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favorite poetry books

A bunch of Poets have already named many of the books that were on my first version of this list–Arielle beat me to three of my favorites: Museum of Accidents by Rachel Zucker, Deepstep Come Shining by C.D. Wright, and Fort Red Border by Kiki Petrosino. Eric Pankey listed Sightseer by Cynthia Marie Hoffman, which is a luminous first book, and J.J. Penna has my all-time favorite book on his list: The Incognito Lounge by Denis Johnson–and clearly J.J. and I are poetry twins separated at birth, because I also adore Nick Flynn’s Some Ether and Larry Levis’s Elegy. So on to some other books I’m digging right at this very minute:

Nox by Anne Carson—an exquisite art-book-in-a-box elegy for her brother, a collection that’s so beautifully constructed of fragments of letters and poems and textual objects that when you open it you’ll feel like you’re unfolding a one-of-a-kind sculptural experience that will make even the most diehard kindle fan believe again in the tactile power of the book.

String Light by C.D. Wright—this book is out of print, but all of the poems from the original book other than two of them are in Steal Away: Selected and New Poems. From String Light, I’ve learned about the sheer range of poetic forms and styles one book can hold. Plus it’s really fun to read.

Two books I’m anxiously awaiting: Clean by Kate Northrop (due out any day now from Persea Books) and Quan Barry’s Water Puppets (due out from U of Pittsburgh Press). Both women are formidable poets, and I go back and read their earlier books often (Northrop’s Back Through Interruption and Things Are Disappearing Here, and Barry’s Asylum and Controvertibles).

Book that’s currently on my nightstand: Bringing the Shovel Down by Ross Gay – I can’t wait to dig into it!

BIO: Erika Meitner is the author, most recently, of Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls (Anhinga Press, 2011), and Ideal Cities (Harper Perennial, 2010), which was a 2009 National Poetry Series winner. Her poems have appeared most recently in VQR, Tin House, Indiana Review, The New Republic, APR, and on Slate.com. She is currently an assistant professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she teaches in the MFA program.

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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.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed the previous 28 days of poetry book recommendations from more than 30 poets. For National Poetry Month, we’re pleased to have brought you roughly 175 poetry book recommendations from 35 poets in 30 days. Here are five more from Erin Elizabeth Smith: From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and […]

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Today’s recommendations of favorite poetry books comes to us from Maryland poet Joshua Gray. Shame on me. Seriously. What a wonderful little assignment from 32 Poems — list your favorite five single-author poetry books for National Poetry Month. I definitely have my five favorites, that’s not the problem. The problem is when it comes to […]

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Shh…we’re part of 30 (maybe 35) poets sharing their five favorite poetry books during National Poetry Month, which is almost over! Although the month comes to a close, the recommendations live forever on the 32 Poems blog. Don’t believe me? This post about how the five favorite poetry books idea came to be tells you […]

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