A few weeks ago I got into the bath with this book of poems, Emily Berry's second collection. Focused on the death of her mother, and the complicated feelings Berry has about her in life and in death, the poems in this collection are tight and occasionally austere. They are also rain-drenched, soaked, communing with the tides. When they break wide open, so do you. My point is that you may as well read this in the bath as I did, because you will cry.
Yes, there is a titular beautiful husband, a wife, and mistresses, but no simple math primer of quotidian pains and accrued betrayals. Read and reread this book for passages such as, "Philosophers say man forms himself in dialogue" and, "I overlooked one thing./ That the beautiful when I encountered it would turn out to be prior -- inside my own heart, already eaten." Sleep with this book because Carson resurrects the flawed avatar of John Keats in twenty-nine epigrams. For passage/poem/tango V, she chooses "one of the most mysterious of semi-speculations is, one would suppose, that of one's Mind's imagining into another." Yes.
A treasure of American political literature, The Book of the Dead should rightfully be as famous as any book by James Agee or John Dos Passos, but history is a bitch, so it isn't. The Book of the Dead was a result of a government-funded push encouraging writers to turn their ethnographic gaze on 1930s America. In this case, Rukeyser turned to the Hawk's Nest Tunnel Disaster in West Virginia, the greatest industrial catastrophe of the twentieth century, which had a disproportinate effect on black workers. Similar to the documentary poems of Claudia Rankine, the poems in The Book of the Dead incorporate congressional testimony, interviews, oral history, and some of the most beautiful, hauntingly lyrical poetry I've ever read about the American landscape.
Rankine is probably the greatest living poet—and while Citizen may be a better place to start for its range and its political application, Don't Let Me Be Lonely is by comparison a much more intimate experience, like the poems were written in a whisper on the top of a bridge. The arms of these poems ache because they are reaching out to you, dear reader. Take them.
Holy shit, what to say other than―heavy: cutting, sly. An experiential extrapolation of motherhood through poetry. Lyric reconnaissance of the author's personhood, in totality. Prosaic essays, of a sort, with a selfhood list of R&B songs to "establish spread for affective recon." Sho nuff.
Morgan Parker is a national treasure and she deserves so much better than this nation. There's little more than I can say than: open the book, read the first poem, any poem — pause — and try not to say damn. Equal parts complex, deceptively straightforward, and revolutionary; this book is needed. Always more than ever.
These poems read like jokes. Minnis was doing that ellipsis thing a decade back and she still has a thing for punctuation. There are exclamation points in all the right places and she keeps calling you baby, or keeps calling someone baby but you and her are the only ones in the room. I think she wrote this while draped with pearls, an empty cigarette holder between her fingers, a sweatband strapped around her head and stuck with a great plumed feather. "You shouldn't be allowed to run around with me." she says, "I'll only give you a good time."
Tess Brown-Lavoie's Lite Year is both synaptic and postcoital, an open email thread between a lovelorn urban farmer, a still-colonized New England, the body(?) and soul(?), swiss chard, the NBA, the feeling before a feeling, an ass in a pair of jeans, etc. You will recognize the firm and elusive self, the untrained Wikipedia scholar we all slide into being, likewise the therapist we can't afford, the daughter transitioning(?) to caretaker. Brown-Lavoie employs an updated stream of consciousness for organizing mechanism, and as the thoughts(?) pile up, a vision of the world(?) emerges that is both old soul and moment-specific.
Would that I could quote the whole thing. That's the best way to sell you on Maggie Nelson’s "Bluets." I can describe it: "Bluets" is a book of prose-poetry consisting of 240 meditations/aphorisms on the color blue, which is used (blue is) as a metaphor and symbol for deep, implacable heartbreak. It is the story of a heartbreak (a breakup) and other sadnesses (an illness); of ecstatic grief, manic mourning, stillborn love, and little deaths. What restraint. More: "Bluets" is the book I’ve gifted most, witnessed gifted most, and suggested as a gift most. I'd be glad to receive it always.
Hejinian's densely fugal prose is influential enough to have manifested a contemporary micro-genre, but this book, corresponding to the time of political unrest, further advances that project in a disputatious weft of theses and propositions, gnomic utterances and personal reportage. Both a major essay on the avant-garde and a pro-social depiction of the social textures of popular protest.
Reading Reverdy's work is to experience the uncompromised view of a dedicated outsider. Isolation is preferable to companionship, stasis easier than change, paranoia more dependable than trust. Reverdy finds stability in distance and waiting; but it doesn't mean that he does not desire release from solitude. The power of his poetry -- lines that upend a concrete detail with a staggeringly unworldly image, descriptions of bleakness that are utterly rich -- lies in that painful and constant contradiction.
Sleepwalk on the Severn came from a month English poet Alice Oswald spent on the Severn, the second longest river in the UK, and it is the most moonstruck thing I have ever read. Oswald follows the phases of the moon in five parts: new, half, full, no moon, and moon reborn, demonstrating if nothing else that the moon is a changable mistress, and master of us all. The landscape of the poems is pulled between moon and water, tricksy and ghosted, a place where the dead rise up to converse with the living and every shadow and shape is filled with fast-moving melancholy.
John McCarthy tries to paint the most honest portrait he can of the small corner of Illinois that he grew up in. The sea of grass, the pickup trucks everyone drove, the ever present, haunting religious iconography, the well of brutality that always lay below (and sometimes broke through) the surface. The small pain everyone kept in their stomachs and refused to let out. For all those who remember their small town and all things in it that made them leave.
A great survey of the site of so much influential groundwork in American artistic experimentation, and exploration of, in Einstein's words on Black Mountain, "the high peaks of the soul".
Daniel Poppick's second book encompasses the most inviting hallmarks of what I'd lazily describe as a twenty-first century New York School of poetry. In this writing, the poet's intimate milieu is registered as so many trusted interlocutors rather than an anecdotal sum, such that each poem feels as though it could enfold its own conditions of reception. Prose poems of ambient conviviality contrast multitudinous verse, wherein enjambment effects a mysteriously ordered list. This is the kind of book you'll want to read in public, like a personal eddy in a larger social current.
I ask myself "where to start" this staff pick, a question that Cam Scott can't possibly have asked himself, or else he never would've. This collection is so expansive in so few pages, a Canadian reviewer wrote that fluency in Italian is required to comprehend the effort (even though not a word of Italian appears in the book). Outrageous hall-of-mirror footnotes & turns of phrase hint at the cagematch of intimacies flitting through tentacular global capital, or vice versa. Clever and quadruple distilled. Form is the intermediary for a work about form as intermediary. Vehicle/tenor and crepuscular/vascular are made interchangeable. A soft flight on an enormous airship with private quarters. Poetry read of the year!
"Punk." "Queer." "Anti-Imperialist." "Experimental." "Hot." These are the first few words that come to mind as I begin to describe Extratransmission. Unsurprisingly, they all still fall short at fully capturing this contemporary poetry essential. With roots in cyborg theory & an experimentation/investigation/exploration with lyric & form, Andrea Abi-Karam documents the traumatic impacts of war, ultimately (re)constructing the body into something that feels entirely new. Through all of this, Extratransmission demands vengeance. Read this book. Especially if you think poetry's not for you.
You won't make the acquaintance of many words while reading this book. But if you would like to get so incredibly close to a few words (e.g. "light", "dark", "sea", "sky") such that they feel like intimate lovers or lifelong friends, like limbs of your body or the very air you breathe, then please: find a roof, a window, a hill, or a beach ASAP and take this beautiful volume with you.
Canvassing the so-called refugee crisis in central Europe, Wadud's poems of water and light, transit and migrancy, confront the starkest intimations of humanity with grace, reading voices from the horror of the headlines.“You can say their names,” Wadud exhorts the reader, and her poems do just that; give language to those dispossessed. This overview extends vistas of possibility, as the oceanic current of this writing insists upon a common element, falsifying "fickle" borders.
I skipped mass the week I read this but still got taken to church.
With her poetry, Smith reveals us to be aliens, foreigners in our own worlds. Balancing grand exercises in questioning with intimate compositions of everyday details, she transmutes words into emotions, the most essential components of life.
The obsessive and reckless love of these poems is a bit disturbed. Siken’s overbearing, tortured, infatuate almost-sonnets are beautifully structured and evoke a feeling of romance that is deranged and rich.
Combining the arch-abstraction of the Cambridge School with the alternative urbanism of grime music, Marriott's latest collection is a lyric counterpart to the soundtrack it extols: a music of absolute refusal, forged of imperial history but resistant to its orders.
Stag's Leap is quite simply the most stunning collection of break-up poetry I've ever read. Olds posses the unique ability to weave her grief into phenomenally vulnerable and patient lamentations. Take her outstretched hand and allow her meditations on abandonment and freedom to nourish your heart.
An exquisite call-and-answer essay-poem, manifestly about the materiality of the signifier and the body of the eponymous letter, but also love and gardening, phenomenology, process philosophy; G is a visually and conceptually exquisite book with many facets.
Prose poems or short fictions? It hardly matters. These are thirty distant lights in a dark, snowy night; a warm body as lonely as yours in your bed; a sign on the long, deserted highway. These are fables unconcerned with morals.
— Sarah G.
Reading these poems now, whether your first or tenth time, is heartbreaking. We've learned nothing.
Localized and totalistic, this lyrical tract evinces political militancy in poetry more than anything I read last year, dancing adeptly between obvious snares of slogan and stoicism, so-called realism and social collage. Poetry is a revolutionist's mnemonic in these pages, something to train upon: “My dear, if it is not a city, it is a prison. If it has a prison, it is a prison. Not a city.”
When this memoir by a New School Poet was released in 1970, everyone said,"This is genius," and "Why didn't I think of that?"