Maurice Manning, Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions (2001)
I just adore this book. Manning achieves a near-perfect balance of all the hard-to-balance qualities: humor and pathos, high and low diction, invention and convention. And I am a little in love with Lawrence Booth.
James Merrill, Divine Comedies (1976)
Here, Merrill hits his stride, managing, somehow, to make personal material epic and epic material personal. Divine Comedies contains some wonderful single poems (“Lost in Translation,” for instance), but for me the standout is The Book of Ephraim. With the genesis of Ephraim and the other spirits of the Ouija board, Merrill set in motion the 500+ page epic that would occupy him for the rest of his life.
Marianne Moore, What are Years (1941)
A mid-career book, this is Moore at her best, from the title poem to “He ‘Digesteth Harde Yron” to the “The Paper Nautilus.” The poems are strange and dense, but there’s a palpable sadness, too.
Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (1923)
Of all the poetry published in the boom of the early twenties, this is the book I don’t get tired of, home to maybe my all-time favorite poem, “The Emperor of Ice Cream.”
Mark Strand, Blizzard of One (1998)
A short book, every piece is in its proper place, Blizzard of One opens with one of my favorite poems (by Strand or anyone else), “Untitled,” which I first read in the New Yorker when I was in high school. (I clipped it and left it thumbtacked to the cork board in my bedroom for years.) Also, who can resist “Five Dogs,” a series spoken by, that’s right, five dogs?
BIO: Caki Wilkinson is the author of the poetry collection Circles Where the Head Should Be, which won the 2010 Vassar Miller Prize. She was the recipient of a 2008 Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and her poems have appeared in The Atlantic, Poetry, Southwest Review, 32 Poems, Yale Review and other journals.