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 23: earthy day

This entry is part 23 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April it was one of those rare mornings when both the sun and the moon were visible from my usual spot on the porch. not only that but a hermit thrush kept singing in the distance — many years we don’t hear them singing on migration. (sadly they don’t seem to nest on the mountain. we’re not high enough)

when the day starts out as beautiful as today did this time of year i’m always torn: go for a long walk or work in the garden

well today being earth day already the spring is getting away from me as usual so i figured i’d better dig in the dirt— and not fun stuff either like planting things but putting in new fence posts and moving the fence to expand the garden because (Samuel L. Jackson voice) i’ve had it with these motherfucking deer eating my motherfucking potatoes

but first to procrastinate in the best possible way: by banging out three erasure poems by ten o’clock. then outside to dig as the red-tailed hawks circled overhead and wild turkeys gobbled up on the ridge

of course digging holes on a mountaintop you have to expect to encounter a few rocks

that one gave me a good five-minute workout

i do love the smell of our heavy rocky iron-rich clay

after a couple of hours of that i headed off down-hollow to check on the wildflowers. the first rue anemones were just opening…

our annual exchange
of nods

the hepaticas were blooming in profusion. “snow? what snow?”

even in the ditch
with last year’s leaves
this April sun

white pine
fused to a hemlock tree
creek voices

ya know people have a point, Appalachian hollows can look kinda creepy sometimes — a combination of long shadows and old things, half-rotted hulks and mossy leviathans

the mid-spring woods is a weird place with all these wildflowers racing to do their whole thing before the trees leaf out and they lose the sun. i love how whole communities can evolve to take advantage of such narrow temporal windows, like when a desert blooms after a rare soaking rain

spring forest
the shadow of a vulture
crosses my page

i’m two-thirds of the way through this Zang Di book and i’ve just found the third poem i feel as if i fully understand and it’s very good: “Scarecrow Series”

all about like effigies and doubles and the other and maybe i feel like i grok it because it’s something i happen to have given a decent amount of thought to over the years. more likely though it’s just a more straightforward less riddling poem

back up the mountain to start supper (venison casserole) then off to the other end of the property. Mom had said all the wood frogs were hatching in the vernal pools this morning and i should be able to get pictures but by the time i got there they had all buggered off to deeper spots. quite a few egg masses had been deposited in a shallow area that almost dried up completely at one point so it was great news that they’d made it to tadpole stage

sitting on the bench up there though i take another gander at the Zang Di book and find that something just clicked and now i seem to get most of his poems actually. i’ve had that happen with other somewhat difficult or arcane poets where because i think i’m a little slow on the uptake it can take me most of a collection before i learn how to read it. i’d argue that’s a good part of the fun of poetry: everyone gets to make up their own universe and they have to trust that a few readers will put in the work to understand what laws govern it

after supper more work on the fence moving project until dusk then sitting out on the porch watching a bat swoop back and forth. the hermit thrush was singing again. every day is of course earth day it’s a ridiculous thing to have to have a holiday for BUT today did feel especially earthy i have to admit

April Diary 22: serious riddles

This entry is part 22 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April would i be a better reader if i were less comfortable with mystery?

a better scholar probably. but would i enjoy it as much? this Zang Di translation for example continues to delight and entrance but i often have only the fuzziest idea what he’s banging on about. “Riddles are serious,” he writes, “must I really prepare each step for you?”

oh hey, poetry prompt time! CIA Torture Queen Now A Beauty And Life Coach

I see you, Queen of Torture, and everything you’ve always been.

Do you think your Instagram ads and Botox siren songs fool me?

I see the eels behind your eyes and the skulls inside your smile; in your heart you are still torturing, and you love it.

Torture is your first love, your only love, your soulmate, your sex; torture is what you’re made of, torture is what you are.

You are inseparably one with the machine which tortures the poor, which tortures our ecosystem, which tortures children under blockades and starvation sanctions, which tortures our dreamworlds and our sacred seeds of disobedience.

We will beat the machine. We will win.

That primal clarity lives within us still, and you can only sedate a giant for so long.

kind of shocked to see Caitlin Johnstone end the essay on an upbeat note but she’s a good egg i think

steady rain and a midday social engagement kept me out of the woods till after supper. the leaf duff shines wetly like an amphibian instead of the usual shaggy mammalian look. fog forms around me as i type that last sentence and slowly dissipates

i decided i would rather be moist than hot is a real thing i just said to myself, concerning my decision not wear rain gaiters

i am finding so many fallen branches covered in jelly ears this evening. well the traffic noise from I-99 is pretty bad. maybe all those ears just couldn’t take it anymore

can one wallow in happiness? or is wallowing reserved for misery?

that may sound like a joke but i really need to know. wallowing is important to me. it feels as if i do quite a lot of it. but i don’t feel at all miserable

where snow
just sat
the red sporangia

mushroom ladder
the sunset’s own

met another hiker:

the first red eft of the year. pictured next to the aforementioned red sporangia. winter’s monochrome seems well behind us even though there are still a few small patches of snow (and lord knows we could get more)

what a crazy lifestyle. as with knights errant the death rate for efts is quite high but if they survive their years-long wandering they get to transform into an aquatic newt and spend the rest of their lives in a pond or spring BUT if it ever dries up they can un-metamorphose back to being a terrestrial eft and walk away. both are considered adult forms

at this point i’m a little annoyed at how literal my earlier likening of the forest floor to an amphibian has become

what does it mean to be found in a lost world? christians think they know. i am way more interested in being lost in a found world. at least as far as poeming is concerned

tongues of fog form in Sinking Valley as night falls. barred owls begin a conversation down ridge. the world is always speaking whether we listen or not

i suppose that’s what i meant yesterday by poetry as revelation. nothing particularly wootastic

i often can’t tell whether i’m serious or joking. that’s the danger with dark humor perhaps — after a while you might forget it’s supposed to be funny

“riddles are serious” indeed

what i just went on felt like a jaunt rather than a ramble. definitely neither a stroll nor a hike. a jaunty wander out with the efts. home in time to finish my erasure poem. and so to bed

April Diary 17: comfort creatures

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
This entry is part 17 of 31 in the series April Diary


when burnout threatens, go for a walk

i used to fight this but little else works

“but it’s raining and blowing!”

and people are dying preventable deaths all over the world. get a grip. comfort is the enemy whether as a driver of economic exploitation and war, or at the personal level as a destroyer of health and a thief of joy

hepaticas tossing in the wind catch my eye. i kneel down to watch them then snap a photo, feeling sure there’s a haiku in there somewhere

and there is

how am i supposed to sit on something so beautiful?

but there’s a break in the rain so i’d better take it

and just enough time to read one Zang Di poem before more raindrops come. sure wish i hadn’t forgotten my goddamn umbrella

the poem happens to include something about comfort:

According to psychology,
every kind of comfort is a compromise:
otherwise everything you get is counterfeit.

Zang Di, “Everything is Riddles Series”


driving home from a dinner party i have a hard time staying on the road, not because i had too much to drink (one cocktail) but because the full moon is right there hanging over the ridge and i keep wanting to turn my head and look

it’s the best kind of discomfort

wanting to feel
the moon on my skin
blossoming pear

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 14: cardinal, coyote, owl

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
This entry is part 13 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April there’s a cardinal nesting beneath my bedroom window

she’s sitting on three speckled eggs

our first hot day. sitting on a bench in the woods where i swear the same two or three bluebottle flies keep landing on me no matter how many i kill. no wonder people used to believe in spontaneous generation

the Zang Di book has already proved its utility as a flyswatter. well done Zephyr Press

Stir-fried pork and asparagus is a starting point for poetry.

Zang Di (tr. Eleanor Goodman)

i like this guy. his mind moves in interesting ways

this too in the middle of a well-used trail is language

coyote calling cards

hypothesis (clears throat): the invention of symbolic language by humans was essential to make up for the lost richness of meaning our more distant ancestors accessed through their noses

there’s a profusion of trailing arbutus blooms this year like nothing we’ve seen here in 52 years. not sure why. though i do have some hypotheses…

it’s maybe a bit unusual in the modern world to know exactly where you’ll someday be buried. i noticed today a porcupine has been littering the ground all around with spruce twigs (they’re messy eaters)

my future gravesite
old puffball
blowing smoke

barred owl calling up in the woods, just one disapproving-sounding who! at a time

for years, my ex heard me talking about bard owls and wondered what made them so poetic

sitting just inside the edge of the woods is a completely different experience from sitting on my front porch less than 100 feet away. a more vulnerable experience, especially after dark. a humbler experience

(when did humility stop being a virtue asks the old crank)

the porch offers the remove of civilization. a roof blocks most of the sky—it’s no wonder suburbanites long ago ditched porches for back decks

April Diary 13: wildflowery

This entry is part 14 of 31 in the series April Diary


out on a spring wildflower-gazing expedition southeast of here with my Mom all day. we saw twinleaf, cut-leaved toothwort, trout lilies, hillsides covered with Dutchman’s breeches and spring beauties, and more hepatica than I’ve ever seen in one place before

a surprisingly large, intact stand of eastern hemlocks included stumps that were still alive at least a decade after they were cut, kept on life support by their adjacent relatives, continuing to grow scar tissue over the amputations year after year

we talked about life and death, family and friends, the state of the planet etc. on a gorgeous (and WARM) day

it’s undoubtedly good for my poetry to take a day off from it now and then. i might have enough brain power left to bang out an erasure poem before i go to sleep but it isn’t looking good, and i’ve abandoned another poem i’ve been working on off and on for the past two days because while it was highly clever it lacked any original insight, and while i’m sure i could still get it into decent shape i know it would never spark joy. so following Marie Kondo’s advice I am throwing it out

in today’s mail a new translation of a new-to-me contemporary Chinese poet, Zang Di: The Roots of Wisdom. it looks great. here’s part of the publisher’s description:

Zang Di (臧棣) is widely acknowledged as one of the leading poets and literary critics of his generation. In this new bilingual collection of his work, The Roots of Wisdom, he uses rich, emotional language to explore the natural world, including his beloved Weiming Lake at Peking University — his “Walden.” The lake has been a muse for him for more than 30 years. While Zang Di’s detailed observations often begin in nature, they go on to unearth insights into human psychology, relationships, contemporary life, and the mysteries of language.

Zang Di maintains a prolific writing practice (he composes one poem each day), and his unique style draws not only from nature but also from his extensive reading of Chinese and Western literature, and his travels through several continents.

here’s how the title poem concludes:

The wind arrives, and its casualness is conflicted; in the name of white clouds
are traces of those wild geese you like. People’s words fly, with no concern for direction.
The rain departs, and the vastness is lonely not paltry.
Your tears are rainbowed bandages.
These tangled things are again and again the apex of emptiness,
but they still plant their roots deep in a life of poetry.

overall, Zang Di’s poetry appears to have a higher density of abstractions than i’m used to, but with just enough concrete imagery to give me something to sink my teeth into, i hope