• The Best Poetry of 2009: A Baker’s Dozen

    By Herald de Paris Contributor's Bureau on December 31, 2009

    By Alice Anderson, Literary Editor
    SACRAMENTO (Herald de Paris) – Invented as a way for bakers to avoid being blamed for shorting their customers, the term baker’s dozen echoes with all things free or extra and aplenty. 2009 was a great year in poetry, if by great one is referring to the quality, originality, and sheer beauty of the collections published this year. A Top Ten list simply won’t do for 2009. Truth be told, this year’s new crop of collections could better be listed in a top twenty or top fifty, but any literary editor knows that not even a die-hard poet would keep pace with a list like that. So in no official order, we look back on a year in poetry through these thirteen outstanding, staggeringly stirring collections.

    1. Chronic, D.A. Powell (Graywolf) D. A. Powell, in his fourth collection is (in his wildly original, jittery-syntaxed, manifesto of bitter heartbreak and erotic cruelty) at his personal best. These poems do not fail to not just draw the reader in but to do it with a sharp hook and desperate tug, leaving her open-mouthed and out of familiar waters. Waldrup accomplishes everything a poet is meant to do: he places love, disease, pop culture, darkness, universality, and wit on pure white paper and constructs exhilaration. Best of all, the poems speak provocatively not to the ages or ideas, but directly to the dear, close, hovering reader.

    2. Museum of Accidents, Rachel Zucker (Wave Books) How does she do it, Miss Zucker? At once teetering on the brink of domestic despair and endless drop of lustful oblivion, these poems fit no ordinary genre, though are probably most like what Sharon Olds calls, “the apparently confessional.” Confessions happen in quiet places and bring voice to secrets. Indeed, Publisher’s Weekly declared that these poems – for some readers – may incite fear or, “disgust.” Zucker claims her bravado, “an antidote for despair,” and many hungry secret-keeping souls will find themselves herein.

    3. All Night Lingo Tango, Barbara Hambly (Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburg Press) When was the last time a collection of poetry had you laughing out loud? Hard to recall, isn’t it? Hambly, with her virtuoso wit, is shameless. In the poem Ode to Anglo Saxon, Film Noir, and the Hundred Thousand Anxieties that Plague Me Like Demons in a Medivial Christain Allegory (yes, that’s the real title), every long line – chock full of hippie chicks and Sears and Robuck and Satan – rhymes. Imagine that. There are also a series of sonnets included, but Hambly deftly balances form with fantastic, as in Neitzche Explains the Ubermensch to Lois Lane. I imagine there are poets who find this collection almost silly. But Hambly is silly brilliant, a much-needed talent and a stealthy one at that. I believe it’s the first time ever I’ve penciled “LOL!” in the margin of a poetry collection.

    4. Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing, Gary Soto (Houghton Mifflin Heartcourt) Publishing types are forever bemoaning the task of capturing the tween and teen market. Along then comes Soto, with a collection of poems written just for this hormonally lovesick audience with an relentlessly inward sense of reflection. Grouped into two sections: “A Girl’s Tears, Her Songs,” and, “A Boy’s Body, His Words,” we find all the coming of age wonder and horror of first kisses, jealousy, rejection, obsession. Secondary teachers will find this a thrill ride on a syllabus for the black-cloaked, pimpled, aching masses haunting the sweaty, sticky halls of American middle schools. The trick is, these poems are about love and loss and danger. They’re simple and intimate. And anyone – not just tortured youth – will find them fresh, original, and true.

    5. The Dance of No Hard Feelings, Mark Bibbons (Copper Canyon Press) Lambda Award winner Mark Bibbons lands on this list for one reason – not for his pressured lyrical voice, not for his willingness to speak in the voice of panderers, not even for his passionate incitement of progressive blogs and the snarky pulp of modern ad campaigns. Bibbons has done something radical in creating an altogether new poetic form: the exploded double haiku. Sit down and write one yourself, today. I dare you.

    6. Inseminating the Elephant, Lucia Maria Perillo (Lannan Literary Selections, Copper Canyon Press) Poets everywhere adore Perillo’s Inseminating the Elephant and the luminescent, tender, humor-tinged sorrow it relays. Perillo writes unflinchingly from her true-life vantage point of a woman in a wheelchair with plain detail and matter-of-fact candor. And yet, she is a fearless chronicler of modern situations. Her poem about Viagra, with Niagra Falls’ glimmering gush starring as the main metaphor, is nothing short of titillating. Perillo stuns and seduces the reader, poem after delicious poem.

    7. Carpathia, Cecelia Woloch (American Poets Continuum, BOA Editions) Anyone who knows or reads Cecelia Woloch understands that travel is what makes this exotic creature tick. And indeed, through the sultry-voiced abundance of every lush line, Woloch’s subjects are laced with the backdrop of far-flung places. Like taking a year off to travel around the world with a lover (or two), Carpathia finds each day an intoxicating delight. Likewise, every poem, page after page, is a fine one.

    8. Rising, Falling, Hovering, C.D. Wright (paperback edition, winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize, Copper Canyon Press) In her celebrated thirteenth collection, Wright provides her readers with exactly what they expect in a Wright poem – exact language, glorious fury, and ruthless love. There isn’t one bit of fat to trim from these exact, spare poems. With an absence of excess and an exactness of expression, the poems are (simply) perfection. In the lush feast of modern poetry, Wright is a staggering party of one.

    9. Bang, Ditto, Amber Tamblyn (Manic D Press) I know what you’re thinking – what’s wrong with this Miss Anderson who dares to put Aymber Tamblyn’s (Yes, THAT Tamblyn, spelled with a Y and all) hot off the LA poetry slam ciruit in the same list with Wright’s elegant, rare verse. I’ve a wild hair. I’m forever arguing that poetry needs to be accessible to a larger, younger audience. And Tamblyn’s spunky, lyrical, unflinchingly un-Hollywood voice offers new readers a backstage pass to a bona fide young starlet’s existence. Best of all, Tamblyn is young, raw, honest, and a whole lot of metaphorical fun.

    10.  Archicembalo, G.C. Waldrup (Tupelo Press) The Archicembalo is a harpsichord built with many extra keys and strings, enabling experimentation in microtonality and just intonation. Waldrup’s new collection is well-titled. He has an unabashedly beautiful ability to construct the most lyrical, luxuriant poetry in the paragraph poem. The poems are what many poets claims to abhor: frustrating, confusing, mystifying,  th meaning neither immediately obvious nor plainly apparent. Only in Waldrup’s ornate verse does one find the rare task of deciphering bewildering passages does in modern poetry – a challenge. Ultimately, each poem is an answer to the question of its title.

    11. Rough Cradle, Betsy Scholl (Alice James Books) Scholl, poet laureate of Maine, delivers exactly what one would expect from a Maine poet. Exact language about real characters engaged in real life. These are “careful” poems in the best sense. In poems hailing travel by rail, the migration and song of birds, the delicate dance of human affection, and the rising pulse of Delta Blues, Scholl applies no-nonsense love and sparingly intricate language to all that she writes of, all that she knows, all that she loves.

    12. Live from the Homesick Jamboree, Adrian Blevins (Weslyan University Press) Well, it’s hard to deny the title – a memorable “why didn’t I think of that” moniker. And Blevins, in a relentlessly angry confessional voice, manages quite well to have a grand ol’ time being just plain mad. A celebration of growing up female in 1970’s America, Live from the Homesick Jamboree is a raucous medley of the beautiful and brutal, the heartfelt and heartless, the mind-blowing and mundane terrain of a woman’s life. The language is lush, the subject matter amusing, and the power of the poet’s voice at once charming and sharp.

    13. Teeth, Aracelas Girmay (paperback edition, Curbstone Press) Aricelas Girmay is not afraid. Not afraid to tackle any subject, and not afraid to use language both stunning and defiant. She is a political poet in the truest sense – she writes of war, genocide, rape, violence, injustice with an infusion of intimate voice, which keeps her well below the harping tones of modern political talking heads. She speaks in a low and artful growl, with lust and guts and a mixed-up cultural voice that is unfailingly all-American. In the end, Girmay gives us just the thing we don’t expect from a poet so fiery, so political, so serious – she gives us optimism, she gives us hope.


    Comments
    Brenda Mantz December 31, 2009

    Great list that will guide my poetry consumption for the cold winter months. Totally agree with Ms. Anderson. – poetry must become more accessible.

    Katie December 31, 2009

    Great list! 🙂

    Can’t wait to get my hands on some of these.

    Skye Leslie January 1, 2010

    Alice: Thanks for the great list. Off to Powell’s today t o locate some of these nominations and begin reading.

    Jay January 9, 2010

    Alice has created a compelling list. I shall be seeking out these titles based on her appraisal.

    Jim Schley January 11, 2010

    I was interested in the feature by Alice Anderson, Literary Editor of the Herald de Paris, in her selection of “The Best Poetry of 2009: A Baker’s Dozen” — however the description of G. C. Waldrep’s book appears to be “mangled in the translation”:
    “The Archicembalo is a harpsichord built with many extra keys and strings, enabling experimentation in microtonality and just intonation. Waldrup’s [sic] new collection is well-titled. He has an unabashedly beautiful ability to construct the most lyrical, luxuriant poetry in the paragraph poem. The poems are what many poets claim to abhor: frustrating, confusing, mystifying, the meaning neither immediately obvious nor plainly apparent. Only in Waldrup’s [sic] ornate verse does one find the rare task of deciphering bewildering passages does in modern poetry – a challenge. Ultimately, each poem is an answer to the question of its title.”

    Jim Schley January 11, 2010

    The very intriguing list of 2009 books was slightly confusing due to mangled text for several books, including G.C. Waldrep’s ARCHICEMBALO; Waldrep’s name was also spelled wrong.

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