Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Top Ten Poetry Books I've Read This Year

Today is December 1st, which reminds us all that the year is rapidly ending. It is hard to believe that 2009 is almost over. It's been one of the fastest years of my life. They say the older you get the faster time goes, and I now firmly believe it. I have decided to devote many of my December posts to the age old tradition of top ten lists. At the end of the year we like to make lists of the best, the worst, and really anything else we can come up with. 

Since a good portion of my blog is devoted to poetry, I figured this was a good place to start. I don't always read poetry books in the year they are published, therefore I have not kept the list to books from 2009 (many are, but not all). What I have done is post the top ten poetry books I read this year. These are books that stood out to me, changed me, and made me grow as a writer and reader. I hope you will check some of them out.

10. Please by Jericho Brown (2008)
I read this book last winter and very much enjoyed it. Brown's use of music throughout the book is beautifully done. It's sexy and challenging. 

9. The Badboy Book of Erotic Poetry Edited by David Laurents (1995)
I bought this book used off of Amazon and when I hold in my hands I can feel all the other men who have held it, read it, and probably jerked off to it. My copy looks older than 1995 because it has been read, used, and abused, which is all part of the fun. It's just what it says: "erotic poetry." I haven't made it through every single poem yet, but this book still makes the cut. It combines edgy poets like Antler with well-known poets like Mark Bibbins, Mark Doty, and Allen Ginsberg. With such titles as "Tagteam Blowjob," "For Old Men Who Suck Cock," and "Smart Boys Turn Me On," how could you go wrong?
8. A Brief History of Time by Shaindel Beers (2009)
This is the first book on the list that came out in 2009 and it's a winner. I reviewed this book a month or two ago on this blog, so check out what I said then. Partly, what made me include this book on my top ten list, is how much I related to the poems. Beers writes a lot about the Midwest and even mentions Florida (the two places I've spent most of my life). I found inspiration in how she handled her topics and look forward to more of her work.

7. Speak Low by Carl Phillips (2009)
Carl Phillips is one of the first contemporary poets I fell in love with. Speak Low is his tenth book of poems (which is amazing because he only turned 50 this year). While Cortege will always be my favorite book of his, this one doesn't disappoint. Phillips has a beautiful way with language and his style and approach to poetry is so different from mine, which in a strange way helps me be a better writer. I had the honor of seeing him read while I was getting my MFA at FSU. It was one of the best readings I've ever attended.

6. C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems translated by Daniel Mendelsohn (2009)
It was this new translation of Cavafy that finally introduced me to his work. Early this year I kept finding articles about this book and I realized I had never read Cavafy's work before. I was blow away once I started reading. His directness and willingness to write about homosexuality in the late 19th century and early 20th century is astonishing and moving. He will be a poet I will continue to read and go back to over and over again. 

5. The First Risk by Charles Jensen (2009)
Jensen's book truly wowed me. It's divided into four distinctive sections and really shows the possibilities of poetry. The first section deals with the murder of Matthew Shepard. I think it is hard to be a gay poet and not, at one point, feel compelled to mention Shepard. I've done it myself, but Jensen takes on the subject in interesting and compelling ways. Another section is devoted to the film Vertigo. I had never seen it, but after reading these poems I had to watch it. There is nothing like a good book of poems that makes you want to know more about the subject they are writing about. This book inspired me to try new forms and to never underestimate what you can accomplish in a well-crafted poem. The only thing I will say negative about the book is that it's oddly shaped and doesn't work well on a bookcase with other standard sized poetry books.

4. Lucifer at the Starlite by Kim Addonizio (2009)
Someone once asked me if my poetry is hard to read or if it's easy like Kim Addonizio. I didn't really know how to respond. On the one hand I understood what he meant, but on the other hand I wanted to say, "I don't really believe in hard vs. easy poetry." These labels are problematic. Yes, Addonizio's poetry, on the surface, is easy to read, if you find poetry that uses current language, relatable situations, and 21st century humor easy. The problem is most think "easy" means you can whip through it and not look back. For me Addonizio is not just "easy" poetry. She writes in frank and interesting way about sex, women, and current affairs. Lucifer at the Starlite is her newest book and truly one of her best. She takes on a variety of topics and really paints a challenging portrait of America today. 

3. Taste of Cherry by Kara Candito (2009)
This is another book I reviewed here on this blog and one I still highly recommend. I am slightly bias because I did attend FSU with Kara, but believe me I attended school with many and I would not necessarily recommend all of their books. Taste of Cherry is a wonderful collection of poems that vary in location, voice, and subject matter, but are all beautifully crafted together. It's a book you will want to read again and again. Stay tuned to my blog, because I interviewed Kara for Boxcar Poetry Review. When the interview is published I'll be the first to let you know.

2. Ka-Ching! by Denise Duhamel (2009)
I read this book months ago and I still think of it every time I see an escalator (you'll have to read the book to find out why, or read my review I posted months ago). This book will not disappoint. It's Duhamel at her finest and that's pretty damn fine. 

And number 1:  My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian 
This is the book that has changed me the most in 2009. About a year ago, I had never heard of Jack Spicer and then I started hearing about this book coming out and I was intrigued. I'm a huge 1950s poetry fan. Frank O'Hara is my god, but I've mostly studied and focused on the New York scene of the 50s and 60s. Spicer was on the West Coast and brilliant. After I read more about him, I understood why I'd never heard of him. This book, in many ways, is his debut to a wider audience. For the first time many of his poems are seeing the light of day. My Vocabulary Did This To Me is one of the few collected poems books that I've read cover to cover within weeks of buying it. I just couldn't stop and wanted to take each poem in and examine it. In many ways, Spicer fits the mold of other 1950s poets, like O'Hara, but he's also doing something strikingly different. He was gay and a rather odd fellow and had very distinct ideas about poetry and the creation of it. He died, like O'Hara, at age 40 and his last words were: "My vocabulary did this to me." If nothing else Spicer has made me realize you have to have a great last line prepared (especially if you drink a lot).

-Stephen (sorry Bryan for posting more books)

1 comment:

  1. Haha! I'm directing my husband here for my Christmas list! :)