Some End-of-Year Poetry Picks, I won't claim these are "best of" anything; my travels were too peripatetic to read as much as I hoped, and what I read was equal parts poetry, fiction, and memoir. But these three 2011 collections made me stop, drop whatever else I was doing, and read from A to Z--in part to enjoy, in part to (selfishly) (strategically) (enviously) consider their poetics in light of my own projects. 

David Kirby 
(Louisiana State University Press)

Kirby is a born storyteller adept with dialogue, arc, and recurring cast; these ebullient, rangy poems channel the energy of rock and roll, the wry humor of middle adulthood, and the curiosities of an inveterate traveler.

Favorite lines: "...I have put a single raisin of doubt on the government's snowy / white cake of confidence."


Maureen Thorson 
(Ugly Duckling Presse)

This physically beautiful, intimate collection of Thorson's untitled lyrics cycles through a vocabulary of icons--oranges, stars, a Zenith TV's blue light--to hint at a story of loss and dislocation, both emotional and geographic.

Favorite lines: " love / follows you a little more slowly each day, / like a dog that wants to lie down, making signs with its tired eyes."


Matthew Guenette
(The University of Akron Press)

The most fun collection I read in 2011, Guenette focuses the frustration of America's working class via the lens of THE CLAM SHACK!, a veritable Dantean hell of dictatorial managers, forlorn waitresses, and yesterday's butter.

Favorite lines: "...the restaurant / never asked you to / imagine imaginary / things like the brittle / bones of onion rings."


Last night I met up with a a couple of brilliant NBCC folks for beers at the Black Squirrel. The Black Squirrel's basement is a DC dive right in the heart of Adams Morgan (great on a Wednesday, hell on a Saturday). The music was a little ridiculous, the duck rolls a little weird, the dessert menu MIA. But it's a quiet joint where you can chat, the brick walls are bright with graffiti that's not too hipstery, and I love that you can get 4 oz pours for $2-3, everything from IPAs to Porters, Bells to Stone. Anyway. I am not a NBCC member, and I admitted to these folks my reticence to step into the field of criticism. But I do dip a toe in, here and there, and there are theories of poetry I want to articulate when I have a few more books of my own under my belt. 

In the meantime, I'm a pushover for whatever Susan Settlemyre Williams at Blackbird asks me to do. So here I am in the latest issue reviewing Traci Brimhall's Rookery.
An excerpt:

On a formal level, Brimhall often uses an indented line in her stanzas. This device has been used to various ends over the last two centuries of American free verse, from William Carlos Williams’s triadic stanza (meant to cue pause and breath) and Marianne Moore’s syllabics (meant to signify parallel counts of beat), to the excesses of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Frank O’Hara, in which jumping from left-alignment toward the right-hand margin captured acrobatic shifts in attention or literal roaming through space. Contemporary poets such as Henri Cole and David Kirby have associated the indented line with a meditative mode that takes advantage of the traditional line break, plus the additional white space, to counterbalance a loping line of five to six stresses.

In many ways, Brimhall is an inheritor of all these influences. But I would add that her indented stanzas have a waterfall quality, as if the speaker is cascading toward a conclusion driven more by instinct or fate than intellect. The verbs that inhabit these indented poems tend to be passive—describing what is known, what is suffered, what is desired, with few fundamental changes in course—and in “Falling,” a tribute to the 146 garment workers killed in the fire at the Triangle Waist Company factory, the form visually and viscerally evokes their helpless plummet.

Onward to 2012. Three weeks at Virginia Center for Creative Arts beckon in January. I can't imagine a better way to start off the year than hiding away and poem-ing.