Inspired by the Telegraph’s list and as a companion to my list of Ten Best Books of Poetry from Dead Poets I here present my top ten favorite books of modern poetry written by poets who at the time of writing are alive. Catchy title, I know. I should mention that I’m drawing from a shelf that carries 200+ books of poetry. So while I may not be an expert in the field I’m no neophyte.
In every book, or in every book worth reading, there is a period of conversion (or if you want to use an insipid description: of falling in love) that must take place before a book can begin to work on your mind. I remember the moment when the scales fell off and Geri Doran’s debut book began to open unto me. I’ve written a full review that can be found here: The Unnameable Holy.
There’s something very much like bungee jumping in reading the poetry of Matthea Harvey. In her debut volume she leaps from object to object as though stone to stone crossing a stream and we are dragged along or carried aloft by her intense delight in the world. A full review of her third book “Modern Life” can be found here: So This Is How You Live in the Present.
For a book so framed and focused on snow, so dark with winter, there is a brightness and a warmth that breaks out constantly that transforms the world much like snow. Dobby Gibson’s first book is centered on the delights of veiling and unveiling that the world undergoes. The title is not, as you would think amongst the frigid imagery, the earth’s poles, but rather opposites; the book presumes a divide, a barrier that must be overlooked or healed.
A short review can be found here: The Synapsis of Faith.
A short review can be found here: War in the Heart.
Thomas Lux writes poetry that takes a metaphor and draws it out with as much wit as he can muster (a good example here) or he will tell a story with an eye toward oddball humor and in each case he manages to make a sentiment that resonates deeply. The final line in “Grain Burning Far Away” I count as among the finest ever written.
I like the idea of jazz more than jazz itself. I’m more appreciative of Blues, but when a poet writes poetry inspired by jazz or the Blues I tend to stay away. However, Kevin Young’s book of Blues poems are so striking and so winning that he’s opened up the whole genre for me. You can watch him read a selection from the book here.
There was a time when I felt women didn’t write notable poetry. When this got out a female friend of mine gave me a collection of poetry written by women. Of the modern stuff I had read, most talked about their pubescent bodies, giving me keen insight into the mind of the editor who published it. This book was no different. But with my discovery of Annie Dillard and this Pulitzer Prize winning book changed my mind.
Let’s be honest, Edna St. Vincent Millay was not a very good poet. Honest still, she was better looking than she was talented. The full disclosure: I’m always skeptical toward good looking female poets. Call it the Edna Effect. So for both Rita Dove and Aimee Nez, they had to work uphill to earn my admiration. In these poems she makes her cultural heritage seem inviting all the while maintaining its mystic and charm.
When Donald Hall’s wife, Jane Kenyon, died after a prolonged battle with leukemia he went on to write a series of heartwrenching poems dealing with the aftermath. His eye for detail, his metrical acumen, and his shamelessness in self-depiction make for an amazing read.