Read More Poetry

One of the many things I love about poetry is how deeply elusive it is. Which can also be maddening. But it is the thing most compatible (at least for me) with the fact of being alive. By which I mean poetry fills the cracks, the unnoticed spaces, and can be read or composed in those places. I often found myself extrapolating some private possible irritating theory about poetry as a kind of domestic art, like bread making, sweeping a floor, folding a sheet, washing dishes…the list is endless, of course. A poet friend of mine once observed that housework is a thing that is done to be undone. Impermanent, constant, impossible to fix in one place. You can’t really get a handle on it, only move through it. Like poetry. When you try to suitably define it, it vanishes. And a poem can be almost anything at all. And the only framework is that it works on whatever terms the poet themselves has set.

So, because it is national poetry month (yes, months for things is a bit silly, I know, but there it is), here are some poetry collections I recommend:

The Affirmations by Luke Hathaway

This book floored me. Hathaway is a trans poet, as well as a librettist and a devout Christian. These are poems of transition, in all ways. What it means to be more than one thing, what it means to make a song, what it means to have faith. These are praise-poems, poems for God, an idea that very little modern poetry has time for, though I think the question of what is underneath or behind language lies close to the question of faith.

Everything, Now by Jessica Moore

Full disclosure: Moore is one of my oldest friends (we met when we were nineteen, which was not at all recently). I don’t think that diminishes the power of this book, which braids Moore’s translation of the experimental novel Turkana Boy with poems on the loss of her partner, suddenly, in a tragic accident. Everything, Now investigates what mourning is, what it means to remember a dead person, and, in the process, investigates how writing is an amplification of the work of memory.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Nelson is so well known she can verge on cliché but it’s not her fault. I had a student once who confessed other members of her cohort had made Nelson’s work into a drinking game based on how many times she mentions a specific sex act. While I get it (she can be self-consciously transgressive, and at times self-serious), her work is brilliant. This book is part poetry collection, part essay, on the color blue. And all that is adjacent to it, which, in Nelson’s hands, seems to be everything.