A Few of My Favorite Things 2014: Poetry

Like all lists, this is incomplete, even as a list of my favorite poetry things of the year. It’s incomplete because I often lend, or give books that would be on this list for example, and when it comes time to draft the list I have to go with what is in the “can’t shelve” pile. The “can’t shelve” pile sits by my bed, it moves with me to the living room, I take it to the office and back when I think I’ll have time to read. The “can’t shelve” stack constitutes what for me, is the most engaging literature of the year. I’ve kept the prose for a separate pile. These are the poetry titles. Oh, and they are only the poetry titles for this year. The stack includes titles from last, from decades prior, and those aren’t included. I should also note that of course I have not read all the poetry books published this year…sadly, not even close to half the poetry books published in Canada alone…

Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine, Greywolf 2014

Rankine has been straddling the lyric/experimental line for well over a decade now, both as a poet and critic. She is responsible for the Wesleyan poetry series that started with 20th Century Poetry and Poetics: Where Lyric Meets Language, and moved on to great acclaim. Her own work operates as a social lyric praxis. Among other great reasons to buy this book is the poem/essay on Serena Williams. Many of the poems chronicle micro-aggressions. It’s a book that can change the way you feel in the world.

Gift appeal: select

Trances of the Blast, Mary Ruefle, Wave 2013

Various. Precise. Small openings. A journey from one side of the hour to the other. This is not a review. This is also a movement. Like walking into spring while carrying two small dogs under arm and balancing ice cream cones. I thought, this is a cool noise, like ice cracking under the sand. Or a sweet coffee on a street in Le Marais, except in Vermont, where poets go to think. I won’t lie. There is not a whiff of James Franco (silliest poetry book of the year?) or Kenneth Goldsmith (most ubiquitous poet of the year) in this book. Lydia Davis (most most of most) doesn’t appear either. God is mentioned. His love too. There are words here that in other hands would seem like doilies and also muffin plates. (from an earlier post and for some reason here again! was on last year’s list…)

Gift appeal: high and precise

Faithful and Virtuous Night, Louise Glück, FSG 2014

You’ve all been in love or hate with Glück for a long time. I’m just coming to her, late and intensely. One gets the feeling that there can’t be another after this book. It has all the moves of a season finale, but the kind that’s so final you can’t imagine what will come next. What will come next? After twelve books it appears the author might be letting go.

Gift appeal: high and wide

Cinema of the Present, Lisa Robertson, Coach House Books 2014

What? Did you think Robertson wouldn’t be on the list? How can there be a list without her? Do we have a more stylish poet in Canada? Robertson does nothing without her signature minimalist sentences, or more formally, pronouncements. Constructions that balance as much on logic as the sublime, and appear to float like little origami twists. She has launched a sweet new style in a generation of poets infected by her style, but no one can recreate the tension of a given line, nor do they come close to realizing the size of her vision. You won’t find a dead line in this book. Well, you won’t in any Robertson text. Anne Carson isn’t the only poet in Canada who is a magician with the essay. Nor is she the only poet who can fold the Classics in her practice with such ease. Though, for Robertson–as we learned from The Weather–it’s the classics by way of the Romantics.  No one is more stylish, no one is thinking through things as deeply. No one has a larger, more diverse and eclectic library at her fingertips, and no one uses that information so judiciously and flagrantly. Not surprisingly then, neither does any other Canadian poet elicit the kind of fanatical adoration Robertson encounters. If she allowed it, poets would hike her up and crowd surf her to the stage when she reads.

Gift appeal: wide

The Poetic Edda, Jeramy Dodds, Coach House 2014

I’m partial to Icelandic literature and also the work of Jeramy Dodds so this is an easy inclusion.

Gift appeal: wide

The Albertine Workout, Anne Carson, New Directions 2014

Carson on, or in, or with, or about, or alongside, or side long, or betwixt le Proust, again, what is not to like?

Gift appeal: wide

Nope, Wait, Yup, Definitely Still Hate Myself, Rob Fitterman, UDP 2014

Funny. So funny. Funny. Conceptual writers try to be funny. They think funny, they often miss the mark. This one, and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Fortified Castles (Talon 2014) both hit the mark.

Gift appeal: wide

In Defense of Nothing, Selected Poems, 1987-2011, Peter Gizzi Wesleyan 2014

Another case of a selected showing me how to read a poet I’ve been resistant to. Several poets I respect have nodded to Gizzi. You can see why. This poetry is almost too slight for me–but I like the surprising views.

The Second Sex, Michael Robbins, Penguin 2014

Jason Guriel suggests that Robbins should have rethought his tactic a little more before releasing a second book that perhaps relies too heavily on the buzz and moves from his first monster hit Alien vs. Predator. This feels a bit easy, but it is true it’s more of the same. Is this book better or worse? I think it’s a sophomore book. It has some hits, some less than hits. Will these moves seem tired after another? Maybe. But for now, the rhymes are in and they are, in general, as surprisingly fresh as the first book. Don’t make it new, make it familiar and new. That’s what he do.

Gift appeal: wide

Finally, a few I’m in the middle of, or, are not quite at a place of writing about yet, but still want to mention because they are still engaging me:

Endarkenment: Selected Poems of Arkadi Dragomoshchenko, ed Eugene Ostashevsky, Wesleyan 2014

Congotronic, Shane Book, Anansi 2014

Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, Paul Vermeersch, ECW 2014

Corporate Relations, Jena Osman, Burning Deck 2014

This Blue, Maureen N. Mclane, FSG 2014

Ordinary Hours, Karen Enns, Brick 2014

Satisfying Clicking Sound, Jason Guriel, Vehicule 2014

Angular Uncomformity, Don McKay, Goose Lane 2014

Peacock Blue, Phyllis Webb, Talon 2014


Pst, your project is showing. No, wait, your project isn’t just showing, it’s blinding me! Yes, this year I noticed that many of the first books that came across my desk were heavy on the project. I know that it’s important to have the project–every conceptual book lives or dies by the project–but we appear to have reached the point where the project is the BOOK. This means, as Kenny Goldsmith has pointed out, that we can simply read about the project and forgo the book (shudder, f’en shudder), or at best, we can approach the texts like novels. This is great if the poems proceed with that kind of energy–a la Lisa Robertson, or Anne Carson, or Louise Glück, or even some of Goldsmith. But so many don’t. They fail to compel on the whole, or dazzle in the particular. Maybe we are asking too much of the first book? Maybe not all books need to be book length projects….

On the other hand, there were a few that really stood out. I recommend the following for those beginning to think about their first book:

the place of scraps, Jordan Abel, Talon 2013

Inheritance, Kerry-Lee Powell, biblioasis 2014

The Quiet, Anne-Marie Turza, Anansi 2014