I started a Poetry Readers’ Group in February 2004. There were 8 of us at then; 3 of the originals remain and three others sit at the table now.
Each month, a member selects a book which we will all read and discuss over a long afternoon lunch. We’ve read everything from selected poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins to this month’s selection, Parts of Speech by Kyle Schlesinger. Needless to say, there have been some very intense dialogues and there is rarely a book of poetry that is either universally liked or disliked.
Thinking about the discussion we will have on Schlesinger’s book this month prompted me to consider which books of poetry I personally have found to be the most memorable over the years. Most of these books were not necessarily Readers’ Group selections though one is, Late Psalm by Betsy Sholl. This happened to be universally liked by the group members at the time.
As I pondered other books, I decided to compile my list based on certain factors: these books aren’t in the academic “canon.” Reading them forever changed how I approach as well as write poetry. They come to mind immediately when someone asks what my favorite book of poetry is.
In no particular order, here they are:
Late Psalm by Betsy Sholl
Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood
Song by Brigit Pegeen Kelly
Late Wife by Claudia Emerson
The Selected Poems of Max Jacob (in translation)
From these come some of my favorite poems: “Half-Hanged Mary” by Atwood, “Song” by Kelly and “Hell Has Gradations” by Jacobs.
“Half-Hanged Mary” takes 10 minutes to read. I know because I did a dramatic reading of it at Rochester Institute of Technology several years ago.
“Song” is a poem I can no longer hear read nor read myself. To do so metaphorically scrapes the walls of the chambers of my heart.
“Hell Has Gradations” is prescient, an allegorical prose poem that saw the Holocaust coming. Jacobs, who converted to Catholicism from Judaism, died in a Nazi prison camp.
If you’ve not read these poems or the books in which they are found, I encourage you to seek them out and know that they may overwhelm you.
Despite the best efforts of bronchitis, I was able to travel to non-profit Bright Hill Press & Literary Center (www.brighthillpress.org) for the official book launch of my chapbook Language You Refuse to Learn last week.
Bright Hill, which is situated on the outskirts of the Catskills, reminds me of Doctor Who’s TARDIS. From the outside you see a lovely country house but inside is a lovely gallery space with a library of used books for sale and, beyond that, a new addition which houses private book collections donated to Bright Hill as well as a children’s space.
Bertha Rogers, the driving force behind Bright Hill, was a welcoming host, most gracious in extending an invitation to my friend Lorrie and me to stay in the literary center’s guest space where we could have spent days perusing all that the library has to offer.
I am extremely grateful to my friends Lorrie, Kathy, Donna, and David Michael who made the trip from Rochester to Treadwell for the book launch and reading.
Future readings will be Thursday, October 2 at the DeWitt Community Library (7:00 pm) and Thursday, October 9 in the Golisano Gateway at St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, NY (7:30 pm). Many thanks to M.J. Iuppa for arranging this reading.
Fellow poet and Bennington alum, Celeste Guzman-Mendoza, is interviewed about her recently published poetry book, Beneath the Halo (Wings Press, 2013) at Letras Latinas http://latinopoetryreview.blogspot.com/2013/11/interview-questions-for-celeste-g.html.
Celeste addresses the importance of language as well as the impact of violence and faith in our lives.
The winner of the Motherwell Prize awarded by Fence Books is Inter Arma by Laura Shufran. Her debut collection will be published in spring 2013. Visit Fence Books at www.fenceportal.org.
The winner of the ninth annual Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize is Dear Hero by Jason McCall. For a list of runners-up, visit http://www.marshhawkpress.org/.
From Omnidawn Publishing: Loom by Sarah Gridley has been chosen by Carl Phillips for the 2011 Open Poetry Book Award. Five finalists were listed alphabetically:
All the Good in the World Starts Now by Anne Cecelia Holmes
A Geography of Syntax by Jill Darling
Midwinter by Matt Reeck
Roadsides by Nik De Dominic
Thought That Nature by Trey Moody
Congratulations to all.
Jeffrey Harrison’s manuscript What Comes Next has been selected by Tom Sleigh as the Dorset Prize winner for Tupelo Press’s annual contest. For additional information on the Dorset Prize, Tupelo Press, or Jeffrey Harrison visit http://www.tupelopress.org/.
On Saturday, my monthly poetry readers group discussed James Allen Hall’s Now You’re the Enemy (University of Arkansas Press, 2008). It proved to be one of the most lively discussions we’ve had in a long time as we analyzed Hall’s craft and subject matter. All agreed that Hall’s poetry is accomplished (and I don’t say this simply because he is a fellow alumnus of Bennington College) though, for various reasons, some of us thought the subject matter to be more than a little uncomfortable.
Among the discussion topics resurrected was the fictional “I” vs. the autobiographical “I.” For me, this brought to mind a panel at AWP a few years back where Liam Rector and Timothy Liu debated whether or not there even could be a fictional “I.”
I have opened my own poetry readings by stating, “This work is fictionalized truth. I’ll let you decide what is fiction and what is truth.”
Ultimately, we did not settle firmly on which elements of Hall’s narratives were completely true and we mostly agreed that it did not matter; the poems worked without having a black and white timeline in front of us.
To read more about Now You’re the Enemy, check out the following site: http://howapoemhappens.blogspot.com/2010/05/james-allen-hall.html.
C.D. Wright has chosen fault tree by Kathryn L. Pringle as the winner for Omnidawn Publishing’s First/Second Poetry Prize. The finalists of the 2011 First/Second Book Competition (in alphabetical order by last name) are: Jill Darling, Mount Clemens, Michigan; Leora Fridman, Florence, Massachusetts; Eryn Green, Denver, Colorado; Jane Gregory, Berkeley, California; and Soham Patel, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I will be posting announcements of contest winners on this blog so check back frequently.
To receive the back issue of ByLine Magazine in which my article “Five Essential Books Every Poet Must Have,” contact the editors through their website: http://www.bylinemag.com/.