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.
I am pleased to have my poem “That Year” published in the 2008 issue of Red Wheelbarrow Literary Magazine. Just Poets members Ron Bailey and Donna Marbach as well as Kim Addonizio also have poems appearing in this nationally distributed journal. Edited by Randolph Splitter, Red Wheelbarrow is published by De Anza College. For more information visit: http://faculty.deanza.edu/splitterrandolph/stories/storyReader$209