I just completed a book of poetry, and realized that as the year draws near, I find myself steeped more in reflection than is usual. Okay, maybe that isn't true, but you notice it when another year has passed you. So I got to thinking about the last couple of months and what I've read. I give you my mini reviews.
Claudia Rankine - Don't Let Me Be Lonely - Possibly the best book I've read this year, definitely within the top two of poetry. It's an experimental work, with poems that aren't titled, or even broken into traditional stanzas. It's sometimes stream of conscious, often evocative, and the symbols and images that aren't of Rankine's own creation (that is, those images she twists out of the air of her own accord like the intimate relationships between death, reflection, and loneliness) are heavily influenced by popular American imagery, such as prescription drug names (Botox) or politics. It's hard for me to explain how much I loved this book.
Sherwin Bitsui - Shapeshift - Not an easy read. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, just something which makes it difficult to know where I stand. There is startling imagery, and I feel like if I can tap a fraction of that in the way Bitsui does, that I'll have become a more mature writer, but I almost feel as if my lack of knowledge of Native American spirituality has severely handicapped me in this read in some way, in the way that I feel handicapped by my lack of musical knowledge in Langston Hughes poems. It is, at times, hard for me to grasp any solid narrative or idea in any one poem, other than the play between the modern world and Native American sensibilities or the circle of life and death. I feel like this is a perfect book to read with an experienced group of poets for discussion, but as an individual read, for me, it often left me gasping for air. Worth multiple reads.
Mike McGee - In Search of Midnight - What to say about this book... On one hand, it's kind of awesome. I love that a poet can write a poem with the pure intention of just being funny, and there are some really interesting (lest I say, profound?) poems as well. There's a poem about lady bugs that I want to cut out and hang somewhere. Get this if you're in the mood to laugh.
Jeff Fleming - The Bones of Saints Under Glass - Best chapbook I've ever read, bar none. The images were stark and the poems often so short as to leave me with my (imaginary) jaw hanging, forcing me to read it over again. A few times. I will read this book over and over again, I know it. Also, the cover art, especially for a chapbook, gets me every time. I have a thing for silhouettes and bird bones, I guess.
A Van Jordan - Macnolia - Ever read something that leaves you disheartened about your own work? THAT'S how good it is? This is the only contender, this year, with Rankine's book for me. There were stretches of poems that were interesting, but not heart wrenching (though I begin to wonder is that what I even want for a whole collection of poems?) but every so often, there was a poem doing things with form, with words, with emotion, and with imagery that just floored me. If you are the type of person who gets tired of the experimentation with poetic form, get this book, because you'll read at least a few poems that will show you how it's done. I promise you.
Leah Angstman - Next Exit - I enjoyed the photos in the book, which lent themselves to the sort of road trip that you take during the work, and some of the works were interesting, though, for some reason, I found parts of the book a bit lewd. I'd have to read it again to know for certain why, because I've read a million books that cuss more often, and it was never explicit in any way. Perhaps that is the intent, that sort of uncomfortable shifting in your chair as you read.
That's it, for the last two months. We'll see what the next few bring about.