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Recommended Reading for Poets’ Day

Happy Poets’ Day! I’ve been given the opportunity to write a guest post for today, so naturally, I wanted to feature as many talented writers as I possibly could. In addition to a few of my own recommendations, I’ve asked poets, writers, and readers from all over the writing community to pick a poet or poetry book of late that has blown them away, been influential to them, or is something/someone that they feel is under-appreciated, with the only stipulation being that the focus is on contemporary poets, someone you could go out and support today. Discovering writing that speaks to and inspires us is rewarding as writers, poets, and readers, and it’s only fair that those who influence our work and our experience of poetry should be recognized. There’s an ever-expanding body of talent out there, and hopefully some of these recommended poets will become new favorites of yours. I’ll start with three recommendations of my own before moving on to the responses of other writers, poets, and readers. I hope you’ll enjoy reading up on all their great suggestions as much as I did.

I don’t know when I first discovered Franny Choi’s work, but I do remember seeing this video of her performance of “To the Man Who Shouted ‘I Like Pork Fried Rice’ at Me on the Street,” a poem that spears, guts, tangles, and untangles something that is very specific to the experience of being both a woman and Asian American. The performance is bold and stark and parses reality in ways only poetry could—it moves through every permutation, every definition and analogy; it is simultaneously crude and plain and elaborate, and ultimately becomes something transformative. To me, this poem exemplifies the potential of poetry, both as a tool that can bend and manipulate and help us better understand, and also as a way to regain narrative and control. I recommend checking out the March 2014 issue of Poetry and its podcast, that features two of Franny’s poems, including this one.

A book that I wanted to highlight is Monica Ong’s Silent Anatomies, which was published by Kore Press earlier this year. This book is a hybrid of imagery and poetry, both of which take varying forms, including medical diagrams, photographs, and dictionary definitions. Ong explores the dichotomies of the medical and the personal, of family history and cultural origin. There are diagram labels filled in with lines of a poem, anatomical images of the muscles of the tongue superimposed over recipes for sio pao and tapioca custard, and poems written in the margins of ultrasound scans. What I found the most exciting about this collection was the experimental nature of combining the visual with the written in innovative ways to tell a story beyond what only words or images could do. This book requires multiple readings, first for the poetry, then for the images, and finally in combination, where you’ll approximate something closer to the full story, the entire poem. I really hope to see more hybrid and experimental poetry like this in the future. You can find excerpts of Silent Anatomies, The Glass Larynx, and The Vessel, published in Hyperallergic.

Another book I recommend is Emily O’Neill’s Pelican, from YesYes Books. O’Neill’s poems are written like careful architecture, each line building upon the next with a certainty of voice. Her poems are contemplative, not seeking to exaggerate, while still leaving us with images that are distinct and unyielding. Her poems can cut sharp, aim for the viscera, but they can also unfold slowly, like sediment as it settles into the water. The collection feels largely reminiscent and autobiographical; it parses loss, many times, it is retrospective, its voice lucid and images clear, but at times permeating toward the abstract or to a single image. As the book progresses, many of her poems show where what’s real makes way to fable, where complex realities are distilled to a single snapshot or moment:
[…] a pelican
desperate for its dead kin,
piercing its own heart.
(from “Icarus”)

Here’s a sample of what others are recommending this Poets’ Day:

Recently, I’ve been enjoying the work of a Scottish poet, Robin Robertson. His poems are often quite simple in terms of structure and language, but they have a really nice texture, full of strong images. These lines are from “New Gravity,” a poem about the impending birth of a child:
Under the oak, the fallen leaves
are pieces of the tree’s jigsaw;
by your father’s grave you are pressing acorns
into the shadows to seed.

In a growing ocean, it’s hard to single out a favorite drop, but I look at what is currently being written and what I truly believe needs to be written, and I see the future in poets like Yoni Hammer-Kossoy. There’s a humanity to his work that transcends the boundaries of politics, culture, relationships, and soul-searching that too often define poetry. In addition to his work published in various magazines, his regular tweets of micropoetry are a refreshing breath in the often suffocating, nebulous world of social media.

I read Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec in the first semester of my MFA program at the University of New Mexico. The collection made me realize how powerfully poetry can tell stories, which, in Diaz’s case, is the story of a drug-addicted brother. When you read her poems, you feel you understand what it means to love someone who hurts—both himself and others.

Just recently named poet laureate of South Dakota, Lee Ann Roripaugh’s newest book of poetry, Dandarians, makes beautiful and powerful work of the haibun genre, while also playfully exploring the slipperiness of language and moments lost in symbolic translation between her Japanese mother and herself. Roripaugh’s Dandarians is an extremely important contribution to Asian-American literature and beyond, its concern a necessary exploration of hybridity in not only the confines of genre, but language and identity.
Emily Lundgren, NEOMFA candidate

There are several well-published poets whose work influences my writing (Li-Young Lee, Louise Gluck, Kevin Prufer) but Meghan McClure is a poet whose work influences my reading. Not only do I wait anxiously for new poems/essays from this smart writer, but her list-series, Nouns, is a wonderful semi-regular list of recommended poems, books, essays, art, and whatever else may spark creative inspiration.

Everything Dies and I Guess That’s Okay by Kyla Bills: I read these poems in one sitting, and finishing the book felt like coming down from a drug I’m not cool enough to know about. It’s funny and sad and contains the lines:
i sort of want mac n’ cheese
but i also sort of want to die.
If you don’t relate to that, we can’t be friends.

Black Ocean publishes excellent poetry collections, and Matthew Henriksen’s Ordinary Sun happens to be one of the most unforgettable books I have read this past year. If you are synesthetic like me—and countless artists are—Ordinary Sun will give you a profound thrill. Metaphors in this book break like rare china—yet “breaking” can be seen here as revelation, transformation, and survival. Treat yourself to this beauty.
Roy G. Guzmán, poet, MFA program, U of Minnesota

JOYCE CHONG lives and writes in Ontario, Canada. Her fiction and poetry has been published in Cartridge Lit, Black Heart Magazine, and untethered. Her other publications can be found at joyceemily.weebly.com. She tweets excessively at @JoyceEmilyC.

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