1. Denis Johnson. The Incognito Lounge. Desolate characters told through a raw, muscular language that still maintains a loose, lyrical pulse.
2. Nick Flynn. Some Ether. I love how Flynn is able to write from what seems like a dream state and yet be so grounded and emotionally searing.
3. Marie Howe. The Good Thief. For me a defining book of inventive narrative writing.
4. William Carpenter. Rain. I wish this book would come back into print. Gorgeous meditative writing.
5. Larry Levis. Elegy. Impossible to narrow it down to just one Levis book for this list.
If there were a 6th it would be Louise Gluck The Wild Iris.
BIO: J.J. Penna is a musician and poet residing in New Jersey. He received an MFA from Warren Wilson College in 2007 and is the recent recipient of Fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Atlantic Center For The Arts, Ragdale and the Vermont Studio Center. Recent work is forthcoming in Brilliant Corners, Fugue, Chautauqua Literary Review, Eclipse and Nimrod.