Monthly Archives: February 2009

15 Books That Rocked Me

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Inspired by the lovely Mari-Elizabeth Mali, here is my list of 15 books of poems that have had some kind of impact on how I think about and interact with poetry. I narrowed it down to 15 because, to be perfectly honest, I’m very, very picky.

Please by Jericho Brown

I mean, really, there is no other way to say it – I’ve been waiting for this book for a while. These poems are made of blood red glitter and butterfly knives.

Macnolia by A. Van Jordan

I love persona poetry and “documentary” poetry. Welp. In the 10th grade, I came across this book and saw these two interests combine with stunning results. Read it and you’ll shiver every time you hear the word “nemesis”.

Tell Me by Kim Addonizio

My junior year at WKU, Tom Hunley assigned several of Addonizio’s poems. A few weeks later, a boyfriend bought me this book. It’s still one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten. Not too long after that, I changed my major to creative writing.

Archaic Smile by A.E. Stallings

If you have any uneasiness about formal poetry, Kim Addonizio and A.E. Stallings will put you at ease. Though both poets are very different, they demonstrate quite masterfully that form doesn’t have to get in the way or distract from subject matter. As an added bonus, Stallings seems to love mythology as much as I do.

Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith

Like A. Van Jordan, Patricia Smith uses persona poetry to put people at center stage who usually are condemned to the periphery. Hurricane Katrina becomes a woman with control issues. 34 elderly people left to die in a flooded nursing home become choir who curse us even as they pray. And damn if New Orleans isn’t a lover we just can’t shake.

Wind in a Box by Terrance Hayes

What a fitting title for a book of poetry that refuses to sit still. The moment you are seduced by his lyric poetry, Terrance Hayes switches to prose poems and then he switches to persona poems, so forth and so on. These words are restless and shape shifting. They are reminders that we really can write whatever we want and however we want.

Gathering Ground: The First Ten Years of Cave Canem – Edited by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady

This anthology of poetry reminds us that contrary to what we are so often told, there is no such thing as one African-American voice. Yes, these poems dance on the same floor, but each poet in the collection definitely has a unique set of moves.

Tales From Ovid by Ted Hughes

As I’ve already said, I love mythology. Persephone and that damn pomegranate, Narcissus and his grinning reflection, Arachne and her ego… these were the bedtime stories I memorized and told myself. Ted Hughes updates Ovid’s Metamorphoses and they are tantalizing as ever.

Heroides by Ovid

Now, you know I had to give Ovid his full due. The Heroides is a collection of epistolary persona poems from the women of Greek mythology to their lame ass lovers. Penelope writes to Odysseus, explaining that she knows exactly what’s keeping him from coming home. Medea writes to Jason. Helen writes to Paris. This book doesn’t get as much attention as Metamorphoses, but it’s definitely a worthy read.

To Bedlam and Part Way Back by Anne Sexton

I don’t even know how to explain my relationship to this book. Regardless of your stance on confessional poetry, her work continues to haunt my own.

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

Such a painfully beautiful of memory and all of its trapdoors. She reminded me that so often poets really are the last guard against erasure.

Strike Sparks by Sharon Olds

Last semester, I was having a particularly horrible day. Nothing was working in my favor. I crawled into my bed and started reading this collection of poems. Such heat. Such blood. It was like Sharon flipped a switched and turned the sun back on just for me.

Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady

Although I considered putting “You Don’t Miss Your Water” on this list. The inventiveness of a Brutal Imagination cannot be rivaled. Susan Smith isn’t the first person to conjure a magical negro and unfortunately, she probably won’t be the last.

Sleeping with the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen

I’m fascinated by the journey Mullen has taken from writing more traditional narrative poems to experimenting with language in ways that reinvent and renew assumptions about the written word. This book will break your mind right open.

—  Meadowlands by Louise Gluck

If you’ve read this whole list, you know good and well, why I’ve included this book.

Shout Out: Diego Baez reviews Kathleen Halme & Brigitte Byrd

I’ve been loving poetry reviews lately. One of the best thing poets can do for one another is discuss each other’s work. I will try to make that a priority on this blog. Diego Baez, a fellow MFA student here at Rutgers-Newark, is rocking Poemeleon with a review of Drift & Pulse by Kathleen Halme and The Dazzling Land by Brigitte Byrd.

Go here and get you some knowledge!

Oh, Canada.

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I’m in print – in Canada. Misunderstandings Magazine (what a title!) sent me two copies the other day.  You will have to buy a copy (only $3, very recession friendly) to read my poem, but here’s a peak.

The End of Days Diner

The lights overlooking the ten car parking lot

don’t come on until comets

begin to tear into the sky, dragging down

snags of cloud and aborted rain.

Thanks, Canada. I always thought you were kind of cute.

Calyx Reading: This Sunday

I, for one, know what I will be doing this Sunday evening at 7 pm. I will be sitting pretty in the Bluestockings Bookstore, enjoying the CALYX reading. Featuring the lovely Mari-Elizabeth Mali (I mean, really, she’s the bee’s knees) as well as Lynn Ahrens, Kathy Horowitz, and Rhonda Zangwill. We all need a little more fiction and poetry in our diet. Wouldn’t you agree?

Where: Bluestockings Bookstore – 172 Allen Street New York, NY.

When: This Sunday, February 22 @ 7 pm.

Who: Poets and Fiction Writers featured in the Winter 2009 issue of CALYX.

Why: You know, good and well, why.

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Book Review: Half Lit Houses by Tina Chang

In the opening of Tina Chang‘s first collection of poems, a speaker whispers “Every memory I have coveted and stolen. / Every minute I have recorded as if the night would erase it from me.” While the onus of being a memory thief certainly isn’t a unique trope in contemporary poetry, Chang earns this urgency by insisting that erasure is a kind of death “in seven dialects.”


Divided into four movements, the book centers on a daughter grappling with the slow death of her father, while meditating both on the history of women in her family as well as her place in the world they’ve left to her. As such, some of her speakers ride the F train, Ipod in hand, while others eat beetles in poverty stricken 1940’s Hunan. Regardless of the setting, however, the experiences of these women are always striking, by turns unexpected as a flash fire or progressive as the death of a language. In one poem, set in Hunan in 1944, a woman imagines herself “in the white stones / at the bottom of the river. / I place them in my pockets today. / Watch me drown.” Later, in a more contemporary setting, a young woman describes moaning into her lover’s ear. “When the angels heard, they came / and beat her with their wings.” For Chang, pain is like a run in the stockings a girl wears to church – “fine as a crack in the world.”


If the poet ocassionally falters in crafting unique voices for her speakers, at times, it’s hard to tell all of these women apart – it can be argued that this confusion mimics the nature of memory. The past doubles back on itself. Details of what happened are concrete as shadows. And yet, as Tina Chang demonstrates, we are so often determined to make sense of it all. As one speaker reminds us, “Yes, that dream was a good one, / the one about the house / that remade itself over and over again. / I walked through it feeling comfort although / I never lived there.”

AWP Highlights…

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I just counted and thanks to the AWP Bookfair, I have 14 new books that I can’t wait to read. (Well, technically I read A. Van Jordan’s “Macnolia” when I was in the 10th grade, but it’s worth a second gander.) I will be doing mini-reviews of books I’m reading from now on so be on the look out.

Okay, here are the highlights:

  • – Getting dating advice from Patricia Smith.  —  “Saeed, baby, we need to teach you subtlety.”
  • – Hearing Kwame Dwawes read from Wisteria and Brian Turner read from Here, Bullet. (Ironically, I wasn’t able to buy these books at the fair. I will have to track them down on Amazon.)
  • – Getting to meet so many people from the Cave Canem family. (Don’t forget the application deadline for the retreat is quickly approaching.)
  • – Seeing friends from WKU (Dale Rigby, Stephanie Yourokus, Dan Johnson, etc.)
  • – Discovering that Jaime Karnes and I are, in fact, Thelma and Louise.
  • – Meeting Kim Addonizio on the dance floor, for real.
  • – Actually the dance floor itself was a highlight. Mari-Elizabeth Mali and Mary Biddinger know how to throw down.
  • – The panel on Changing Narratives in African-American Poetry blew my mind.
  • – Feeling the love at the Lambda Literary Foundation Reading.
  • – Jericho Brown’s hotel room party.

Live from the Pittsburgh Airport…

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Don’t let the picture fool you. I had a great time at AWP this year. I met so many wonderful writers and can’t wait to tell you all about it. For the moment though, I am recovering from a long, LONG day. I flew from O’hare to Pittsburgh.. and after a three hour layover and another hour on the runway.. my plane hurtled its way through the air. At some point, I landed in Newark.

It’s good to be home.