The Poetry Foundation’s 2017 Staff Picks
As we do every year, some members of the Poetry Foundation's staff share a book (or two) they enjoyed most in 2017.
Beyza Ozer, Events & Logistics Assistant
Corina Copp, Harriet Staff Writer
This year, the book of poems I took to heart, and along on my summer travels, as they say, was Aisha Sasha John's I have to live (McClelland & Stewart). Here, knowledge is experiential, and the speaker is not an idea, but almost a physical presence: "She named me living." The language admits there's some trouble with having a reader, sometimes, and goes private (makes reading voyeuristic). But it is also irreverent, for we're all continuing to live, through pain, "apparently." Material conditions are the joke that is no joke: "Also, I need a lot of money. / So I could have a lot of money. / That's why I need it. // I need a lot of money. / So I can have it. / Because I need to have money." I must also mention Diana Hamilton's The Awful Truth (Golias Books), which has just come out. The book quotes, at length, other writers, like Bernadette Mayer, Rindon Johnson, Freud, and Laura Marcus on Freud, interspersing this reading—as well as emails, dream accounts, interviews, dreams of emails and interviews—into an already-chock-full text as if they are (they are) memories. The first section reminds me a bit of Eve Sedgwick's brilliant A Dialogue on Love, not just formally, though that too, but in the way the intelligent voice takes care of "you" and of "we." Both John and Hamilton are poets who contend naturally with other mediums, genres, and forms, but their shared topic of living as a writer holds so much in itself, and is so finely (and differently) wrought, that I don't really need to read much else right now. Ok? Okay.
DeShara Suggs-Joe, Poetry Ambassador
The book that I really loved in 2017 was Safia Elhillo's The January Children because it came out at a time when I was exploring my relationship with home. "Home" shapes us. This book begin a backdrop in the ways I had to reconcile my own home. I am so grateful for it. It was beautifully written, intricate, and essential for the culture.
Fred Sasaki, Art Director
Spiral Staircase: Collected Poems of Hirato Renkichi. Translation and introduction by Sho Sugita, afterword by Eric Selland. Ugly Duckling Presse.
Hirato Renkichi was a Japanese Futurist poet and "one of the pioneers of Japan's modernist avant-garde." And this is the first time all of his poems are available in one comprehensive English-language collection. They're fun to read and especially exciting while imagining them in context of post-WWI Japan, which was in the midst of industrial revolution. Renkichi worked in "hybridized language that fused vernacular Japanese with foreign loan words, onomatopoetic sounds, neologisms, and mock slogans…a language of directness, or impulse (chokujō)." His "Manifesto of the Japanese Futurist Movement" is all "powerful light and heat" with its "dynamo-electric" core, "quivering heart of God," and "Chameleon of dancing truth." What’s more is he died at the age of 29 from pulmonary disease after writing for only 6 years. "Most graveyards are already useless," he says. "Libraries, museums, and academies do not even amount to the sound of one automobile skidding on the street." Skrt skrt.
Holly Amos, Assistant Editor for Poetry magazine
Khadijah Queen’s book is amazing… and sneaky. Who doesn’t want to read about the run-ins of a poet with Prince, Keanu Reeves, Chris Rock, and a slew of others? And while some of the prose poems are innocent encounters, many are not. Even those that are unclear carry the undertones of rape culture:
Edward Norton just stared he was on his cell phone going up the escalator at Port Authority I was going down & when we met in the middle he said you are gorgeous I was 36 & so NYC in a black turtleneck & salt-and-pepper curls & just starting not to be sad or afraid.
The cumulative effect is depressing in the everybody-please-read-this-book kind of way.
Jeremy Lybarger, Features Editor
In a banner year for poetry, the collection that struck me most is Rummage (Little A), the debut from Cave Canem and Lambda Literary Fellow Ife-Chudeni A. Oputa. These are poems about shame and queer love, about female sexuality and the body. They trace the fine line between eroticism and grief, familiar terrain for anyone who’s ever felt desires that are illicit or unrequited. "Ask me what it’s like to be a world / always in need of rescue," Oputa writes in "The Prophet Wants to Atone," and this book is her scarifying, incandescent answer.
Katherine Litwin, Library Director
I had been eagerly awaiting Javier Zamora’s first full-length collection and it did not disappoint. These gorgeous, bruised, lyrical poems should be required reading everywhere.
Krystal Languell, Finance Assistant
Gabrielle Civil's Swallow the Fish (CCM) changed the way I think about performance and documentation in the arts, and I'm still absorbing this book's impact on the way I think about documenting poetics and labor. Other books I felt especially deeply this year include Stacy Szymaszek's Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals (Fence) and Rosa Alcalá's MyOther Tongue (Futurepoem).
Michael Slosek, Web Editor
Many, many outstanding collections passed through our doors this year, among them Roberto Harrison's Bridge of the World (Litmus Press), Cedar Sigo's Royals (Wave Books), Julian Talamantez Brolaski's Of Mongrelitude (Wave Books), Diana Arterian's Playing Monster :: Seiche (1913 Press), Kate Greenstreet's The End of Something (Ahsahta Press), and so many others. To play fair and select only one title, I'd have to pin my pick on Clark Coolidge's Selected Poems: 1962-1985, published in April by Station Hill Press, and with an introduction by Coolidge's friend, the late, great Bill Berkson. Coolidge's crystalline, materially-assertive writing sculpts sound and physically structures language in ways I find endlessly fascinating, stimulating, and inspiring, while the effect of his writing activates a register of attention that makes the surrounding world off the page feel more alive. I could prattle on, but I'd rather defer to Bill, who certainly writes more elegantly about Coolidge: "In the writing, I hear [Coolidge] hearing ahead, in front of and behind the word as it reveals itself, the poem’s surface compounding thereby. He himself stands revealed as some kind of visionary, in the sense of turning open a world simultaneously apprehended and there for the making. The passion for and of the activity of writing is the overriding sentiment, within which there are, for Coolidge, endless curiosities to be satisfied or anyway dealt with. As Bernadette Mayer once said, a concordance to his work would be fascinating."
Rebecca Stoner, Permissions Coordinator
My staff pick is Allison Cobb's After We All Died (Ahsahta Press). Through an unusually warm spring and summer, through wildfires and horrifyingly destructive hurricanes likely worsened by climate change, this is the book that’s stuck in my mind. Though it never mentions the Anthropocene by name, it's a moving attempt to wrestle with it, and especially with the fact that we may already be too far gone to save ourselves. While the title (and, I realize, that description) makes this book sound like a real bummer, it's enlivened by Cobb's sly sense of humor, a certain pragmatism, and a complete avoidance of sanctimony. I feel like far too few people know about this book, and I’d really strongly encourage a read!
Sara Wintz, Harriet Staff Writer