Anyone who has been through the PW office and seen our desks (especially the reviews editors) has also surely seen the stacks of books we each have waiting to be taken home. These stacks tend to grow wild, as we live in small apartments already filled with piles of books. It can be difficult to justify taking more books home when you haven’t even made it through the ones that are already there. I happen to be a non-fiction editor here, and thus take home plenty of science and history and art books, but it’s always fun to cover something different, so to that end, here are five excellent poetry collections that I’ve recently read or am in the midst of reading.
Ana Božičević – Rise in the Fall (Birds LLC, 2013)
So far my favorite poetry collection of 2013, Božičević somehow combines war and trauma and sex and love in that bizarre paradox world where out of dark themes emerges total life joy. It does what in my mind great poetry is supposed to do, which is leave you reeling and ecstatic that some human made this thing that you barely comprehend but totally understand so that when somebody asks “yeah, so it’s good, sure, but what’s it doing? what’s she do?” and you stammer “I don’t know… like, everything.” (PW review)
In perhaps 2013’s biggest middle finger to “the rules of how to do things,” Starkweather—as one of the five dudes behind Birds, LLC—published his four chapbooks together in a single collection. He demonstrates his range formally, tonally, and substantively across the work as a whole. It’s fun and deadly serious, touching and playful—an impressive accomplishment that reveals his growth as a poet in the process. You can definitely read the whole thing straight through, but each book works independently of the others (for a more in-depth account, check out this long non-PW review).
Desire lights its own fuse. Desire excavates its own ruins. proxy made me squirm and squeal in its unabashed passion and rawness; wildflowers grown from a gaping wound, that’s how it heals. doyle’s prose poems are interspersed with epitaphs from David Berlinsky’s A Tour of the Calculus and the contrast between her extremity of feeling and the stark rationalism implied by the mathematics creates a polar vitality that spins into its own universe. If you want to know what it’s like to “ride” inside a clothes dryer, just read this. (long, non-PW review)
Western Massachusetts is home to one of the liveliest poetry “scenes” in the country and Tate is one of its greatest stylistic influences. Admittedly I’d only really read a solid handful of his poems here and there, but always liked them. “Selected” works, of which this is Tate’s second, are strange monsters, but so far I can’t complain. Tate works in a register, generally labeled “surreal,” that owes a debt to early/mid John Ashbery, yet is its own twisting, churning, organic/analog poem machine. I’m still leisurely working my way through this one, but it has been consistently pleasurable and a surefire source of poetic inspiration. (PW review)
Okay, this one’s kinda cheating, as I’m just re-reading it after a friend returned it, but it’s a perpetual joy. Christle’s second full-length collection is an excellent example of an artist not succumbing to what the music industry calls a sophomore slump. Composed of tight word squares punctured with breath gaps, they’re not quite prose poems, but they eschew traditional line breaks. Some Tate-ian “surrealism” is to be found here in strange, alluring characters and points-of-view, but Christle is really on her own level and one of the foremost young innovators in American poetry. This book did to me in 2011 what Božičević and doyle have done to me this year. (PW review)