TMR’s poetry readers share the best books we’ve read in the last year.
Arian’s pick: Rough Day, Ed Skoog (Copper Canyon, 2013)
Ed Skoog’s newest collection of poems, Rough Day, navigates the potential of language to make us into the world and negotiates the spaces that we are ultimately born into. These poems reconcile the virus of restlessness that permeates our lives, and more importantly, how language is not artifice, but rather infinite possibility—and infinitely animating. The restlessness of these poems is partially predicated upon the stripped-down lyric form (every poem is titleless; each place that is written within or about is nameless; punctuation is a phantom) being in direct conversation with the tension of rootlessness and possibility, and partially reliant on the speaker’s mind troubling through the fugitive state of language. The poems in Rough Day say something about how we are quickened through language and in life, and how that wandering, that violent restlessness, propels us through the spaces we inhabit – whether those spaces be in mind, in language, or somewhere within the vastness of America with this book of hymns in our hands.
Emily’s pick: The Trees The Trees, Heather Christle (Octopus Books, 2011)
When Heather Christle released The Trees The Trees, she published her phone number online so strangers could call her and hear her read a poem for them. A friend of mine called and cried on the phone after she read. It’s not that the poems are especially melancholy, but they do hit a certain emotional release valve in the brain. I called and heard “Soup is One Form of Salt Water”—which turned out to be one of my favorites in the book when I read it later on—a poem about borscht and brides and the sea and alienation. All the poems in The Trees The Trees skip across the surface of images this way, from the satisfyingly concrete (“there were four thousand brides left in Iceland”) to the grandly abstract (“my love for you is louder than I know”), all in prosey blocks punctuated with tiny gaps, a natural rhythm of clauses and jamming-together of jangling thoughts. This is the kind of book that, if you read it on the bus ride to work sitting next to a stranger, will make you want to turn to the stranger, who may or may not appear receptive to this sort of thing, and say, “I’ve got to read you this poem!”
Jeff’s pick: Pink and Hot Pink Habitat, Natalie Lyalin (Coconut Books, 2009)
Natalie Lyalin’s 2009 collection is bombast through and through. In the title poem, the speaker urges us away from college choices—backhands them, to be exact—and asks that we show off our closets, which are full of relics: corsets and slovenly coats. Lyalin is interested in exposing our inner worlds, from our pink gums in “Dusseldorf is for Sisters” to playing with language that doesn’t yet exist in “Jeffrey Bloodhound Sans.” Pink and Hot Pink Habitat is a book of surprise, revelation, and reinvention—a funhouse on fire.
Lisa’s pick: Crush, Richard Siken (Yale University, 2005)
What I like about Crush, winner of the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, is the way Siken accomplishes the rare distinction in poetry of being a “page-turner.” This book is addicting. Siken writes about panic without saying “panic” and writes about obsession without risking cliche sentimentality or becoming predictable. In addition to panic and obsession, this is a book about love, all its best and worst parts. While Siken is certainly devoted to emotions, he is also interested in the physical body. In this book, bodies and feelings are dangerous business. Siken’s book is ultimately a series of vulnerable moments, moments that are gentle but violent, and innocent but too grown up. His book stands out for its ability to talk about both the beautiful and ugly sides of human desire that make the reader feel sympathy for the speaker. Crush is a success because of the way it makes us ruminate about our own vulnerability.
Here’s a link to Richard Siken reading the first poem from Crush, “Scheherazade.”
Sam’s pick: It Becomes You, Dobby Gibson (Graywolf, 2013)
The best book I read in 2013, or the one that comes to mind first, is Dobby Gibson’s It Becomes You. Its meditations can be quick and jumpy, or extended explorations of states of place and mind. The long title poem is a punctuation mark to end the collection and my notes in the margin read something like, “wow!” “boom!” and “damn!” It flits between looking at relations, economics, theories on enjoying jazz, and theories on heaven all with aphoristic playfulness, through the distorted lens of an ever-shifting, never-constant sense of self. “You emerge back into the street light / to carve your own likeness out of thin air, / one you’ll never recognize long enough / to call done.” Damn.
Click here to watch a motionpoem of Dobby Gibson’s “The Painter.”
Also, check out my interview with Dobby Gibson in Coldfront Magazine.