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The Gift of Poetry

David Starkey’s Top 10 Picks


Wondering what to buy for the bookworm who’s read everything? How about poetry? Santa Barbara poet laureate David Starkey shares his top 10 picks of recently released poetry collections.

Kim Addonizio, Lucifer at the Starlite (Norton, 2009)

Elizabeth Bishop with an attitude, Addonizio writes poems that are rigorously crafted yet as immediate and exciting as slam poetry.

Rae Armantrout, Versed (Wesleyan, 2009)

Armantrout is beginning to seem like a 21st-century Emily Dickinson: Her poems are clever, musical, and at times maddeningly cryptic. Something important is happening here, though it may take a generation or two of literary scholars to tell us just what that something is.

Adrian Blevins, Live from the Homesick Jamboree (Wesleyan, 2009)

Everyone’s got an adventure,” Blevins writes, and her own poetic adventure-in lines so long they threaten to run off the end of the page-is crammed with strange details, unlikely allusions, and the full range of emotional experiences.

Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, Slamming Open the Door (Alice James, 2009)

Sheeder Bonanno’s daughter was murdered, and the book is a memoir-in short, urgent free-verse poems-recounting the day of the murder, through the killer’s conviction, to her first, tentative moments of relief from the excruciating darkness. Probably the most powerful volume of poetry I read this year.

Brandon Downing, Lake Antiquity (Fence, 2009)

Downing has cut pictures, words, and phrases from a variety of “aging illustrated teacher’s aids, cheap kid encyclopedias, and mid-century trade journals” and come up with a book of hilarious, oddly lovely collages. Who says the avant-garde doesn’t have a sense of humor?

Geoffrey Hill, Selected Poems (Yale, 2009)

A well-chosen selection from the work of this difficult, demanding, yet vastly rewarding poet. His Mercian Hymns (1971) is still the most exciting poetic sequence of the 20th century.

Alberto Rios, The Dangerous Shirt (Copper Canyon, 2009)

Odes to dogs, pies, beetles, frogs, thunderstorms, and an ironed shirt: In concise free verse, Rios finds cause for celebration and meditation in the panoply of daily life. “Sometimes,” he writes, “happiness is all we have left.”

David Shumate, The Floating Bridge (Pittsburgh, 2008)

The prose poem as it was meant to be: witty, mysterious, eloquent, densely imagistic. Each poem is a miniature world.

Wallace Stevens, Selected Poems (Knopf, 2009)

At long last, a book of Stevens’s poems that is as elegantly made as the poems it contains. Perfect as a gift, either for the Stevens scholar or the ephebe just becoming acquainted with his work.

Wei Ying-wu, In Such Hard Times, Translated from the Chinese by Red Pine (Copper Canyon, 2009)

This magnificent translation by Red Pine (Bill Porter) makes the work of a poet who lived from 737-791 sound absolutely contemporary without ever relying on catchphrases or slang.

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