Even though the light is coming back, there is still plenty of darkness (actual and perhaps metaphorical to go around. Thank you Terri Windling for reminding me of this beauty.)
What is the single most important thing for a young poet to know about writing poetry?
Today’s answer, since tomorrow’s would surely be different: Write the poem that only you could have written.
Trust your experience of the world, of your own life, of the poem. Trust that the world matters, that your life matters, that your words matter. Then doubt all these things enough to ask if what you’ve written is sufficient, surprising, contains art’s mysterious surplus. Has the poem found something that it, and you, did not know before it was written? Have you found fully and accurately the images, the phrases, the story, the feeling, the arc and surge of transformation? Then trust again, because if you only doubt, you will overwork the dough until no living yeast remains in it; if you over-doubt, you will try to please others instead of your own sense of the poem, of your life, of the world. Be willing for your work to be odd, peculiar, to be itself in the way a giraffe is itself and knows no other shape or gait of being. By such strange inventions of existence, the poem becomes the poem, the world becomes the world, a person becomes, perhaps, a more fully human person.
2018 didn’t quite go the way I thought it would. I could say that it was better and worse. I could enumerate all the broken pieces and all the shining moments. Every life has such. Mine is nothing special.
After a picture-book snowy December, we are pounded by rain, raveled by high winds. The gracious curve of the snow banks is now pocked and dirty, broken limbs, unburied trash, dog shit. And yet, a junco landed on the railing outside my window and clearly looked me in the eyes. There was a break in the cloud cover this morning unveiling a tiny sunrise, all golden and pink for the few minutes it held open.
2019 comes apace, a date I could not have even imagined when I was a child. The world now is different and the same. Politics eerily repeating itself like a warped tape, but I take a breath and there is ocean, rain, tomatoes to grow.
Books to read. And so, I cross the threshold to the new year, the new list. I’ve been keeping a reading list for a decade or more, and how I wish I started sooner. Looking back, I see patterns, interests evolve and then fade away. But poetry. Oh, poetry remains. So this year I read 138 books, 82 of which were poetry collections. I’ve listed them below in alphabetical order by title. A rich stew of ideas, language, and heart’s blood.
May the new year find us all looking toward the light. May we listen well. May we feel heard. May we not forget our place in the web of all life on this planet. May we remember that kindness is better than money. May no person be made to feel less than human, less than worthy of compassion. May we find teachers that help us become the most full expression of our hearts.
And may we read some poetry that connects us to each other.
Poetry Collections Read 2018
A Sleepwalk on the Severn by Alice Oswald American Purgatory by Rebecca Gayle Howell American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins by Terrence Hayes Anaphora by Kevin Goodan Be With by Forrest Gander Bind by Christine Murray Bird-Woman by Em Strang Bloodroot by Annemarie Ní Churreán blud by Rachel McKibbens Bread fro a Stranger’s Oven by Janlori Goldman Break the Glass by Jean Valentine Bucolics by Maurice Manning Cairn by Peggy Shumaker Ceremonial by Carly Joy Miller Companion Grasses by Brian Teare Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil by C.D. Wright Corpse Whale by dg nanouk ok pik Dear Almost by Matthew Thorburn Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith Echolalia in Script: A Collection of Anemic Writing by Sam Roxas-Chua Ends of the Earth by Kate Partridge Extra Hidden Life, among the Days by Brenda Hillman Feast Gently by C.G. Waldrep Feel Free by Nick Laird First the Feathers by Amanda Bell Flight by Chaun Ballard Fur by Grace Wells Geomantic by Paula Meehan Human Hours by Catherine Barnett If You Have to Go by Katie Ford Inside, Outside, Morningside by Marjorie Kowalski Cole Insistence by Ailbhe Darcy Joy: 100 Poems, edited by Christian Wiman Lessons on Expulsion by Erika Sanchez Lies by Doireann Ní Ghríofa Liffey Swim by Jessica Traynor Maiden Names by Martin Dyar Miraculum Monstrum by Kathline Carr Notes from the Journey Westward by Joe Wilkins Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil Once in the West by Christian Wiman Randomer by Colm Keegan Rising, Falling, Hovering by C.D. Wright Rock Piles Along the Eddy by Ishmael Hope Ruination Atlas by Sarah Pape Sailing the Forest by Robin Robertson Saudade by Traci Brimhall Saying Your Name Three Times Underwater by Sam Roxas-Chua Scavenger Loop by David Baker Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey by Hayden Carruth Secure Your Own Mask by Shaindel Beers So Far So Good by Ursula K. LeGuin Some Say the Lark by Jennifer Chang Something Yet to Be Named by Kersten Christianson Songs from the Blue River by Paul Kingsnorth Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl by Diane Seuss Swithering by Robin Robertson The Astrakhan Cloak b Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill The Best American Poetry 2017 – Editor, Natasha Trethewey The Dream of Reason by Jenny George The Echo of Ice Letting Go by Julie LeMay The Emperor of Water Clocks by Yusef Komunyakaa The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven by Brian Teare The Glacier’s Wake by Katy Didden The Grief Performance by Emily Kendal Frey The New Testament by Jericho Brown The Rain Barrel by Nicholas McLachlan The Spirit Level by Seamus Heaney The Undressing by Li-Young Lee Things as It Is by Chase Twichell This is Yarrow by Tara Bergin This World by Teddy Macker Thrust by Heather Derr-Smith To Those Who Were Our First Gods by Nikole Brown Tough Luck by Todd Boss Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith Water and Salt by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha Witch in the Bushes by Rita Ann Higgins Witch Wife by Kiki Petrosino With the Dogstar as My Witness by John Fry Woman Reading to the Sea by Lisa Williams
Let us consider the work. And for me, words are the work, poetry is the work, the soil is the work, the bright shattering broken bludgeoned beautiful world is the work.
“I don’t mean it’s easy or assured, there are the stubborn stumps of shame, grief that remains unsolvable after all the years, a bag of stones that goes with one wherever one goes and however the hour may call for dancing and for light feet. But there is, also, the summoning world, the admirable energies of the world, better than anger, better than bitterness and, because more interesting, more alleviating. And there is the thing that one does, the needle one plies, the work, and within that work a chance to take thoughts that are hot and formless and to place them slowly and with meticulous effort into some shapely heat-retaining form, even as the gods, or nature, or the soundless wheels of time have made forms all across the soft, curved universe—that is to say, having chosen to claim my life, I have made for myself, out of work and love, a handsome life.”