Day 16: M. Scott Douglass on Five Favorite Poetry Books

April 16, 2011

Today, M. Scott Douglass of Main Street Rag shares his five favorite poetry books. Each day this month, the 32 Poems blog has been sharing the favorite poetry books of various writers and artists. Here’s what Scott had to say:

I had to think long and hard to narrow this to five books. In the end, I added a couple of also-rans from titles I have published. Forgive me if my list and/or explanations go a little long and please note: although they are numbered, they are not really in any particular order. Each book fits neatly into a particular time of my life.

1) The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster by Richard Brautigan (Dell, 1968)

My ex-wife gave me this book as a gift almost 30 years ago. It’s the only thing that has survived that marriage besides my son. What I like about it is the simplistic nature and power of the imagery. In many poems, Brautigan wraps an entire story around a single image. This was kind of an introduction to hit-and-run poetry for me.

2) Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 by Carl Sandburg (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1960)

Carl Sandburg has always been a strong influence for me since the first time I heard him read “Chicago” from a scratchy 33rpm LP album on one of those Victrolas they used to wheel from class to class in high school. He was in tune with the language of his time, the language the average Joe on the street spoke and understood. I bought two books in the gift shop when visiting his home in Flat Rock, NC: a huge three-inch hardback for the shelf and this pocket-size, 120-page book printed on cheap, browning paper. It’s like having a complete collection of one group’s music at home, but a “Greatest Hits” CD for your car. Of course, the concept predates iPods, so some folks may not be able to relate to it. It’s a book I take with me when I’m reading OPs (that’s Other Peoples’ for those who never smoked).

3) Among the Dog Eaters by Adrian C. Louis (West End Press, 1992)

Coffeehouse Poets Quarterly was a low-distribution literary magazine published by a guy name Ray Foreman out of Berthoud, CO. He published one of my poems in 1991 (or was it ‘92–who can remember these things) and on the next page was this voice that jumped off the page. I have five of Adrian C. Louis’ books, but this was the first one I bought, my sentimental favorite, and another I take with me on the road when reading OPs. His is a voice of anger, pain, irony, defiance. His imagery and language took me to a world with which I had no experience. It still does.

4) In Mad Love and War by Joy Harjo, (Wesleyan University Press, 1990)

Like Adrian C. Louis, Joy Harjo is a Native American. I first met her and heard her read her work at a festival in Asheville, NC—which is where I bought this book. Her voice is more sad than angry, but many of her images—like Adrian’s—jump right off the page. Her poem, “Legacy,” in this book is still one of my favorite poems ever because it depicts what I’ve always said to the more sensitive members of my audience when reading: great poems make you react on an emotional level—even if that reaction is disgust.

5) Here, Bullet by Brian Turner (Alice James Books, 2005)

Every Congressman, Senator, President should be required to read this book before they are deemed qualified to send young men to war.

Of the books I have published as the Big Dog at Main Street Rag, the following are my favorites and honestly rank among my favorite books, though I don’t know where I would place them if I had to weave them into the five above if I had to put these in the order of which I like best.

The Hospital Poems by Jim Ferris, (Main Street Rag, 2004)

This was the winner of our 2004 Poetry Book Award. Jim has a wry, dark humor that can backhand the reader if they’re not careful. He has a disability with his leg that caused him to spend a lot of his early years in a Shriners Hospital where they tried to “fix” him. These poems carry the story of that time of his life with humor, sadness and even a bit of bitterness.

love poem to androgyny by Stacey Waite (Main Street Rag, 2006)

Winner of the 2006 MSR Chapbook Contest. Here is a truly unique voice, a humorous voice, a person writing from a perspective that most of us will never quite understand. She brings us into her world in a way that makes us laugh and wonder simultaneously. Sometimes even cringe with embarrassment.

Something to Read on the Plane by Richard Taylor (Main Street Rag, 2004)

This was a runner up in our chapbook contest and I must admit the author is also a friend of many years. I’ve always been disappointed that we couldn’t get this title into an airport bookstore. It really is a great little book that can be enjoyed on a plane trip. The humor, imagery, and stories are easily accessible to all. These poems remind me of a family or class reunion where people sit around and tell stories they tell every time they get together and each time you hear them you laugh as if they were new.

BIO: M. Scott Douglass owns Main Street Rag press.

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