Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Few Poetry Books I've Loved This Year ~ 2013

So much to reread; so little time...
It's true that most of the poetry books I read this year were written by people who are dead. I go back to Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov, and Adrienne Rich more than any other poets. I re-read Rilke, and Roethke, Lorca and Heaney. None of these poets have come out with a new book this year although it seems Levertov actually will release a collected works in early 2014, boasting (?) over 600 pages of poems. As far as I know, she did not write them recently.

And yet. I often find myself desperate to discover a new poet. "Who are you reading?" ranks among the most common question poets ask of each other. We all want to embrace the new -- if the new will inspire us to write better poems.

So here is a short and very powerful list of the three new poets (or books) I discovered this year.

Mary Szybist's,  Incarnadine.

I will admit that this collection did not call to me right away. Call me a non-Christian but the Annunciation just isn't my thing. In any case, this book did win me over and in an enormous way. I think my initial resistance only increased my pleasure in the reading. I was wrong! The mix of iconic imagery mashed up with the mess of the everyday shines through. My favorite pieces are "The Troubadours, Etc." "Holy," and "Night Shifts at the Group Home." There are more but these are the poems I come back to again and again, the poems that I can learn from, the honest desire to communicate something more...

Then there's The Exchange by Sophie Cabot Black

Again, I was not immediately a fan of this book -- perhaps it was the cover art. Or perhaps as I get older the books that I admire the most are the ones I need to spend some time with. I am not interested in poetry pyrotechnics but rather something more hard won: honesty, intelligence, love.

Critiqued this way, I am in awe of many of these poems. "What You Have to Tell," "Love Poem" and "Pay Attention" are examples of the acutely observed life as we experience it in extremity. These poems are prayers. Prayers to the self, the loved one, the energy in the seeds in the pasture. I am drawn to this voice which seems both elevated and brought to basics. The language of finance, of nature, and of the beloved mixed together in a totally unpretentious voice.

Finally, I want to urge again the reading of the game of boxes by Catherine Barnett

This is a book I keep coming back to and I've written about it here before. The voice in these poems is haunting, clear, and wholly original. It is as if Rilke was reborn a single woman in New York. I cannot describe what makes these poems work on an almost subconscious level. Dear reader, get thee to a bookstore!

I"m sure there are more I could add --- and may do tomorrow. However, I believe in the short list of superb quality. The books that will not be forgotten in 2014 but will become even more powerful with time.


  1. Thank you for this post, Susan! I look forward to reading these books.

  2. Hi Anne,
    Thanks; I really think you'll like them. These books are certainly of our time but I think they will exist well beyond this age as well.