Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Year in Review, pt. 4: Poetry

A delightful overflood of poetry in recent years—below are just a handful of favorites, some avowedly fantastical, some marvelous in their effect upon me. A personal list with no pretensions to authority. Write a comment on this blog, or write us at drabuzzi AT earthlink DOT net...query, comment, challenge, add your own favorites.

Special thanks to Erzebet YellowBoy and the team at Cabinet des Fees/Scheherezade’s Bequest, to Amal El-Mohtar, Jessica Wick and Oliver Hunter at Goblin Fruit, Kate Bernheimer and the team at the Fairy Tale Review, and Mike Allen at Mythic Delirium for curating many wonderful treats. Also to Matt Kressel for making poetry such a big part of Sybil’s Garage, and to Tim Green at Rattle and Jennifer Van Buren at Mannequin Envy for being champions of the fantastical.

In a super-special category of its own is Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist, a love letter of a novel to and about Poetry.

Eye of Water (2005) by Amber Flora Thomas. “Lost in the philosophies of the Bible, / a flower pressed more than a decade ago/ slips its closure: purple crepe/ with brown veins flattened into flaw” (“Harvest”); “...It could be, a tongue held in the ear hears better/ / the bitter lore: the clatter of stones under a wave, the deluge/ of flies in the beach grass.” (“The Divined Shore”).

Sonya Taafe consistently takes us beyond the fields we know. Start with her 2005 collection Postcards from the Province of Hyphens. “Kaddish for a Dybbuk,” “The Geneaology of Dreams,” “Milochael,” “Harlequin, Lonely,” “Prophesy”...

Lobster & Canary posted earlier this year, with great enthusiasm, about Nathaniel Mackey’s Splay Anthem (2006).

Reaching back to Jabberwocky 2 (edited by Sean Wallace, 2006) for two that I keep pondering: “Sir Walter Raleigh in Guiana” by Veronica Schanoes, and “Ouroboros Time” by Yoon Ha Lee. Formally they could not be more different, but each causes me to think long and hard.

Another strong collection in 2006, the first Mythic anthology (ed. Mike Allen), for Theodora Goss’s “Beauty to the Beast.” (Goss’s prose is lush as well—if you haven’t already, read her 2006 story collection In the Forest of Forgetting.)

Jennifer Maier’s Dark Alphabet (2006) contains several of the poems I have re-read most: “Blue Willow,” “The School of Weeping,” “The Mergansers.” Elegant, spare, with a word or three in each one that lodges with you forever. I eagerly await her second collection.

Yet another from 2006 (Lobster & Canary compress time for the sake of poetry, don’t you know?): Terrance Hayes’ Wind in a Box. For a taste of his work, read “The Blue Bowie” from jubilat nr. 6.

Still in 2006, clearly a bumper year: After by Jane Hirshfield. “What is Usual is Not What is Always.” Her critical thoughts about poetry move me too.

Bring Me Her Heart by Sarah Getty (yes, from 2006). Another example of why the small presses matter so dearly—in Getty’s case, it’s Higganum Hill Books. Getty captures the dread and beauty of myth and fairytale.

Jynne Dilling Martin’s “Reasons to Consider Setting Ourselves on Fire” (in the New England Review, 27:4, 2006) has one of the best opening lines I’ve recently read: “Maybe, pilgrim, if I let you sleep on my floor tonight, tomorrow/ every house on this block will burn to the ground except mine.”

Graywolf in 2007 bundled many of Alice Oswald’s poems into Spacecraft Voyager 1. Oswald’s voice is riverine like her subjects—fluid, smartly shimmering, hiding its source, running on beyond the reader. Reading Oswald, I am Smith of Wootton Major...on the marches of Faerie, unsure if the crows I see are birds or messengers from the Elven-King, or both.

Putnam did us the same favor in 2008 with Linda Bierds’ Flight: New & Selected Poems. I love the warmth of her poems, the melodies, and her use of historical subjects.

Ausable did likewise in 2008 with Eric Pankey’s The Pear as One Example: New & Selected Poems 1984-2008. I am still getting to know his new poems but keep coming back to, for instance, “Splendid Things” and “Unfortunate Things.”

In “The Green Issue” of the Fairy Tale Review (June, 2007), Paula Bohince’s “The Little Moths”: “...like swimmers or silk puppets, milky/ and dreadful as phantoms/ in stark daylight./ / Sister, are we the only ones/ who see them?”

Sandra Kasturi’s collection The Animal Bridegroom (2007). Sandra is co-founder (with her husband Brett Savory) of Chizine Publications/CZP, who published my first novel. I am very proud to be published and edited by someone with Sandra’s remarkable gifts. Neil Gaiman introduces The Animal Bridegroom—Sandra deserves all the praise he gives it.

Sharon Dolin’s poetry teaches me more about form and prosody than anyone else’s. I love her latest, Burn and Dodge (2008). I also love Serious Pink. I keep thinking about “Theater of Memory” from Heart Work. Dolin can sound more like Marianne Moore than Moore does, which is a very good thing for Lobster & Canary because they love Moore.

Albert Goldbarth astounds me always (he had one that I must find again, from Poetry I think, about Renaissance pigments and their ingredients—he made music out of civet musk). In “The Arc” from Poetry Daily (May 12, 2009) he refreshes Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Eleanor Rees’ Andraste’s Hair (from Salt Publishing, 2007), with its many lines like these:

“Arms raised to hug the sun
eyes like sods
ratchet-nosed, craggy
hatchet arms creak and clank


sleeping under sunless light

another sun gone

reaching obedient: she dreams.”

Rita Dove’s Sonata Mulattica this year was a tour-de-force (I am surprised that it did not get more attention). I love how she makes the 18th and early 19th centuries stand up and rouse themselves, with her gift for weaving together ancien regime idioms and our own without anachronism on either side. She had me from “A Prologue of the Rambling Sort”: “This is a tale of light and shadow/ what we hear and the silence that follows/ Remember this as we set out/ across sea and high roads.../ ...This is a story/ about music and what it does to those/ who make it, whom it enslaves...yes/ slavery of all kinds enters into the mix...”

JoSelle Vanderhooft’s The Minotaur’s Last Letter To His Mother (2007 from Ash Phoenix). Intense, dynamic, vivid. Vanderhooft deserves a wider audience.

Scott Cairns’ “Speculation: Along the Way” in Image nr. 60 (Winter, 2008-2009). Softly unexpected, restrained in its description of wonder.

Averill Curdy’s “To the Mysterie & Company of Merchant Adventurers for the Discoverie of Regions, Dominions, Islands, & Places Unknown” in SubTropics nr. 6 (Spring/Summer 2008). “As you slept/ A tin & brackish twilight/ / In the ward’s white estuary, ten thousand wings/ Of the great night migrations/ / Shadowed the bound earth, but I’d finagled away/ Your grey peregrine suit.”

Meghan O’Rourke’s “My Life as a Subject” in Poetry (June, 2008). “We also had a queen,/ whetted by the moon. And/ we her subjects,/ softening in her sight.”

Victoria Davis had her first two poems published last year, in Epiphany’s summer/fall issue. Read “Your Dames Blanches.” I look forward to her first collection.

Catherynne Valente’s A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects (2008). Valente brings her storytelling skills to her poetry—these are tales told in verse.

Clayton Eshleman’s long, ekphrastic piece “Tavern of the Scarlet Bagpipe: On Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights” in Jacket nr. 36 (2008) is stunning. A poem fit for its subject: endlessly fascinating, macabre. One of my favorite of favorites the past few years. You can read it in its entirety here.

Sarah Lindsay’s Twigs & Knucklebones (2008). Her Kingdom of Nab is a strange place indeed. Visit it often. Start with “Unreliable Narration.”

Imtiaz Dharker’s “The Missing Piece” in "Unmapped: The Indian Poetry Issue", a special number of The Literary Review, edited by Sudeep Sen (Spring, 2009).

Alex Dally McFarlane’s “The Wat” in Sybil’s Garage nr. 6 (May, 2009).

Jonathan Monroe’s “Demosthenes’ Legacy” in Drunken Boat nr. 10 (Spring, 2009). Here’s the premise: “Recently recovered on the shore of an unnamed island off the coast of Crete, the following selections from Demosthenes’ Legacy—once thought to be an anthology of dictionary entries disguised as homophonic fragments or misplaced maxims, interspersed with a series of biographical accounts—have since been verified by a panel of scholars as the long missing core of the collection of “word-pebbles,” or “pebble-poems,” which the oracular orator rolled round on his tongue, overturning, with dogged determination, the caustic condition to which he was born, which denied and defined him, his destiny.” Read more here.

Richard Jeffry Newman’s translation “The Teller of Tales Tells You This” in The Dirty Goat nr. 21 (2009) from Abolqasem Ferdowsi’s 10th-century Persian (world!) classic The Book of Kings. See Zahhak “on his ivory throne, his turquoise crown upon his royal brow,” see Feyradoun battle the usurper, feel the hammer strokes of Kaveh the blacksmith as he makes the weapon that will allow Feyradoun to “deliver that dragon to the dust.”

Elise Paschen’s forthcoming Bestiary (Red Hen sent me an advanced copy). I am still getting to know these creatures. My notes read, in part: “Paschen finds the mythic in the mundane; shows us miracles we make without knowing”; “Flycatcher’s Fall”; “ ‘The dome contains jungles’ ”; “ ‘His words like fish swim through my bones’ ”; “she transforms private grief.”

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