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The Poetry Foundation’s 2015 Staff Book Picks
We’ve reached that time-honored tradition as the year winds down when some members of our staff have highlighted a few of their favorite poetry titles of 2015.
Henry Bienen, President of the Poetry Foundation
Sonia Greenfield’s Boy With a Halo at the Farmer’s Market. I liked the variety of subject matter and a certain pace and tone and rhythm which appears across many of the poems.
Don Share, Editor of Poetry
R.F. Langley’s Complete Poems will be on quite a few U.K. poetry best-of lists this year, but not too many, I imagine, here in the U.S. Perhaps that’s because Americans demand big books when it comes to a collected, and until recently, Langley surely held a record for the slimmest. His brilliant 2002 Collected gathers only seventeen poems, and was only some seventy pages long. But American readers will miss out if they ignore Langley a second time. Jeremy Noel-Tod’s scrupulous and apt editing of this new collection—twice the size, happily, of its predecessor—gives us one of the best books I’ve ever read by anybody. As Langley once observed, “every brushstroke changes the picture;” fittingly, each poem here is marvelously and mysteriously textured. Gorgeous and unsettling, his work is indescribably wonderful.
Fred Sasaki, Art Director
Fairy Tales: Dramolettes by Robert Walser, translated from the German by Daniele Pantano and James Reidel. “The fairy-tale dramolettes are magical literary theater–‘entirely poetry’ in Walser’s words. The characters, while still fairy-tale beings, exemplify the modern individual who exists to understand the possible terms of his or her fate.” –From the foreword, by Reto Sorg.
Lindsay Garbutt, Assistant Editor
There were so many incredible books published this year that it feels cruel to choose just one, but today let me recommend Rickey Laurentiis’s Boy with Thorn. From beginning (“If God made us in his image, it was the first failure of the imagination”) to end (“He shut the thorn up in his foot, and told his foot / Walk”), it takes my breath away. In a dark and violent year, this collection offers a necessary mirror in which to see ourselves.
Holly Amos, Editorial Assistant
Gabriel Gudding’s Literature for Nonhumans (Ahsahta Press) is a vital history lesson and a call to arms. Comprised of footnotes, appropriated text, and Gudding’s searing insights into the present moment in which, “the majority of critical theorists, poets, and ecologists who speak of biopower, ecopoetics, animal welfare and factory farming still willfully take pleasure in the brutalization of our most other others.”
Astonishingly, Gudding manages to provide delight (“How geese sound like pleasant and anxious / dorks”) and humor (“asshat” makes some memorable appearances) in a book whose first section begins:
Illinois is a vast and battered graduation
ceremony, cross between a pinhole and
a highschool, history of fats flushed and
spattered over maps. An astonishing need
for lawns. Its catastrophe is its commemora-
tion. The killing of its animals
is blown back into the narrow gene. Their
bones and sorrows shoved back into the ar-
row and the embryon. An earthlet not for
Katherine Litwin, Library Director
Maggie Queeney, Library Coordinator
Lo Kwa Mei-en’s stunning debut, Yearling, presents the strange and sublime in poems as cutting, brilliant, afire as diamonds: “We’ll ghost into a life like minor chords,/ make rearview eyes at what could have flown—// as a taxi turns left on red, four songs shut/ in the trunk, testing the border like a cut…” Yearling was my best discovery this year. Richard Siken’s War of the Foxes was the most satisfying and triumphant return. Entering this collection is akin to donning X-Ray glasses; the world is stripped down to layers of line and shade, fabrication and definition. These poems are steeled and unsettle: “Let’s admit, without apology, what we do to each other./ We know who our enemies are. We know.”
H. Melt, Education and Youth Services Assistant
Wild Hundreds by Nate Marshall
Wild Hundreds is a long love song to Chicago and specifically to the South Side. Marshall captures what it means to grow up in a city that is segregated and violent, but that is still home. His love for the city is unconditional and his writing style is refreshingly accessible. Marshall is part of a new generation of Chicago poets who are expanding the long tradition of Chicago writing about community. His debut book belongs on the shelves of everyone interested in Chicago literature and the city itself.
Ellen Umansky, Features Editor
Two books steeped in the visual grabbed my attention this year. Fabulas Feminae (Litmus Press) pairs Susan Bee’s playful collages with Johanna Drucker’s odes, and the result is a gorgeous collaboration. Richard Siken is a painter as well as a poet, and in his second collection, The War of the Foxes (Copper Canyon), he wrestles with what it means to create in all sorts of forms: “What does all this love amount to?” He writes in the book’s last poem. “Putting down the brush for the last time—”
Michael Slosek, Web Editor
As you may know, legions of books flow through our Chicago office each month, and over the course of a year dozens of books could easily make it onto any one of our favorites list. This year, however, I have the rare pleasure of picking a book by possibly my favorite poet: Supplication: The Selected Poems of John Wieners, edited by Robert Dewhurst, Joshua Beckman, and CAConrad, and published by Wave Books. The selection of poems spans Wieners entire body of writing and is the first readily available collection of poetry since the publication of the two Black Sparrow books in the 1980s: Selected Poems and Cultural Affairs in Boston. The collection serves as a necessary introduction for those unfamiliar with Wieners’s unique and emotionally charged lyrics, and for long-time readers of Wieners, the book is a reminder of his sustained mastery.
Corina Copp, Harriet Staff Writer
My favorite books published this year were with no doubt Sphinx by Anne Garréta (Deep Vellum), and Women in Dark Times by Jacqueline Rose (Bloomsbury). As for poetry in 2015: Josef Kaplan’s Poem Without Suffering (Wonder) is the one that’s floored me. A stunning, basically unexcerptable book-length poem that changes the act of reading into one like bloodletting, as it ratchets up grief through the movement of a bullet through a child. But I think it may be a treatise on love.
Sara Wintz, Harriet Staff Writer
My 2015 shout out goes to LIES: the queer, feminist collective responsible for making LIES: A Journal of Materialist Feminism. Brainy, fierce, and cool, the journal is a platform for conversations and critiques, in poetry and prose, about racism, transphobia, sexual violence, feminisms, activism, and so much more. Volumes I and II are available via AK Press. With daring work by poets Jasmine Gibson, Wendy Trevino, Anne Boyer, coda wei, Jackie Wang, and Oki Sogumi. Where would your Sunday mornings be without it?
Karl Saffran, Permissions Coordinator
I spent a good deal of time this year with a handful of books: Ben Este’s Illustrated Games of Patience & Emily Hunt’s Dark Green, both from The Song Cave, Corina Copp’s The Green Ray (Ugly Duckling), Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women (Ahsahta), and Susie Timmons’s Superior Packets from Wave (the world desperately needs new poems by Susie Timmons!). But I suspect the book I’ll return to the most is Tom Raworth’s Structure from Motion, published by Edge Books, which gathers recent material from my favorite poet and Christmas collagist.