Favorite 10 Books of 2010 in No Particular Order

Most years around this time I like to post my list of Top 10 Poetry books, but this year's list will be somewhat different for the following reason: I didn't read a lot of new poetry this year. Well, that's not exactly true. I didn't read as many as I normally do, or enough to feel like I've got the coverage which would allow me to even justify typing up a list.

Most of 2010 was spent reading for two of my three comprehensive exams, and so this is my list of Favorite 10 Books of 2010 in No Particular Order (notice it's not a "Top 10"). Its contents have been gleaned from my exam reading lists, my general studies, and the year's leisure reading.

Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life - Martha C. Nussbaum -- I read this last summer for my Specialized Exam reading list, and blogged about it here and here.

Aesthetic Theory - Theodor Adorno -- This book consumed me for two weeks in Kansas this summer. Mornings were spent working on my poetry manuscript and afternoons were spent tracing Adorno's concentric circles.

The Widening Spell of the Leaves - Larry Levis -- Last spring, I sat down with this book again and read it straight through. It's not often that I read Levis that way. Usually I'll read sections from a particular book, or read one longer piece, but reading this way this time was instrumental in helping me figure out how to organize the longer poems in my manuscript.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned - Wells Tower -- The best collection of short stories I've read in a long time. My students can expect to see at least one of these stories next semester in fiction writing.

Language Without Soil - Gerhard Richter, editor -- Beautifully written, thoughtful essays on the contemporary implications of Adorno's writings on human suffering, aesthetic theory, and ethics.

The Norton Book of Composition Studies -- This was basically my Bible from winter to spring last year while studying for my exam in rhet/comp. Many of the essential composition theory and pedagogy essays in one place.

Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880 - D.G. Myers -- Well-written exploration of creative writing in this country. Provocative discussion of creative writing pedagogies, their evolution in American universities, and an argument for the future.

Freedom - Jonathan Franzen -- Not as good as the popular reviewers say, but it was entertaining all the way through. It's somewhat more affable than his other novels, especially The Corrections (which I prefer), and the plot kept me turning the pages. It's rare I have the patience to read a novel of this length, but Freedom kept my attention throughout. Franzen's interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air also helped to keep me reading.

Gospels In Our Image: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Poetry Based on Biblical Texts - David Curzon, editor -- This is one I started during Advent. Although I didn't get to finish it before I had to return it to the library, but it's probably one I'm going to purchase. It's a very unique anthology, and unique in the genre of Christian poetry anthologies, because of the poets included: Milosz, Dickey, Gluck, Plath, Yeats, Celan, Rilke, and Akhmatova, among others. Here's a quote from the synopsis: "The poems, which range in tone from playful to confrontational and from ironic to sublime, are set alongside the biblical passages that inspired them. The Annunciation, the Nativity, the Temptations in the Wilderness, the Sermon on the Mount, the Parables, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, are just a few of the narratives that have captured these writers' imaginations." I really had no idea how deep the Gospels' run into Twentieth-Century poetry actually is. No religious faith required for reading.

Shout Outs: I also want to give an end-of-the-year nod to a few friends who had first books come out this year:

Nick Demske - Nick Demske -- I met Nick in Tusculoosa in the fall where we were both reading for a Slash Pine Press event. I blogged about our meeting here. I haven't yet purchased Nick's debut because I'm waiting to do so at AWP when I can have him sign it. His is one first book I'm really excited to get my mits on. Here's a link to Nick's blog where he is Poet Laureate of Your Face and where you can watch him read/perform work from the new book.

American Amen - Gary McDowell -- Gary's been on a roll lately: a chapbook, an anthology of prose poems, and now his debut full-length collection. An impressive start to what will no doubt be a fine career.

Invisible Mink - Jessie Janeshek -- I wrote a little ditty about Jessie's book a couple weeks ago. Here's a link to it.

Ghost Lights - Keith Montesano -- Keith's debut is also an impressive start. I'm not going to say much more than that because I plan on reviewing the book in the next few weeks. I'll just say that I've gotten to know Keith a good bit over the last year, and I can say he's a good guy, he's a good reader, and he's a generous poet. Here's a link to Keith's blog and one to First Book Interviews which Keith now runs.

After the Ark - Luke Johnson -- Luke's someone I've become acquainted with through the poetry blogosphere and Facebook circles, and from what I can tell, he's a really good guy and a fine poet. Here's a link to Luke's blog. I've seen a smattering of poems from his forthcoming book, and this promises to be a fantastic debut, one that I'm looking forward to reviewing once I get my copy at AWP. The book will be out and available from New York Quarterly Books in just a few days, so as an appetizer, here are three poems from the forthcoming collection. Congratulations, Luke.


Pageant, Christmas Eve

Full pews lined with burning beeswax.
I was a shepherd boy tending a toddler flock.
My mother, vigilant in her pulpit, told the story
of angels. She opened her eyes wide
for Hosanna the highest, shut them
to smile out peace. She was the voice
of Gabriel, the same voice I overheard
telling my father she was going to leave.
It sounded distant then, like the plunk
and hiss of lit votives falling in a tub,
like underwater smoke. After the last hymn,
my father and I stayed up past midnight
to light new candle ornaments on our tree.
Houselights snuffed, the dark became an empty
ribcage, the tree our flickering heart.

Hospice Tape #3

Miracles of technology throttle me
less than they do my father, who wept
to see my mother, two weeks dead,

on the camcorder flip-screen,
the flickering stamp of her gaunt face.
She spoke about God and absence,

looking for one in the other,
learning to love my father
only after she had left.

Someone told me an adult life
does not begin until you see a parent die
and know it’s possible.

Needle-draws and hospital gowns,
liquid pixels and high-definition,
always light, this aperture for grief.

I rewound to where I was a child,
paused. My father left for his study,
those quiet offices fathers keep.

Retiring the Night, the Season

It’s not the light sparking
as the sun drips down, not
leaves and needles spiraling

to red clay through late afternoon
a too-cold day in October;
it’s not these things I’m guilty

of making more than they are.
Extremes trick us into breathing
meaning into empty or at least

half-full gestures, into skin
feeling like skin feels, or trees
behaving how trees ought:

birches bending to break during
an ice snap, roots finding water.
The last time I visited my father,

I sat on his patio in front
of a Dutch oven, told him
I’d split what wood he had,

would stay to make knots
of newspaper, kindling something
warm for us to gather around.

Later: fire and silence, the realization
there was nothing to say.
These flames must run their course.

We poked the smolder, let each
of our insufficient breaths
stoke whatever fire was left to burn.

Luke Johnson
from After the Ark