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Three days of year-end lists: Tuesday

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. Today, you’ll find selections from several Poetry magazine contributors. We’ll conclude with the current Harriet writers weighing-in on their favorites for 2007 (and in some cases, from years past). Happy New Year!


Poetry magazine contributors’ picks
Rae Armantrout
The Age of Huts (Compleat)
by Ron Silliman
University of California Press
2007
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This brings Silliman’s major early works back into print. These long poems were eye-opening when they appeared and they are still striking examples of a radical and original use of form in poetry.
The Lyrics
by Fanny Howe
Graywolf Press
2007
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The title is a bit deceptive here. These serial poems have the sonic beauty we associate with the lyric but they also spin out tenuous, delicate narratives. They sometimes have the feel of fairy-tales, even as the characters that populate them are propelled through the spreading disaster areas of the world.
Ripple Effect
by Elaine Equi
Coffee House Press
2007
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This collection adds some sharp new poems to a generous sample of Equi’s work from 1978 through the present. Her poems are mischievous, sly, and “slant” in Dickinson’s sense of that word.
Necessary Stranger
by Graham Foust
Flood Editions
2007
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The poems in Foust’s third collection are cockeyed shards of sound that spin, dazzle, and cut. He “defamiliarizes” like nobody’s business.
The Outernationale
by Peter Gizzi
Wesleyan University Press
2007
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Gizzi’s poems reach persistently for what comes to seem like the ghost of the beauty of the world.
Charles Bernstein
Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Works
by Jackson Mac Low
University of California Press
2008
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Jackson Mac Low (1922-2004) opened doors to places that poetry had not yet been. This substantial selection (450 pages), edited by Anne Tardos, with a pub date still a few weeks away, is the ideal introduction to his work. Mac Low didn’t write the “best” poems; he would have rejected that category, ¬but he did his best to challenge assumptions and invent not just new forms but new possibilities for poetry. A number of other North American poets published books in the past year, that, like Mac Low, take directions both unexpected and, perhaps more valuable, unexpectable. These books, among a number of others that have crossed my desk since December 2006 (including many books in translation and from Europe and South America that I didn’t include here), provide a context for my choice, for Mac Low is part of an ever-changing constellation, which this past year includes:
Bruce Andrews, Swoon Noir (Chax Press)
Rae Armantrout, Next Life (Wesleyan University Press)
Benjamin Friedlander, The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes (Subpress)
Peter Gizzi, The Outernationale (Wesleyan University Press)
Kenneth Goldsmith, Traffic (Make Now Press)
Nada Gordon, Folly (Roof Books)
Mary (Rising) Higgins, )joule TIDES(( (Singing Horse Press)
Susan Howe, Souls of the Labadie Tract (New Directions)
Tan Lin, ambivalence is a novel with a logo (Katalanche Press)
The Alphabet Game: a bp Nichol reader, ed. Darren Wershler-Henry and Lori
Emerson (Coach House)
Jerome Rothenberg, Triptych (New Directions)
Aram Saroyan, Complete Minimal Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse)
Leslie Scalapino, Day Ocean State of Stars’ Night: Poems and Writings, 1989
& 1999-2006
(Green Integer)
Ron Silliman, The Age of Huts (Compleat) (University of California Press)
Juliana Spahr, The Transformation (Atelos Press)
Hannah Weiner’s Open House, ed. Patrick Durgin (Kenning Editions)
Cate Marvin
A History of the Only War
by Christopher Davis
Four Way Books
2005
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I know this book came out two years ago, but discovering it stands out as one of the best things that happened to me in 2007. On reading it, I felt what I can only describe as violent joy. Davis’ poems are savagely intelligent, wicked in their intent, uncompromising in their dark humor, and spare no one. The book is, quite simply, shocking in its originality and
viciousness. I found myself laughing out loud (often at an inappropriate volume) at the ingeniousness of these poems while reading them on mass transportation. If you don’t mind drawing annoyed looks from fellow commuters, A History of the Only War makes for a terrific traveling companion.
Patricia Smith
The Enemy
by Rafael Campo
Duke University Press
2007
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My favorite book of 2007, the one I keep returning to again and again, is Rafael Campo’s The Enemy. Campo, the pinpoint lyricist, takes an unflinching look at the deceptions necessary for war, the weaknesses it reveals and disguises as glory. Battles within the body, clashes of landscape and culture, wars of mindset and madness—Campo
unleashes truths within stanzas that are deftly and uncompromisingly structured. His revelations—ragged, miraculous, hard-won—spark the ache of recognition (“We have become the creature no deity would deign to call ‘child’”), but also turn the heart towards hope.
Afaa Michael Weaver
Driftwood: a poem by Lo Fu
translated from the Chinese by John Balcom
Zephyr Press
2006
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Driftwood is a book-length poem by one of the most prominent contemporary Chinese poets, a senior writer who began his first important work, Death of a Stone Cell, during a bombardment of Taiwan in 1965. In describing his own work, Lo Fu writes, “It sums up my experience of exile, my artistic explorations, my metaphysics.” John Balcolm has delivered an excellent translation here of a book that hopefully will be widely read.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, December 18th, 2007 by Nick Twemlow.