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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.

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This month—April—we’re taking time to share five favorite poetry books. Each day, a writer (often a poet) will share their five favorite books by authors living or dead. We hope that this introduces you to new-to-you writers, new-to-you books, and to the authors of the lists themselves. Arielle Greenberg shares this list with you today:

1) Deepstep Come Shining, C.D. Wright–I recommend this book all the time, a lyrical, nonlinear road trip that nonetheless benefits from a cover-to-cover reading, and everyone I recommend it to loves it. To my mind, it strikes the balance between accessibility and innovation in a way few books of poetry do. And it’s so deeply American, and regional. That aspect of it makes me very happy.

2) Fort Red Border, Kiki Petrosino–a new book, a first book by a young poet, this knocked my socks off. Bold, heartfelt, full of lush language, at once elegant and honest, engaged in issues of class and race and gender, this book is absolute pleasure. My students adore it, too.

3) Museum of Accidents, Rachel Zucker–Rachel is one of my best friends. It’s nice to have a best friend who is also one of your favorite poets. I really love every one of her books, and this just happens to be the latest, but yeah, it’s incredible. In it, she’s really funny and also really, really serious, and really introspective and also really outward-looking. I love that people sometimes tell me, very sincerely, that they love this book called Museum of Accidents, without knowing that I talk to its author almost every day of my life.

4) Lucky Coat Anywhere, Michael Burkard–I actually have not read this book, Michael’s latest, yet, but I will love it, I promise. Michael was my mentor in graduate school and I am indebted and in thrall to his singular voice and vision of poetry as a medium that can be utterly without pretension while still being one of the strangest, most dreamlike means of expression possible. I think of Michael’s work as visionary. I think of Jean Valentine in the same breath. (So here’s how I sneak Jean Valentine illegally on to this list.)

5) Poetry State Forest, Bernadette Mayer–I find this book, like some of Mayer’s other books, a bit hit or miss: it’s kind of a mess in some ways. Some poems are incredible and others just don’t work for me at all, and the chronology is completely confusing. But that’s also what I admire most about this work: it’s completely human, completely flawed, and totally fresh and present and funny and serious and wild. I read this book this past fall and it had a huge impact on my own writing, I think, more than perhaps any other book I read this year (and I’ve read a lot of great books this year), so I’m choosing it for that, even though I think Mayer’s Midwinter Day is, page for page, probably more of a “masterpiece” than this book is. I feel like I don’t always want to read a masterpiece! (In fact, I maybe mostly don’t.)

BIO: Arielle Greenberg is co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of Home/Birth: A Poemic, and author of My Kafka Century, Given and several chapbooks. Ugly Duckling Presse will republish her chapbook Shake Her in 2012. She is co-editor of three anthologies, most recently Gurlesque
with Lara Glenum, and is the founder-moderator of the poet-moms listserv. She left a tenured position in poetry at Columbia College Chicago in 2011 to move with her family to a small town in rural Maine.


The following post is by Amanda DeMarco. When I moved to Berlin, I hoped blogging would help me come to terms with my new surroundings. Living abroad is an enriching experience for a poet, but it’s also traumatizing. You lose yourself to it, you fortify yourself against it, and (hopefully) you eventually negotiate a personal […]


John Poch, editor of 32 Poems Magazine, starts off April’s Poetry Month Celebration with his list of the five poetry books he thinks you need to run out and buy. Tune in tomorrow—and the rest of this month—for more poetry book recommendations by poets you know and love. 1. The Last Predicta by Chad Davidson […]

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Readers, I’m here today to talk to you about rejection.  Because, you know, I’m sort of an expert on this topic.  I have enough rejections to wallpaper my small apartment.  I have enough rejections to line my cats’ litter box for years.  I have enough rejections to design a new paper airplane daily for the […]