I read some books because I am teaching them, others because I might be reviewing them, others are only for my pleasure. At the moment I am re-reading Naomi Shihab Nye's newest collection (from 2011) called Transfer. It's a gorgeous book in both poetry and prose that examines the twin and related tragedies of Nye's father's death and his painful life as a Palestinian refugee whose family lost their home in Jerusalem. Nye speaks so honestly and clearly and generously and humanely, I want to nominate her to be the Poet Laureate!
I was in Jerusalem, in fact, when I wrote the foreword to the next book on my list, Dan Rosenberg's prize-winning chapbook from Omnidawn, Thigh's Hollow. Maybe it's a cheat, because I read this book first in manuscript form and I chose it myself for the prize, but to see it again as a book brings its freshness and immediacy to me all over again. It's strangeness and beauty captivate me.
Speaking of being captivated, when I was in Cleveland's most exciting new independent bookstore, Guide to Kulchur, I picked up on a whim a few small volumes that appeared to have been published by the author using Lulu. I was so entranced by the seemingly simple but endlessly complex, prickly lyrics that I wrote to the author, Barton Smock, through his blog, kingsoftrain.wordpress.com. He's been sending me books now and then and his latest, Eating the Animal Back to Life, is just knocking me out. These poems are desperate, tender, wry, alarmed, god-obsessed, and musically driven. Smock is not published by others, he does it all himself and so the only place you can get his books is here. All the advanced degrees and publishing credentials in the world can't get you the unspeakable duende that Smock somehow taps into, poem after poem.
For sheer technical brilliance, I recommend to you the next title on my list, The Same-Different, the recent Walt Whitman Award-winner by Hannah Sanghee Park. It was chosen by Rae Armantrout, which makes sense to me because it traffics in a similar devotion to music, magic, and trickery. I started reading it because I saw it on a friend's table and read just the first two lines--"Just what they said about the river:/ Rift and ever"--and was instantly drawn in. In fact, I spent a month or two just reading and re-reading the very first poem. I'm finally moving on to the second but two weeks later I'm still reading and rereading it. So at this rate I won't finish this book until 2020.
I was really excited to receive Sam Sax's chapbook sad boy/detective in the mail because he has been a favorite of mine for a while. Sax marries poetic craft, a devotion to oral forms and performance, and political concerns into a tight and incisive chapbook of very personal lyrics.
Shreela Ray has been in my life a long time. When I was a 13-year-old soap opera fan I tagged along with my older sister to a creative writing workshop at the local library. The poet who was teaching the class was called Elaine Chamberlain and I thought she was so glamorous because she had lived in Guatamala and was friends with Robert Creeley. She brought in these mimeographed sheets of poetry by Shreela Ray and used those to teach us what poetry was. For years I never thought about Shreela Ray and then I heard Cornelius Eady mention her in a conversation and I tracked down her only book, Night Conversations with None Other. Her poems are as electrifying to me now as when I first encountered them as a lad.
Read the full article on the Poetry Foundation website.