Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Five Favorite Poetry Books of 2011

When thinking about making my end of the year list of poetry books, I wanted to avoid the word "best." Are these the best poetry books from the year? Maybe they are, but "best" is very subjective and I didn't read every poetry book released this year, so I'm sticking with the word "favorite."

I read many other great poetry books this year that were not released in 2011, but I wanted to promote these newer releases, so I kept the list focused on the past year. Whether these are the best or my favorite, these are all remarkable books that I highly recommend checking out or giving as a gift this holiday season.

1. A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos edited by David Trinidad (Nightboat Books)

If I had to name just one book that changed me this year, it would be this one. Reading over five hundred pages of poems by just one person can be a really amazing experience. Dlugos work ranges in subject matter and sometimes style, but his poems always shine light on real and everyday life. I related a lot to how he approaches poetry and brings in his life, his friends, and his experiences. Dlugos is not a super well-known poet, but I have a pretty good feeling that this is about to change. This book is important for getting his work out there. Dlugos died of complications from AIDS in 1990. Trinidad does a wonderful job of editing the collection and giving us a useful introduction, timeline, and notes section in the back. This is a collected edition that is well worth reading cover to cover. For more on my thoughts about the book see my blog post from September.

2. The Weary World Rejoices by Steve Fellner (Marsh Hawk Press)

Steve Fellner graciously wrote a blurb for my upcoming book, but that is not why his newest book is on my list. I hadn't read his newest book when I asked him to write the blurb for mine. When I did, I realized that our books actually (in some ways) deal with very similar issues. A lot of Fellner's book examines fear, death, murder, and the current state of the world we live in as gay men and people. I also love the title of the book because it feels so fitting for this moment in history and for these poems. The book also includes a series of poems dealing with the murder of Matthew Shepard. It's a quick and thrilling read and one I highly recommend.

3. The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands by Nick Flynn (Graywolf Press)

I read this book back in March, but it has stayed with me. What I love about Flynn's book, is that it showcases what you can do with poetry and how poetry can give new insight into important world and political issues. A lot of the book deals with torture and uses the testimonies of the detainees from Abu Ghraib. This book is a perfect example of documentary poetry and is well worth the read. See more about my reaction to the book in my blog post from April.

4. Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems by David Trinidad (Turtle Point Press)

David Trinidad had a good year. He edited Dlugos' collection, but also released a great collection himself that is well over 400 pages. This book showcases the best of Trinidad's past work, but also includes some great new poems. I'm a lover of pop culture in poetry and Trinidad is perhaps one of the greatest current poets doing just that. You do have to be prepared. If you read this book, you are going to read a lot of poems about Barbies and The Patty Duke Show as well as many other 1960s classics. In 2011, I really fell in love with reading collected or selected books. It's a great way to really get invested in a poet and explore their work fully. If you haven't read much of Trinidad, this is the perfect introduction.

5. Sonics in Warholia by Megan Volpert (Sibling Rivalry Press)

This book was officially released two days ago, but made it just in the nick of time. I've read quite a few poems about Andy Warhol in the past, but I've never really been amazed by them, so a whole book exploring the ghost of Andy Warhol might seem like a book I wouldn't like very much, but I loved this book. Volpert doesn't try to imitate Warhol in these poems, but rather has a strong and unique voice all her own. You learn a great deal from reading these poems and seeing the interesting, ironic, and sometimes bizarre connections between the speaker's life and Warhol's. This collection is completely made up of prose poems, which adds another interesting layer to the book. It's a fun read, but also thought-provoking in the very best ways. For more about Volpert, check out the interview I did with her back in October.

-Stephen (Poet)

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