherhood, self, and humanity—including the monsters. Remember when I was connecting not living on earth with death in the first poem? Shortly past the halfway point, the book embarks on a long poem called “Starship.” When I say long, I mean fifty pages—a book within a book. Each page consists of two poems, or scenes, that lead the reader on a journey through relationships, time travel, and the stars. [Sarah] Blake’s style in this collection is narrative—a stance I admire because I think it’s hard to do without drifting into prose. And “Starship” is narrative at its epic best, its story line opening questions of desire, abandonment, choice. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say anything about the last line–but if you read the book, let me know and we’ll talk!

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Let’s Not Live on Earth

Though it is not stated (it doesn’t need to be), the farmer in his wrangle with the earth ultimately produces food.  The poet of course produces poetry, and as a poet himself, Williams suggests poetry is on the level of food.  For Williams, poetry is just as much a necessary product of his artistic labor as edible crops are of a farmer’s sowing.  In this sense, “The Farmer” can be seen to anticipate WCW’s own more famous lines in the much later “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” (1955): “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”

Mike Begnal, William Carlos Williams’s “The Farmer”

Speaking of memory and observation, how much I wish that I had trained mine more. How I wish I had employed that excellent method of looking at an object, going into another room to draw it, returning to refresh my memory, and so on, until that drawing was completed without it and the object ever having met, as it were. What a training for an artist interested primarily in character, who sees for a minute a face which, if he cannot draw from memory, he will never draw at all!

I believe I am right in saying that, ages before such a thing as photography was even guessed at, this was the method by which Chinese artists were taught … So developed did their powers of observation and memory become by this training that by shutting their eyes, opening them for the fraction of a second, and shutting them again, they could keep in their minds the visual image of what they saw long enough to be able to transfer that visual image to paper. It was in this manner that they were enabled to draw insects and birds in flight, and it is an indubitable fact that, when the camera was invented and ‘instantaneous’ pictures were produced, it was proved by comparison that these artists’ memorisations were perfectly accurate.

Ann E. Michael, Observation, memory, & art

During my first semester of my MFA program, Karen Volkman, who was a visiting writer teaching a craft class I’ve forgotten the name of,  took us specifically to see the Cornell boxes at the Art Institute and I was hooked. I started writing about them, sneaking over to see them occasionally on my writing days (ie the days I had only classes and no library shifts).  It was a time when the museum allowed pay what you can, and since I usually was there in the afternoon, I felt confident paying a couple bucks and wandering through the museum’s wings, but mostly hanging out around the Cornell boxes. Years later, the Institute built a monolithic modern wing and shoved all the boxes in a big glass case all together and basically ruined everything, but at the time, they were strung through a series of small rooms, which allowed you to encounter each one singularly. To sit down in front of the tabled ones. I spent a lot of time there, working over the next few years on what would become at the hotel andromeda.

It was while working on those pieces that I filed away my encounter with Dali’s Invention of the Monsters, which was hung in a room I had to pass through to reach the Cornells and had a bench upon which I often sat to jot down notes.  While Cornell was icy blue and haunted, Dali was all wild and in flames, and just really weird in a way I appreciated.  It took me years to return to that painting as subject matter., and when I did, it turned into a sort of meditation on the ghostly little blue dog in the corner and Dali’s own wife, who occupies the painting with him.

Kristy Bowen, ekphrastic desires

Lately I’ve been exploring my emotional response to rocks.

Does that say something unfortunate about me? Shouldn’t I be exploring my relationship to my long-dead father, or my inner fears, or why I hate my neighbors, or my notions of gods and the spirit?

Or is it all the same thing? Am I on some spiritual trip, a connection with the ineffable, that thing we humans can’t seem to resist, finding something bigger than ourselves? And in my case at the moment, LITERALLY bigger than myself — this glacial erratic my forest trail has led me to.

This giant boulder takes up space, it has a relationship to time, albeit far different than mine. It is a natural history of which I am a moment, one hand on the cool side of the rock, a sinew in the grand continuity of matter and energy, as far as we know. We are briefly together, erratic and I.

Marilyn McCabe, Like a Southbound Train; or, Writing out of the Animated World

seeing the stream
i throw a stone
into the sky

Jim Young [no title]

These letters, kite-string
or umbilicus: do they
tether you? When I
stop writing will you
dissolve, a water droplet
rejoining the flowing stream?

Rachel Barenblat, Tether

I am learning to navigate the dreaded Disneyland of CostCo. First I park a billion miles away so I won’t get hit by a car or one of those huge fucking baskets careening wildly out of control. Once inside I keep to the left of the store so I won’t get lost in the labyrinth of cheese and meat and bread and cleaning products and screaming children and goats and booze and bales of hay and coffins. Then I get what I need which is usually cheese and butter and cleaning supplies and while I’m doing this I smile at everyone. Smiling at people in CostCo freaks them out. Bad. Seriously bad. They look at me like I’m going to steal their purses or rip their lungs out with my enormous teeth. When I get to the 15 mile long checkout line I lean my arms on my basket and continue to smile. Today my checker’s name was Falcon. I told him it was a beautiful name and asked if he knew the Robert Duncan poem My Mother Would Be A Falconress one of my most beloved poems of all time. The first time I read this poem I almost fell down. I worship this poem. I memorized it right after I read it which is an old fashioned thing I still do. The poem makes my head burn like a church on fire. The checker Falcon had not read or heard of the poem so I wrote Robert Duncanthen My Mother Would Be A Falconress on a slip of paper and told him to Google it when he got home. So I held up the line for almost an entire minute. Sometimes you have to do it.

Rebecca Loudon, Outing

I called to God in the night.
I knelt, I rose, I answered, I sang.
Beneath my shirt I hid my vow.
No one can say I didn’t try to keep it.

Jason Crane, POEM: Imbolc

In this cone of silence just
before the dawn, the shadow
world is palpable: gods

and monsters glide and crawl
by my garden gate. Half-dreams,
uncertain memories, dust devils rolling.

Here and now, I sense, is the pagan
junction where all things meet:
skeletons into flesh, ghosts

into plasma, rumours, fears, the whole
arcana hard wired into the dark.

Dick Jones, Insomnia.

I was sleeping in the recliner chair like my Uncle Richard used to do. I slept heavily and dreamed of words that were made from solid objects of various shapes and sizes, and of many different materials. Words built from metal, wood, concrete, plastic, and so on. I was using tools to assemble these words into poems; a hammer and nails, a handsaw, a drill, nuts and bolts, a sander, and wrenches. The poems I built were as large as a man and crazy looking, but they read beautifully. The poems I built were better than any I ever wrote, but that isn’t saying much.

James Lee Jobe, I was sleeping in the recliner chair like my Uncle Richard

Anyway, yay, I survived, and even though I was a weirdo dental patient  – a little out of the ordinary, the endodontist had to use a special filling, my root was shaped unusually, and all that no Novocain thing – everything was just fine. The funny thing was, they tell you not to sign any contracts or shop while you’re on the sedation drug, called Versed – but I submitted three book manuscripts that night, which I don’t remember, and bought two lipsticks and a shampoo – I guess it could have been worse! And a couple of days later, mostly sleeping I stumbled out into the rain…and found deer in the yard! They had munched on a bit of our camellias, but I guess that’s all right. And I’ve been trying to take advantage of all the sunbreaks and rainbows I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sunbreaks in the Rain, Surviving My First Root Canal, Finding Flowers in Our Darkest Winter Month

Who never tires of me?
This hermitage, my desk.

Tom Montag, Who Never

Favorite poetry books of 2017: a crowd-sourced compendium

poetry book covers

Just like last year, I thought I’d put out a call to poetry readers to contribute to a favorite poetry books list that doesn’t pay much heed to critical fashions or even date of publication. I asked people to try to select a single favorite book, which I realize is a tough assignment… and not quite everybody managed it. (I allowed a few reviewers to sneak in a second book, as you’ll see.) Unlike last year, I forgot to do this earlier in December so people could use the list for holiday shopping purposes. Oh well. Poetry books do make great Valentine’s Day gifts! And the responses I got are, I think you’ll agree, wonderfully varied, personal and eccentric. Thanks to everyone who took part. —Dave

cover of European HoursI fell happily upon European Hours, collected poems of Anthony Rudolf, published a few months ago by Carcanet. First joy is the cover painting of the poet by his partner, the dazzling Portuguese-British artist Paula Rego, and the joys continue through a volume of exquisitely spare, skilled, quirky poems from a long working life as writer, translator (from French, Russian, Hebrew), editor, publisher… Many are abstract and minimalist, but somehow the voice is never less than individual and recognisable. Others evoke lovers, friends, children and places with understated, tender directness. The extended title poem, completed around the time of the Brexit referendum result, praises sights and memories in a long list of European cities. The collection includes just one sonnet, Branca’s Vineyard:

The grapes are drowsy […]
I drink the wine […]
then, for a moment, lingering alone,
wineglass in hand, pen upon this paper,
inhale an ancient oneness which I’d thought
lost for all time, except when I made love
with the woman who has just spoken to me
and broken the spell, as spells are always broken.

So satisfying that I yearned for more, and keep rereading.

Jean Morris

cover of Clinch RiverHere’s the opener to my review of Susan Hankla’s Clinch River, published in the last Hollins Critic: “I doubt that any other reviewer of Susan Hankla’s first full-length book, Clinch River, has had the great good luck of seeing her, a young woman, dance playfully with an enormous rattlesnake skin. Such is my sparkling luck. In Clinch River, though, we all may find good rural luck, freshly dug from Appalachian coal country. Progeny of R. H. W. Dillard’s new Groundhog Press, this handsome collection will lure readers and not disappoint (Roanoke, VA: Groundhog Poetry Press, 2017.)” And here’s the closer: “These sound-loving poems of the Appalachian South give us the truth of place and memory. They tangle coming-of-age stories with hard times in coal country. They juxtapose the girl who cannot leave, clinched by poverty’s snares, with the girl who goes away and can return for the treasure, the gold that lies buried in her childhood: these poems, these golden apples. Take them!”

Marly Youmans

cover of The Amputee's Guide to SexWeise, Jillian. The Amputee’s Guide to Sex. Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press, 2007.

This has been a difficult, painful year. I wanted books around me that helped me to understand and express that pain, words that described being broken and stubborn. Much of what I’ve been seeking has not come from poetry, but from graphic memoirs, mashups of terse words strewn across pages of (usually) dark and limber sketches. I prowled through In Between: The Poetry Comics of Mita Mahato (2017) which was magical, but I wasn’t sure it suited this list, or was the poetry book that I felt resonated most strongly with me right now.

It was actually the day I met Mita, before her book was published, that I found Jillian Weise’s book in the used book section of Left Bank Books in Seattle, at the Fisherman’s Wharf. I was unsettled, having struggled up the steps on crutches to the poetry section, rummaging through the shelves for something, something that fit the strange mood I was in.

I’d already gathered half a dozen when this slim dark book emerged from hiding between several much larger volumes, the title jolting and powerful. The poem titles were similarly potent — “The Scar on Her Neck,” “Body As Cloud,” “Beautiful Freak Show,” “The Body In Pain,” “Incision,” “Ode to Agent Orange,” “Let me be reckless with the word love.” These are reckless, fierce, naked poems, full of dreams and nightmares.

P.F. Anderson

cover of Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown OpenWolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open by Diane Seuss (University of Massachusetts Press). It’s a few years old — 2010 — but I came to it because a poem from the collection showed up in my email. I forget which poem-a-day source. “Song in my heart” begins:

If there’s pee on the seat it’s my pee,
battery’s dead I killed it

Before she’s done she has God shaving with a straight razor, using the Black Sea as a mirror.

I had to check, and no, the poem isn’t an aberration — she manages some neat dance moves with sacred and profane, comic and dead serious. Her voice feels familiar, like the one in the back of my head when I start to write, before I mess things up.

Barbara Young

cover of GarbageI read only a little poetry this year. I think last year I may have nominated Paradise Lost, which I read as part of the “hard-book” reading club I belong to. At the moment we are mid-Karenina, we just finished Nabokov’s Ada, and next will be Gravity’s Rainbow. You see?

But it does leave me just enough time to have waded into Garbage by A. R. Ammons (Norton, 1993). I am enjoying it for its rolling quality — he keeps hammering and yammering on like an Old Testament beard or the EverReady bunny. That is what makes it difficult to quote, without cutting him off in mid thought. But I’ll try:

[…] and here we are at

last, last, probably, behold, we have replaced
the meadows with oilslick: when words have

driven the sludge in billows higher than our
heads—oh, well, by then words will have left

the poor place behind: we’ll be settling
elsewhere or floating interminably, the universe

a deep place to spoil, a dump compaction will
always make room in! I have nothing to say:

what I want to say is saying: I want to be
singing, sort of: I want to be engaged with

the ongoing: but I have no portmanteau filled
with portfolio: still, I am for something:

[…]

Steven Arnerich

cover of The Poetry of Derek WalcottMy favorite poetry book of the year has been The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013 (Macmillan, 2014). It’s a big book, and it’s been beside the bed all year, where I’ve dipped into it for an hour or just a few minutes, always finding phrases or metaphors, descriptions and emotions that touch me. Walcott’s background is entirely different from mine, but we share some loves, such as classical literature, European cities, the sea, nature, and watercolor painting. But I’ve been moved the most by his writing about being a black man in a white world, his writing about the American South, and his poems about the Caribbean, where he felt at home. His mastery of our language is astounding and often surprising, but I think this collection has brought me a lot closer to sensing the man behind the poems.

Elizabeth Adams

cover of Saying Your Name Three Times UnderwaterI’d like to recommend a book I just started reading, written by a poet I just met: Saying Your Name Three Times Underwater by Sam Roxas-Chua 姚 (Lithic Press, 2017). This is a startling, beautiful book. With titles like “The Laotian Man Who Offered the Lake a Plate of Turtles” and “The Story That Bit the Butterfly’s Breast,” these are poems of precise, heartbreaking detail. From “Palpate the Third Rib Break It If You Have To,” Roxas-Chua 姚 writes “I miss China – the infant apple of her. / Her mountain bruises singing under rain / / and menthol.” These poems are chewy and dense, like black bread, and just as nourishing.

Erica Goss

cover of The Well Speaks of its Own PoisonThe best book of poems that I read this year was The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison by Maggie Smith (Tupelo Press, 2015). AMAZING poems. Lots of poems that reference fairy tales in new ways—perhaps they all do? Lots of interesting imagery about the dangers of the world.

It was one of the few books that I read twice this year. When I was waiting for a friend in Panera, and I was going to be loaning her this book, I reread it, and my opinion of it was the same, a month later.

cover of Dark Fields of the RepublicFor a book of older poems that still seems to have so much to say to us, that would be a volume by Adrienne Rich: Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 (Norton, 1995). Wonderful book. “What Kind of Times Are These” continues to haunt me.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott

cover of Millennial TeethMillennial Teeth by Dan Albergotti (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014) is a wonder of a poetry collection. Personal, familial, political, theological, formal, intellectual, and emotional, this book seems by turns severely wrought and effortless in its formal beauty. Albergotti works almost exclusively in strict forms, but he is freer to say what he wants than most who write in free verse. Though we differ theologically, his own heartbreak over the absence of God seems to me a feeling that I share, though strangely I find God to be ever-present and this absence my own shortcoming and blindness. Albergotti uses both a telescope and a microscope (and a keen human eye) to get at an understanding of who we are and the deep paradoxical nature of our lives and the beauty and horror we find in our daily lives and our history. But best of all, he even puts his ear to the viewfinder, to listen surreally to what others hope to see. His “Ghazal for Buildings” is one of the best 9/11 poems ever written. And his own invention, the albergonnet, will force any good poet to try her hand at it. So many good poems.

John Poch

cover of Stereo. Island. Mosaic.Hard to pin it down to only one. But I would like to offer Vincent Toro’s Stereo. Island. Mosaic. (Ahsahta Press, 2016) for its dazzling language and use of form/s, and the exploration of what it means to be a hybridized subject — not just “Sorta Rican” — in the 21st century.

Luisa A. Igloria

cover of Hollywood StarletHollywood Starlet by Ivy Alvarez (2015, dancing girl press).

Vivien Leigh, Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe and Ingrid Bergman are just some of the acting legends given a fresh voice by Alvarez, who peels away the studio-manufactured facades to explore their inner thoughts and troubled lives. It’s a chapbook I return to again and again.

Collin Kelley

cover of Calling a Wolf a WolfFor me, it’s a toss-up between a book that was new and an old book that I had never read before.

First, Kaveh Akbar’s book Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books, 2017) deserves all the accolades it is receiving — rich and original language, and despite it being hailed as a book about addiction and recovery, to me it was more a book about desire — physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual — and how we seek always something greater, especially in the face of adversity.

cover of The Book of QuestionsSecond, I had read Neruda’s odes and love songs as well as Residence on Earth, but I read El libro de las preguntas (The Book of Questions) for the first time this spring (both in Spanish, then in the English translation by William O’Daly from Copper Canyon Press since my Spanish is rusty) before visiting Chile this summer. It was one of the eight unpublished manuscripts he left behind when he died and it is both child-like and profound in its wonder. I keep going back to lines like:

And what did the rubies say
standing before the juice of pomegranates?

Why doesn’t Thursday talk itself
into coming after Friday?

Donna Vorreyer

cover of The Blomidon LogsThe Blomidon Logs, by Deirdre Dwyer (ECW Press, 2016).

The Blomidon Logs came to me when it was most needed. I had been away from my home in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia for many months when it arrived like a starfish thrown out of the waves on a beach. Would anyone other than me think it special? Perhaps you will need to know of this place by the Bay of Fundy, or have spent summers at your family cottage in the 1960s. Maybe you should have grown up around farmers, and loggers, cattle and farm dogs with “pink, spoon-shaped tongues” or slept in your “sleeping bag lined from head to toe with cowboys / repeating their lassos and campfire songs.” Have you wondered how the local brook got its name, or pondered over how your birding field guide might describe a macramé cottage owl? Deirdre Dwyer’s collection of 148 poems builds upon the contents of six logbooks her parents kept of her family’s summers in Cape Blomidon. However, they are just a jumping-off point — field notes from which to draw imagery and much speculation. While the subject matter may seem tame, the delivery is anything but.

Bev Wigney

cover of Self-Portrait as Wikipedia EntryMy favorite poetry book this year: Dean Rader’s Self-Portrait as Wikipedia Entry (Copper Canyon Press, 2017).

I found it smart and moving, and his mastery of sound always makes me want to read the poems out loud. Also, great use of space on the page, fun titles, and the poems converse with each other across the pages.

Lisken Van Pelt Dus

cover of WesternsWesterns by Richard Dankleff (Oregon State University Press, 1984). When I read a description of Dankleff’s Westerns in another book, Erik Muller’s excellent Durable Goods: Appreciations of Oregon Poets, I realized that I had a copy of Westerns tucked away on a shelf and had never read it. So I pulled it down, cracked it open — and ended up in one of those literary epiphanies that I wanted to tell all my friends about, spending the next three nights engrossed in that book, reading and rereading each poem and reciting them out loud to my sleepy cat. Dankleff’s approach — crafting into poems the historical accounts, diaries, and journals of Old West settlers, trappers, Native Americans, explorers, and journalists — could have been trite or patronizing in the wrong hands. But Dankleff, who died in 2010, was a hell of a poet, deftly moving between lyricism, narrative, and visceral punches depicting the more disturbing aspects of the Westward Expansion. He shows true genius in the small intimacies—a ranch hand alone with his beloved horses, the dreams of a gaunt buffalo, or a haunted roadside in modern-day Kansas. From the shockingly violent cover photo to the meticulous and entertaining endnotes (which made me want to read every historical book he cites), Westerns made me constantly wonder why Dankleff isn’t a better-known poet.

Amy Miller

cover of Night Sky With Exit WoundsThe book that touched my heart most deeply in 2017 is Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016). His voice is lyrical, intimate, yet measured. The poem in the collection that floors me with its mastery is “Aubade With Burning City.” Hearing him read the poem is an intense experience. The reader is in the room with the two lovers as ash floats outside their hotel room, ashes like snow falling in the lyrics of White Christmas that played over the loudspeakers during the Fall of Saigon. All of Ocean Vuong’s poems are highly imagistic—clear, yet complex.

Christine Swint

cover of The Drowning BookI’d like to recommend Cristina J. Baptista’s The Drowning Book (Finishing Line Press, 2017). I do know Cristina (virtually), although we’ve never met in person. I know her well enough to ask her to sign my copy of her book for me. I like the book well enough that I haven’t been willing to part with it long enough to mail it to her and wait for it to come back. It’s a powerful collection of poems… they demand my full presence and attention whenever I sit down with them, and I read only a few at a time, and those stay with me for days after.

Laura M Kaminski

cover of SilageBethany W. Pope’s Silage (Indigo Dreams, 2017) hums with tension. Two forces pull on the string that threads this work. At one end of the string, there is a dire need to tell an extremely traumatic story and to tell it well. The other end leads to a tiger, waiting at the bottom of a pit, ravening, ready to drag the speaker down. So to keep the tiger at bay, the speaker recounts her story, as flatly as possible. It works, mostly. But then again, there are scars. There is blood.

Ivy Alvarez

cover of Ice MountainDave Bonta’s Ice Mountain (Phoenicia Publishing, 2017) is my favourite collection read this year. The book takes us for a walk comprised of many walks, through changing seasons in woods near to Dave’s home. Each step is well grounded. Each poem consists of three-by-three lines, a formal repetition I found satisfying as a frame for the writing of each day. I admire the discipline of Dave’s multi-faceted creativity, which includes publishing, video making, writing and photography. His dedication and long experience pays off in the refined simplicity, keen observations, intellect and emotion of this collection. I chime in various ways with Dave’s views of the world and the creatures in it, including human. On this level, Ice Mountain reads to me as an elegy for the land, and for life on earth.

My disclosure of personal connection to Dave is as one of his many friends over the net over the past few years (as long as I’ve been involved with video poetry, he was instrumental in getting me started). We have corresponded by email occasionally and he’s published some of my videos in Moving Poems. Because Dave publishes his poems on a Creative Commons license, I have been free to make a few videos from his writing, including two from poems in Ice Mountain. My connection with Dave is an extension of my respect for him as a key creative artist in the field of contemporary poetry, as I experience it.

Marie Craven

OK, that’s embarrassing. Thanks, Marie! Here’s to online collaboration and community. I will resist the urge to insert a self-deprecating remark and move swiftly on to my own review.

cover of Void StudiesRachael Boast’s Void Studies (Picador, 2016) is the book I kept re-reading this summer. I found it in a London bookshop, opened it at random, read a couple of poems and was hooked. I guess I’ve always been a sucker for poems that exhibit negative capability… and as you might be able to gather from the title, this book has negative capability out the wazoo. The premise derives from something Arthur Rimbaud had B.S.ed about but never gotten around to doing himself: a collection of poems written more or less along the lines of musical etudes, which “would not convey any direct message, but instead summon the abstract spirit of the subject” as the back cover description puts it. So Boast took up the challenge, and while apparently the results aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (3.33 out of 5 stars on Goodreads?!) if you like poems that pulsate with magic and dwell in possibility, Void Studies is as close to a perfect collection of poetry as you’re ever likely to find. And it only works because the poems are full of keenly observed particulars; the “void” of the title is no airy emptiness, but something closer to the Buddhist concept of Śūnyatā, in which the absence of any intrinsic nature or essence enables a direct apprehension of reality. I mean, check out this spot-on description of a murmuration of starlings in “The Call”:

Stepping through the last of the sky
held by half-asleep mirrors

of the rain storm along the path
by the river where over

the other side the trees uphold
a language picking away

the fabric of reality, the woods
rising with everything to say

at once, with black wings,
with sound shuffling the air.