Friday, December 3, 2010

Top 10 Poetry Books I Read in 2010

It is hard to believe 2010 is almost over. I know everybody says that, but seriously this year has flown by for me. I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. With the end of the year comes the end of the year lists, which I personally enjoy. Last year, I devoted many of my December blog posts to rounding up my top ten favorites in various categories. I plan to do the same this year. Because my blog primarily focuses on poetry, I felt it was fitting to begin with my top ten favorite poetry books I read this year. Please note that not all of these books were published in 2010, but I read them all in this last year for the first time. I hope this list will inspire your own top ten lists and maybe inspired your "Christmas want list." And to the authors or editors of these books, my check better be in the mail (just kidding).

10. Almost Dorothy by Neil de la Flor, March Hawk Press, 2010

I learned about this book by following "Almost Dorothy" on Twitter. His tweets were so outrageous and often offensive that I just had to read the book when it came out. What is great about de la Flor's book is the wonderful humor he brings to his poems. Humor is often tossed aside in poetry, but I love humor, especially when it's done well and with purpose. He also does an amazing job playing with form. His poems vary greatly and challenge the notions most people have about what a poem is or should be or should look like. This also wins for the gayest title on my list. Congratulations.

9. Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama's First 100 Days edited by Rachel Zucker and Arielle Greensberg, University of Iowa Press, 2010

I wrote a review of this book back in July, so I won't go on and on about it. You can check out the review here. This book brings together an array of writers and challenges them to write poems in the moment, which is what I loved about the book. It challenged my own ideas of what poetry can do and how it can respond to everyday and political events. This book has captured a moment in our history and will be cherished for years to come.

8. One Big Self by C. D. Wright, Copper Canyon Press, 2003

This is the first book on the list that was not released in 2010, but I read it for the first time this year. It's a powerful book that once again challenges my notions of form. The book captures the experiences of prisoners in a Louisiana prison. It is raw, honest, and thought provoking. This book also gave me inspiration for the final poem I wrote for my chapbook A History of Blood.

7. Breakfast with Thom Gunn by Randall Mann, the University of Chicago Press, 2009

This is a book I recently read and reviewed on my blog. You can check out the whole review here. The book is a quick read and packs a lot into small and tight poems. It is a good lesson in restraint and compression.

6. Blind Date with Cavafy by Steve Fellner, Marsh Hawk Press, 2007

I have to be honest, I read this book only after Steve Fellner wrote a wonderful review of my poem "Against Our Better Judgement We Plan a Trip to Iran," which appeared in Knockout last spring. I wanted to know more about the poet who had so kindly written about me. I got his book and I was in love. The poem that really won me over is the long one in the center of the book called "Self-Portrait." Over this past year, I've spent a great deal of time writing longer poems and this is a perfect example of what you can do with more space in poetry. The whole book is well worth the read.

5. My Life As Adam by Bryan Borland, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010

This book is the most personal for me on the list this year. In August of 2009, I got a fan email from a guy named Bryan Borland. He told me how much he enjoyed my poetry. It was one of the nicest emails I have ever gotten about my work. I wrote back and from there Bryan and I bonded. We wrote emails to each other, Facebooked each other, tweeted each other, blogged each other, and eventually wrote a book together, which is forthcoming from Lethe Press in 2011. In the middle of all that, Bryan was completely his first book and asked me to read it. I did and absolutely loved it. I gave him as much feedback as I could and was so happy to see it published under his own press (which is taking off and doing amazing things) in early 2010. I wrote a full review of the piece back in April. Read it here.

4. The World Underneath by Richard Tayson, The Kent State University Press, 2008

I have written a lot about Richard Tayson on my blog because his first book, The Apprentice of Fever, greatly inspired me as a young gay poet. I greatly awaited his second book, but then somehow missed it when it first came out in 2008. I discovered it this past year and quickly and excitedly devoured it. What I love about this book is that it takes on a very different topic than most gay poets choose to write about: birth. He brings a unique and fascinating perspective in these beautiful poems.

3. Seriously Funny: Poems About Love, Death, Religion, Art, Politics, Sex, and Everything Else edited by Barbara Hamby and David Kirby, The Unversity of Georgia Press, 2010

I mentioned humor before and this wonderful anthology takes it to a whole new level. If you are looking for a great collection of contemporary poetry, this is for you. I read it cover to cover. Click here for my full review.

2. Narratives from America by Richard Ronan, Dragon Gate, 1982

This is the oldest book on my list. It is, in fact, as old as I am. It is also connected to my number one book of the year because I found out about this book through the other one. As I've said before, I've spent a good portion of 2010 exploring the long poem and this book helped me continue that exploration. The book is 139 pages, but contains only sixteen poems. The book is out of print and a little tricky to find, but you can get a copy on some used book sites. I highly recommend it. I wrote a more detailed review here.

1. Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS edited by Philip Clark and David Groff, Alyson Books, 2009

When I decided to write a poetry book list this year, this book was immediately my choice for number one. It is the book that has stayed with me the most since I read it. It also lead me to many other wonderful books to read. Anthologies can fail us in many ways, but sometimes one comes along that fills a much needed gap and this book is just that. It gives voice to so many poets who have faded away and some who rarely, if ever, got published during their lifetime. If I was able to teach a poetry class right now, I'd love to design a course around this book and the poets in it. It reminds me of how much work we still need to do in uncovering and rediscovering lost voices. You can read my full review here.

-Stephen (A 10)

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your list, and definitely want to check out Breakfast with Thom Gunn. I like Bryan Borland's poetry a lot, and wrote a review of his book as well.

    (I just listened to your final Brad Pitt poems installment. Very intense!)