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Three days of year-end lists: Monday

By Nick Twemlow

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The National Book Critics Circle is doing it. So is Third Factory with Attention Span 2007. The New York Times even found a way to include a few poetry titles in theirs.
What are we talking about? End-of-year book lists. This week on Harriet, we’re rolling out three such lists, beginning with recommendations from staff of the Poetry Foundation. Following that, we’ll post picks from several Poetry magazine contributors, including Charles Bernstein and Afaa Michael Weaver. We’ll conclude with the current Harriet contributors weighing-in on their favorites for 2007 (and in some cases, from years past). Happy New Year!


Poetry Foundation Staff Picks
Penny Barr, Project Manager, Children’s Poetry, Poetry Foundation
A Family Christmas
by Caroline Kennedy (editor)
Hyperion Books
2007
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I’m recommending Caroline Kennedy’s new book, which includes poems, reminiscences, and stories by a range of writers, including Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Collins, Marianne Moore, E.B. White, and many more.
Eric Makinen, Web Producer Intern, poetryfoundation.org
Romanian Poems
by Paul Celan (translated from the Romanian with an introduction by Julian Semilian and San Agalidi)
Green Integer Books
2003
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These poems do not so much revise an understanding of Celan, as they were never published by him; and, of course, to understand Celan, one must understand why he published only in German; but poems by Celan they are, and at least we have them.
Michael Marcinkowski, Senior Web Producer, poetryfoundation.org
Depth Theology
by Peter O’Leary
University of Georgia Press
2006
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Was this even released this year? Who cares? Peter O’Leary gets it. Depth Theology is, as you may have guessed, way deep, man. Complex stuff. Not that O’Leary is trying to impress us or anything. His is a knowledge processed through an understanding of the esoteric as the everyday. The fact is, theology is like tying your shoe or walking down the street. The insights in this book are mixed with personal reflection, fragments of memory, scattered text, and best of all, are filtered through O’Leary’s keen ear. This junk sings, dude.
Watchword
by William Fuller
Flood Editions
2006
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What happens when you’re just sitting in your nice little house, reading Pope after a long day at the office? William Fuller’s Watchword, that’s what. Honey to my ears? Discursive verse sheltered as a romantic lyric, being transmitted back from the future? The only problem with Fuller’s latest is that, unlike his previous book, this one doesn’t begin by name dropping Miles Champion.
Grave of Light
by Alice Notley
Wesleyan University Press
2006
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If we were lucky, we’d have all the poems from this new and selected already. Unfortunately, some of us have had a run of bad luck over the past few years, and weren’t able to pick up each now-long-gone small press edition. Thanks, Wesleyan. You’re getting better all the time. This one is worth it for the cover alone. I don’t need to talk about the poems. Go out and buy this right now.
Ed Park, Associate Editor, poetryfoundation.org
Dance Dance Revolution
by Cathy Park Hong
W.W. Norton
2007
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I’ve been waiting for Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution ever since coming across a mind-boggling excerpt in LIT a couple years ago. DDR instantly goes on the shelf next to those science-fiction novels (Riddley Walker, A Clockwork Orange) that mint their own strange, hilarious, desperate tongues—not just fanciful terms but entire modes of speaking, which is to say, thinking.
Fred Sasaki, Assistant Editor, Poetry
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I am mortally afraid for my three-year-old son, and when I read Bill Knott’s “Minor Poem: (“The only response / to a child’s grave is / to lie down before it and play dead”?) I laugh. Out loud. That can be found in Smoke from a Paper House, one of 18 of his own books Knott has published on his blog in 2007. You can read each volume online or download formatted PDFs and print out your own D.I.Y. “dead tree edition.”?
Don Share, Senior Editor, Poetry
A Helen Adam Reader
by Helen Adam
National Poetry Foundation
2007
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On the condition that someone else already will have chosen Tom Pickard’s Ballad of Jamie Allan, I’m going to go with A Helen Adam Reader. As eerily powerful as Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,”? as polemically anachronistic as Spenser’s “Faerie Queen,”? yet as contemporary-sounding as Charles Bernstein, Adam’s fiendish ballads are an off-kilter connection to an ancient poetics that still turns out to have lots of life left in it. As Robert Duncan said of her, “Long ago? and far away? So all the old stories say it. But the dolls and mirrors, the stricken children and monstrous consorts of these poems, these sorceries of desire, are as near to the real as they ever were.”?
Elizabeth Stigler, Program Assistant, Poetry Foundation
Road Atlas
by Campbell McGrath
Ecco Press
2001 (encountered in 2007)
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I’m a sucker for poetic wonderment when it comes to landscapes. What could be a better way to explore landscape than a road trip with a poet and his young son? McGrath himself seems a child in the scenes of these whimsical yet “true life”? prose poems, which balance the formal and the familiar, the intellectual and the familial. Better still, there’s a shout-out to James Wright!
Nick Twemlow, Audio and Blog Editor, poetryfoundation.org
City Eclogue
by Ed Roberson
Atelos
2006
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Roberson has been publishing itinerantly for years, and in that time he’s accrued a mist of dedicated followers, who are perhaps drawn to his work, as I am, for its unconcern with aesthetic boundaries. Roberson has been described variously as a religious poet, a nature poet, a poet of the city. He is all of these, but most importantly, for me, he is a poet of attentiveness: he observes his subjects obsessively, simultaneously creating a desolate loneliness and an encompassing inclusiveness. As in this first section of the poem “Place Lit By A Window”?:

Naked socket hanging from the ceiling,
a sperm shape,      the wire,   a tail;
the head    without the light screwed in knows
somewhere between the four crack walls
and trash deep stair-less floor that    a common place
some bootstrap an egg slips from
from which the president of something
or other always a dawn will come.

Emily Warn, Editor, poetryfoundation.org
The Outernationale
by Peter Gizzi
Wesleyan University Press
2007
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Peter Gizzi’s sixth book published early this year still holds up as among the most accomplished in 2008. Gizzi can trick-out language with the best of postmodern poets, yet his anti-lyric lyrics also welcome readers through their emotional pitch (“If today and today I am calling aloud / If I break into pieces of glitter on asphalt / bits of sun, the din.”?). His lines are often conditional and incomplete, a call asking for a response. The book’s masterpiece, “Vincent, Homesick for the Land of Pictures,”? is a palindrome comprising 14 sonnets, meaning it can be read backward and forward.
One Big Self: An Investigation
by C.D. Wright
Copper Canyon
2007
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The result of collaboration with the photographer Deborah Luster, these poems were originally published as a limited edition book portraying Louisiana prison life. Wright draws directly from prison talk—a banter that is sonorous, witty, biting, plaintive, and absurd—as a way to document confinement. By relying on quotation, Wright speaks as “one big self,”? a collective voice that includes author and prisoner: “The last time you was here I had a headful of bees.”?

Comments (2)

  • On December 18, 2007 at 11:14 am Simon DeDeo wrote:

    Cathy Park Hong’s book is indeed truly fantastic. (The most hilarious review was in the New Criterion, who took time out to slam the book for deviating from the neocon script about the 20th century.) I feel it has a great potential to be a crossover hit as long as neither side of the poetry divide knew the other liked it. Perhaps we could “seed” some reviews, you know, have someone famous on each side call it crap so the other would read it?
    Outernationale has received a lot of raves, and it’s on my list. And C.D.’s is fantastic work. I’ll stop blogging about my bookshelf now, it’s just so addictive…

  • On December 18, 2007 at 3:28 pm Don Share wrote:

    And you can hear Cathy Park Hong talk about and read from her book right here!


Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, December 17th, 2007 by Nick Twemlow.