Favorite Poetry Books of 2010
I read a lot more poetry this year than I have in years past, due largely to the work I’ve been doing as poetry editor of The Rumpus. I don’t read every book I receive–I don’t have that kind of time–but I read a fair number of them at least in part, and I love being grabbed by them. The books I’m going to talk a little about here aren’t necessarily the “best” books of the year or the “most important” books of the year. I leave those lists to people pompous enough to actually believe that they ought to be tastemakers. No, these are the books I enjoyed the most, the ones that intrigued me enough to keep coming back to them time and time again, the ones that tickled my head in some way. They’re all from writers who are relatively new in their careers; you won’t see Seamus Heaney’s latest on my list, for example (I love Heaney, but this year’s book treads the same ground he’s trod a thousand times).
These are in no particular order, and I may revisit this at some point because I will no doubt forget some.
Diwata by Barbara Jane Reyes is a terrific read–I’ve worked my way through it a couple of times already and am still trying to get enough of a handle on it so I’m not too intimidated to interview her for The Rumpus. It’s part creation myth and part multi-cultural extravaganza and all beautiful language, evocative and musical.
I Was the Jukebox by Sandra Beasley is filled with longing and heartache that’s undercut by a wicked wit. It’s hilarious and painful all at the same time. I will read anything she writes for the foreseeable future.
The Black Automaton by Douglas Kearney blew my mind the moment I picked it up. He embraces controversy, and speaks loudly about uncomfortable subjects, most notably race. But he also pushes the boundaries of poetry into the realm of word art–he had a hand in the design of his book and it’s pretty obvious he knows his way around InDesign, which makes his book interesting not only for what the poems say, but in the way they look.
I didn’t think I would love Julie Sheehan’s Bar Book Poems and Otherwise when I first leafed through it. Poems about drinking and relationships and tending bar? Isn’t that clichéd on its face? And yet Sheehan makes it work. The movement between prose and poetry is compelling, and the asides in the footnotes that riddle the text are in some cases hilarious. You can get whiplash reading this book, and that’s a good thing.
The Network by Jena Osman, by the calendar, was the second book I chose for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club, but the truth is that I wanted to talk about that book from the second I picked it up. I just got it about 3 months before we could get copies to everyone so I had to wait. It’s one of the most complex books I’ve ever read, and I suspect I’ll be rereading it more in the coming year.
Shahid Reads His Own Palm by Reginald Dwayne Betts is filled with agony and pain and I think the only way I got through the poems was because their formal nature lent them a beauty that made the subject matter bearable. “Fantasy Girl” is one of the most disturbing poems I have ever read.
I haven’t finished reading Fady Joudah’s translation of Mahmoud Darwish’s If I Were Another because every poem deserves an incredible amount of care in the reading. But I’m determined to do it. They are powerful poems and Joudah does an incredible job in bringing them to life in English.
That’s seven for now. I’ll come back with more if I stumble across them in one of my many reading spots. I’d talk a little about my next selection for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club, Kristen Kaschock’s A Beautiful Name For a Girl, but that one doesn’t officially come out until next year, and I should save it for next year’s post.