These are the books of poetry that have been most useful to me since last April . Some of them are also the books I’ve enjoyed reading the most. Some of them are the books I think are the “best” of the year. But if I’d made those other lists: best of, most enjoyable, funniest, saddest, most important, most surprising–there would have been other books that might have knocked these down to 6th or 7th place. But, this is my list of “MOST USEFUL TO ME” books. And, they’re also great books.
1. From Old Notebooks by Evan Lavender-Smith (BlazeVOX Books)
I kept reading FON thinking, why does this work? This shouldn’t work! Meanwhile I was laughing out loud and loving it. When I finished it I thought, well, if he can do that, I can do any damn thing I want in poetry. TREMENDOUS PERMISSION.
2. Pleasure by Brian Teare (Ahsahta Press)
I read this book in manuscript form when Brian asked me to write a blurb and I cried (not teared up, cried) when I read it. I read it again when it came out. I taught it in a graduate workshop and loved watching the students love it. When reading it again I kept seeing myself in the poems, feeling, “this is what I’m doing.” It was perplexing to me how Brian Teare, whose experience is so different from mine in many ways, felt so similar to me. Working through the question of how and why I saw myself in a gay man’s elegiac poems was very helpful.
3. Grave Of Light by Alice Notley (Wesleyan)
I’m not generally a fan of big collected editions, and I think I own every single Alice Notley single volume. So, why I am suggesting this one? Because it’s awesome. I assign it when I teach “Lines and Lineage: Contemporary American Poetry by Women” because I want my students to be brought to their KNEES by the breadth and depth and POWER of ALICE NOTLEY. And they are and every time I open the book, I am too.
4. Destroyer and Preserver by Matthew Rohrer (Wave Books)
I just posted a love-fest blog about Rohrer’s book on the poetry foundation’s blog, Harriet, but I’ll reiterate. I really enjoyed reading this book. It felt important but also easy, pleasurable, human, friendly in a way that my own work doesn’t (to me). I read it while at Virginia Colony of the Creative Arts for a glorious week and this book catapulted me into putting together a new collection. Again, permission.
5. Winter: aphorisms by Sarah Vap (not published yet)
Sorry to gloat but it is one of the great pleasures of life to see a manuscript in progress from a poet I adore. This year for National Poetry month I posed a question to poets, “Is it more important to you that your work be timely or timeless and why?” People wrote back all sorts of smart responses and Sarah, well, she sent me her new manuscript as an email attachment. It answered that question for me (you’ll have to wait and read it for yourself to know) and answered all these other questions I didn’t even know I had. I read the whole thing without moving and the poems have stayed with me for days and days. It’s amazing.
I know it’s National Poetry Month and that is the occasion for this lovely list making project, but I have to say that my poems are often equally if not more than equally in informed by (inspired, formed from) novels, non-fiction and non-literary sources. I have to include a few of these:
1. Bring Down the Little Birds by Carmen Gimenez Smith: voice, scope, pathos, language, form.
2. The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff: structure.
3. Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas: everything (this is a gem).
4. Free podcast of Dharma Talk on “The Myth of Freedom” by Pema Chodron, recommended to me by my brilliant friend, Arielle Greenberg: life changing.
BIO: Rachel Zucker is the author of four books of poetry, most recently, Museum of Accidents. With Arielle Greenberg she co-wrote Home/Birth: a poemic, a hybrid genre book about birth, feminism and friendship. Zucker teaches at NYU and the 92nd Street Y. Visit her website for more information or her new blog for very little to no information.