Monday, December 2, 2019

The Best Poetry of 2019--the Very Short List

Before I left for my great southeastern driving journey of Thanksgiving week, I read Dave Bonta's call for our lists of the best poetry of 2019.  Dave suggests that we might be able to come up with a different list than the usual "best of" lists that we find in newspapers and journals this time of year.  Those lists do seem to focus the same books that are under consideration for national prizes--in other words, books that are already going to get a lot of attention.

As I thought back over my list, I decided to focus on the books that I wanted to read again, the books that made me feel sad when I finished them because I'd never have the delight of the first read again. I thought about books that make me want to keep writing poems.  I want books that help me to see the world differently, that make me shake my head at the audacious comparisons and the wonderful wordplay.

If I could choose only one book I've read in the past year to read again and again, it would be Space Struck by Paige Lewis (Sarabande Books).  I wish I could remember which poet recommended this book and where--it sounded interesting to me, and I added it to an Amazon order to get to the free shipping level (yes, I'm the last person in the U.S. who does not have Amazon Prime).

A look at the titles of the poems lets us know that we're in store for a treat:  "You Be You, and I'll Be Busy," "God's Secretary, Overworked," and "So You Want to Leave Purgatory."  It's one of the few volumes of poetry where I've put a star by the title of one of the poems because it delighted me so.

Let me look at that poem, "On the Train, a Man Snatches My Book."  I love the way she describes how she's feeling, if she decided to pay attention to the man who sneers at her with such contempt and dismissal:

"                     . . .                     I feel

as if I'm on the moon listening to the air hiss
out of my spacesuit, and I can't find the hole.  I'm

the vice president of panic, and the president is
missing.  . . .                                                  "

This book is full of musings of our current existential despair--both on an individual level and a species level.

It's been a good year for poetry collections that use science in interesting ways.  I'd add Martha Silano's Gravity Assist (Saturnalia Books) and Lee Ann Roripaugh's Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50 (Milkweed Editions) to my list too.  Regular readers of this blog may remember that I wrote a post about Roripaugh's book back when I first read it in the summer.

I'm also including a book that I'm not likely to read again--it was a tough read the first time.  Paisley Rekdal's Nightingale revisits Ovid and all those metamorphoses.  The description sounded like it would thrill my inner English major who loves to see the connections to older literature.

I had forgotten how much of Ovid's work revolves around sexual assault and rape.  Perhaps all of Greek mythology does, and I've forgotten.  In this Me Too world, the book was a tough read for me, as much of it revolved around sexual assault.

It's important work, and "Nightingale:  A Gloss" is an amazing poem.  It also makes me nauseatingly afraid to leave my house with its depiction of threats at every corner, no matter how idyllic.

Space Struck, too, shows a world of threats, but it affects me differently.  Is it the difference in the type of threat?  Maybe that's it.  The poems in Space Struck are shorter, and therefore they have a different impact than some of the poems in Nightingale.  Or maybe it's the humor that weaves through Space Struck that's not in Nightingale.

It's been a great year for poetry--I look forward to seeing what 2020 brings (a new decade--gulp!).

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