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The Poetry Foundation’s 2012 Staff Picks
As we check off the final days of the year, we’ve been posting a number of “best of 2012″ lists on Harriet. So we figure it’s about time we ponied up and made one of our own. As with most years, we faced the daunting task of selecting great work from shelves upon shelves of great work. Here, then, in no particular order, are some of our staff’s favorite books from 2012. Thank you to all the writers, publishers, translators, editors, and, of course, readers who make all of this wonderful work possible.
Fred Sasaki, Associate Editor of Poetry Magazine.
Green Lantern Press
From “I Hate Karate”
I’ll hate anything you present to me. Robert Creeley? Hate him. My cancer-stricken mother. Hate her. Your photos of your child and the delicate balance you maintain between love and work. Dress me up in a suit made of hate, stitched together by ten-year-old Indonesian children. Then, watch me hate them, their piety, and their sleepless nights, their fingers worked to the bone. I hate Steve Jobs. He hate me? Then there’s enough hate in this world to keep it spinning. Like a dreidel made of razor blades. I’ll give one to my son on the first day of Hanukkah, and tell him that when he sees blood, it’s just the color of all those who have hated you since you first walked the earth. You, destined to wander and negotiate, grovel, plead and every other mode of humiliation that can be imagined. Because, my son, you have been hated on since your God asked Abraham to make the ultimate sacrifice. This Christmas season, when I sit you on Santa’s fat and happy lap, given him this dreidel. Better: shove it in his mouth and tell him to bite down hard. When he bleeds his hate, tell him you were sent to purify his soul, his pitiless, black soul filled with lumps of coal, themselves the very essence of hate. Don’t hate the hater, my son. The hand that spins the dreidel comes from above. It is the hand of hate. It is your salvation.
Don Share, Senior Editor of Poetry Magazine
2012 was a great year for “collected poems.” Two deserve special attention: Edward Dorn’s and Bill Knott’s. These are keenly quintessential—and essential—American poets. We’re lucky that Knott’s still around, luckier still (though the luck is ours, not his), that his collected can be read for free on his blog; print versions he self-published came and went in an eyeblink.
Here’s Dorn’s “Public Notice”:
Don’t use my name
Unless you love me
But if you do & you don’t
Send me some money
Knott probably feels the same way (if not, I’ll hear from him!). It’s astonishing that neither poet has had a true collected till now. They’re substantial, too: Dorn’s occupies 1,000 pages, Knott’s around half that. (Robert Duncan’s collected, the first volume of which also appeared this year, occupies two large volumes.)
American poetry is a land o’ plenty.
Catherine Halley, Director of Digital Programs
Loud Dreaming in a Quiet Room
The National Poetry Review Press
Here’s just one example of a solid first collection that deserves more attention than it got when it came out this year. I’ll share a few of my favorite quotes:
From “SOMETHING FOR THE LOW END”
Dear Alto Section, you angel me.
Or, I turn in my wings and fall.
You are the afternoon afternoon
curled up in. You workboot
the dangling measures. You speak
in money and money goes south.
You backbone the tenors.
You give me stead.
From “NON-SONNET FOR THE PHRASE ‘BUT I BELIEVE'”
To the waitress I said wondermeat, meaning
wonderment, meaning I wonder where you are,
and how you spend your wooden nickels.
Corina Copp, Harriet Staff Writer
I wrote semi-coherently about aspects of Lisa Robertson’s Nilling both here and here. Some of her writing on thinking and the public sphere, and Pauline Reage’s L’Histoire d’O, for instance, as articulated in these essays, can be traced back even to 2006. But it’s in Nilling’s profound form-taking that we, as readers, can begin to understand our own unfurling into and/or determinacy re: the acts of reading and ventures into pleasure and resistance (or other splits of will) as we consider Robertson’s takes on Hannah Arendt, Lucretius, Augustine’s Confessions, Eva Hesse, Robert Burton, Kant, Deleuze, Peter Culley, and others. Intricacies and optics of cognition, melancholy, the city, and noise are also externalized; moreover, “cognition’s inexperience is melancholy,” and “If I pretend to see, I enter into visibility. Can one pretend a sensing?” And for its depth of purpose(s), the book maintains a ludic feel…perhaps that’s inherent in submitting to (writing) such a text? Has been a pleasurable touchstone for me all year. The main distract is staring it down like it’s a soft white puffin, or something–nice job, BookThug.
Crisis Inquiry, a special volume of Damn the Caesars
Punch Press, ed. Richard Owens
Must also put a good word in about this special issue of DTC–for almost 400 pages, Crisis Inquiry’s scope is likely to be spread on small breadsticks; and by that I mean there’s HEAPS of critical writing from both sides of the pond on TWO visible poet-engines of contemp. writing, Keston Sutherland and Rob Halpern; we are lucky to see their work so well-thunk/comprehensively notated; there’s also new writing from them. Poetry too’s included, and if you haven’t yet read a pixel of Joe Luna, Emily Critchley, Frances Kruk, Josh Stanley, Nat Raha, Luke Roberts, and others, you’ll find their troubled high lyric here gladly (“and now I know / that all my morals / come from a gift of deep regression / I feel my flesh scream / and scrambling to eat the day it lives in // well yes and no” –Stanley). There’s also the introduction to Marianne Morris’s Lyric & Polis Conference from this year, plus the actual Four Letters from Sean Bonney that “commit themselves to … social change, political change, and poetic change,” as Jennifer Cooke writes in her “speculative response.” Crisis Inquiry has the immediacy of a pamphlet, but is a welcome, vulnerable tome of entry points to UK/US poetic response to capitalist reality. Owens deserves a poetry Oscar for his commitment or whatever we can fasten together from our corporate finance jobs we fear no longer with such sifting at the center.
Michael Slosek, Assistant Web Editor
This Can’t Be Life
Dana Ward’s This Can’t Be Life presents one virtuoso performance after another, each in a form different from the one before. What I find most compelling in TCBL is the effort Ward takes to find a new approach to writing with every poem, as if the completion of a poem exhausts a method of composition. Ward balances lyricism with found texts, diary-like entries with bureaucratic language, realism with abstract surfaces. No other book I’ve read this year is able to cover as much territory as Ward does with such grace, style, and grit.
Ellen Umansky, Features Editor
Newsflash: Motherhood can be an exhausting, mind-numbing endeavor. It can also be terrifying, electrifying, harrowing, and joyous like no other. That is to say, a cacophony of competing emotions, all of which Brenda Shaughnessy captures in her thrilling, heart-wrenching collection, Our Andromeda.
“Artless / is my heart,” Shaughnessy declares in the book’s opening. “No poetry. Plain.” But she’s teasing us; there’s nothing artless about her tightly coiled, lyrical work. See “Liquid Flesh.” As Joy Katz wrote, “this is a book of regret, lament, and love.”
Daniel Moysaenko, Intern at Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute.
What Is Amazing
Wesleyan University Press
When you return, salivating, to the same books throughout the year—Tomaž Šalamun’s On the Tracks of Wild Game, Samuel Amadon’s The Hartford Book, Ben Mirov’s HIDER ROSER—it’s hard to pick just one. But the book I found knocked me over on each page, each read, was Heather Christle’s new full-length. Charting the movement of thought as if surveying a storm no one else has noticed yet, Christle’s poems progress from awe to the edge of epiphany. I teeter at that place of quiet meditation and exuberant wonder where she lives and am thrilled to keep visiting.
Mairead Case, Youth Service Coordinator
Holly Amos, Library Assistant
In Time’s Rift
Ernst Meister (translated by Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick)
The first complete English translation of Meister’s Im Zeitspalt (first published in 1976), In Time’s Rift is obsessed with mortality and the nothingness both mind and body are reduced to in death. Dark and spare, whittled and wrenching, these poems are stark and devastatingly human. Bring a mind free from distraction and ready to wrestle. This book will change you.
Kristin Gecan, Media Associate
I’ve been waiting for Jorie Graham to publish a new book just so I could include it on this list. So to be fair, my enthusiasm for Place—even before I read it—meant no other title this year really stood a chance against it. But I was also unsurprisingly pleased by Graham’s latest collection. As cinematic as ever, these new poems had a way of anchoring me in a given scene (or place!) that I’ve not felt with any other collection.