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favorite poetry books

Learn more about how 32 Poems chose to celebrate National Poetry Month with recommendations of favorite poetry books!

Today’s suggestions come to us from Ren Powell.

1. Christine Hamm’s Saints & Cannibals. (Plainview Press, 2010) I keep thinking, “Wow. I know the speaker of these poems. I know this world.”  These are family poems with their everyday objects: the salmon gills, sewing machines and “iron bitter spigots”; the everyday intimacy and pain. It’s home and it hurts, but I will return to these poems often.

2. A contemporary classic: Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia (Graywolf Press, 2002). The collection is an epistolary novel in verse. The story is an imaginative construction of the psyche of one woman who appears in a portrait by the 20C photographer E.J.Belloq. I admire how Trethewey has imbued the “missing poems” with such importance: the poems that would have presented Constance’s response to Ophelia’s needful ones.

3. 70 Faces by Rachel Barenblat (Phoenicia Publishing, 2011) is a kind of extrapolation of the Moses books. Reading these poems took me back to the stories of my childhood. The watercolor illustrations from my Children’s Bible and the disturbing narratives that kept me up nights. Part 6 of the Akedah Cycle/Vayera sent me right back to Genesis to reread and reinterpret rights and wrongs, faith and ethics. These are poems that help us grow regardless of our brand of faith or doubt.

4. Circus Poems, by Alex Grant (Lorimer Press, 2010). I just love the juxtaposition of found text and poems in this disturbing collection. A mesmerizing read and an integrated collection.

5. Lorine Neidecker: Collected Works (University of California Press, 2002). I am giving away a copy of her collected works (and a copy of my own Mercy Island
) in a drawing this month as part of Kelli Russell Agodon’s Big Poetry Giveaway
. Stop by my blog

and sign up and then hit the other participant’s blogs.

Ren Powell is an American poet, translator and teacher living in Norway. Her webpage is

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I always find it interesting to meet a writer who crosses genres. Dan is one such writer. Today, he shares his favorite poetry books.

Keith Waldrop:The Silhouette of the Bridge. Waldrop’s Transcendental Studies won the 2009 National Book Award for poetry, but I have a special place in my heart for this earlier volume. When I was studying playwriting at Brown in the late ’90s, I lived in his house while he and his wife, the remarkable poet Rosemarie Waldrop, were on sabbatical in Paris. Their printing presses (two!) were in the basement (still are?), and every bit of wall space was and still is, I’m sure, populated with a stupefying array of rare and wonderful books. My bedroom was Keith’s study, which is where he keeps his books on religion, mysticism, the occult. The Silhouette of the Bridge in particular evokes Providence for me, with a certain haunted, humorous, keen intelligence that is both Providence and Keith Waldrop to me. (Maybe Waldrop is Providence?)

Anne Sexton: To Bedlam and Part Way Back. Like many people I read this book as a revelation. And also like many young people Sexton was the reason I began to write poetry at all. I stumbled upon it on a low shelf in my school library. I was shocked that someone was courageous enough – perhaps crazy enough — to write so honestly of secrets I recognized from my own young life, my own family, and I knew immediately what poetry was for.

Seamus Heaney: The Spirit Level. Death of a Naturalist, a model “first book” in my opinion, could easily be my pick instead. The final poem in The Spirit Level, entitled “Postscript,” is almost shockingly beautiful every time I read it: “And some time make the time to drive out west…” I’m heading to the west of Ireland in a few weeks, as a matter of fact, in pursuit of that poem in many ways.

Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Poems. World famous for his short fiction, Borges’s poetry has always been quietly, deeply moving to me — humorous, meditative, forgiving and sad. He helps me make peace with myself when I can’t seem to get out of my own head.

WB Yeats: Collected Poems. I don’t know if my poetic style, such as it is, will every recover from reading too much Yeats as a young man. My love for my wife, and my love of Ireland, both sustaining romances, are forever bound up in his work. He’s the reason I went to live in Ireland in the ’90s. I remember climbing Thoor Ballylee (or “Ballyphallus,” as Pound preferred it), Yeats’ tower in Gort, and striking my forehead on the low stone lintel before spinning out dazed onto the roof and feeling quite lucky to be alive, humbled and in awe of the beauty around me — all emotions I have when I read these poems.


Dan O’Brien’s play The Cherry Sisters Revisited has just been published by Playscripts. He is currently a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy, and will serve on the playwriting faculty this summer at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His poetry has appeared recently in 32 Poems, Linebreak, storySouth, and elsewhere.

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George David Clark shares his favorite poetry books published in the last five years? Elaine Equi’s Ripple Effect (2007) Nervy little jungle gyms of wit, these poems. You read Equi for the most serious kind of play there is. Lisa Russ Spaar’s Satin Cash (2008) If poems are vehicles, Spaar’s are sports cars. Everything inch […]


These recommendations celebrate National Poetry Month and share five of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s favorite poetry books. — Well, I have so many more than five poetry books that I love, really love, so I had to narrow it down by some self-imposed parameters, so I decided to focus on books by women that used humor […]

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Kelli Russell Agodon shares her five favorite poetry books with us today. 32 Poems is sharing recommendations for five poetry books each day of National Poetry Month. What are you doing to celebrate? 1) The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception by Martha Silano: A musical and vibrant collection that moves from aliens to Zinfandel, […]