My Five Favorite Poetry Books by Andrew Kozma
Or, at least, the five poetry books that have influenced me and my writing and my reading of poetry with the understanding that this list is provisional and, since it is by nature only limited to five, is definitely not comprehensive.
1. Selected Poems, W. H. Auden
God, Auden is so weird. What I love about this collection, and Auden in general, is his conflation of the formally poetic with the strange, unnatural, and fantastic. His poems can be specific in image, inscrutably abstract, and still incredibly affecting.
2. 77 Dream Songs, John Berryman
Yes, the dream songs went on and on, a project Berryman was loathe to finish. In this first collection, though, I find distilled all the strangeness of syntax and all the concerns about knowledge (what we say we know vs. what we can actually know) that resonate through Berryman’s works. These poems are proof that what makes sense isn’t necessarily sensical.
3. Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson
I love all of Anne Carson’s work, but Autobiography of Red is easiest to pinpoint as a favorite book because it’s all one poem. If there’s anyone who is best equipped to take classical stories and myths and make them anew, it’s Carson. Here, she reimagines a minor myth involving Hercules into an epic coming-of-age story.
4. Radio Crackling, Radio Gone, Lisa Olstein
Radio Crackling, Radio Gone was the first contemporary book of poetry I read that I felt kinship to, in the sense that I thought, Yes, here are poems I might’ve could’ve would’ve written. Which is to say, the poems in this book work through associative logic. They tell stories through image accumulation. The poems are phrase collections where each is understandable on its own, but is only truly understood in the gaps between those phrases, the connections that are only implied. Also, this book contains the only poem I know consisting simply of bird names that makes me want to cry.
5. bk of (h)rs, Pattie McCarthy
Since I first read this book seven years ago, I’ve been thinking about it. Thinking about it, because I’m not really sure what to say. When I finished reading the book the first time, I knew that I liked it, liked it a lot, but found it difficult to recommend because I couldn’t say what I liked about it. The poems individually are thickets of words and punctuation and distorted syntax. The voice in these poems desperately wants you to understand, and by the end of reading the book, you do — even if that understanding is most easily conveyed to others through convincing them to read the book. So why is this one of my favorite books? Because it embraces mystery with elegance and grace. Because it won’t leave me alone.