See A Year of Stories: Prose for the previous Top 5 List.
As with the prose top 5 list, these favorite poetry collections are not necessarily “new”, but they are ones that I read and recommended during 13.
Poetry tends not to be widely-read. In many ways, reading a poem is more work as it requires paying close attention, almost like meditation. And, often, the allusions, metaphors and imagery are harder to “get” if one is distracted.
Yet, the most attractive and satisfying aspects of this literary art form are how it can deepen our capacity to see and experience the world and ourselves in new and different ways. This is because the really well-written and well-loved poems are endlessly interpretable while also evading complete comprehension. Each close reading or re-reading is like unpacking a mystery gift that brings us to new layers of meaning, emotions and experiences.
So, we take from this gift what we can, as we do with any other art form, given our abilities to focus, comprehend and appreciate at a given moment in time, especially given the noise ratio in our everyday lives these days. This is why, the only way to to really understand and experience what a poem has to say and show – the particular issues and themes that it addresses through specific images or ideas – is to fully inhabit its words and worlds for a bit longer than the few minutes it takes to read it. Give each poem some time to sink in. “Meditate” on it through the week, if you will.
At Storyacious, in addition to publishing original poems, we also, have a weekly column, ’Weekend Poem‘, every Saturday. Sometimes, we use the weekly featured poem to explore the nature and history of a particular poetic form, the poet’s background and his/her oeuvre, or the inspiration that led to its creation. Rarely ever do we get technical with meter, rhyme or scansion. And, sometimes, we just let the poem be – stand by itself.
Top 5 in Poetry for 13
As before, in no particular order, here are my top 5 reads of 2013. And, as before, I am conscious that all (but one) of these books are from the Western Canon. That said, if you look through our ‘Weekend Poem‘ featured poems, you will see an attempt to cover a wider range of cultures, languages, genders and countries.
If I could only recommend one of these, to poets and non-poets alike, it would be #5. Read on.
1) Incarnadine by Mary Szybist – This was 2013′s National Book Award Winner. It is her second collection and has come a full ten years after her first. All the poems are inspired by the Annunciation, but re-imagined in modern, secular and startling new ways. For me, each poem told a story as well – ones that stayed with me long after I’d read the collection. Read more here.
2) Chitra by Rabindranath Tagore – This is a one-act play, but, really, like a prose poem. Tagore falls in and out of fashion every few years, both with people in his native India as well as the Western world. This story, based on one of the many stories in the Hindu epic, Mahabharatha, has a charm of its own because it was so ahead of its time (arguably, still ahead in many parts of India today) in how it represented women. There are parts here that are beautiful enough to stand by themselves. Read more here.
3) Smoke by Dorianne Laux – This was a re-read. Laux is one of my favorite poets and I’ve returned to her through the years. This collection was her third and included her much-loved themes of family and working lives. But, more than anything, this is a very sensual collection because almost all the poems explore the physical body or sensations in raw, direct ways. Also, almost all the poems have allusions, metaphors or images related to smoke or fire and, reading them, you can absolutely feel and sense these elements. Read more here.
4) Selected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke – A re-read. Decades ago, I tried to read Rilke in the original German and it changed my experience of the language entirely. I’d studied German for two years while at university, but mostly in a business/working context. So, my grasp of the language had never been more than utilitarian. To read Rilke in the original language helped me get a sense of the texture and malleability of the language, not to mention the rhythms of it. Learning a new language should always involve reading poetry in that language, I believe now. This re-read, however, was in English (with the parallel German text). And, still beautiful as ever. Read more here.
5) How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch – Another re-read. I’ve added this here rather than in the ‘Prose’ section because it just seems more apt. Not only is Hirsch’s prose very poetic, but the many poems that he cites, quotes, explains throughout make this feel more like a poetry collection with contextual commentary. I first came to know of Hirsch more than a decade ago, at a 3-day writing workshop. I was taking the fiction class and he was teaching the poetry class. So, the only time that I managed to see / hear him was during the evening readings. He read from his own poems and from this book and his passion shone through. The subtitle of this book is “And Fall in Love with Poetry”. That is no empty promise. It is exactly what happened to me all those years ago when I first got the book. You can read the first chapter at Poetry Foundation.