Four Great Books

I go to sleep reading, and wake up wanting more. I'm reveling in a buzz of really good poetry. Mind if I share my latest favorites?

 In the Kettle, the Shriek
by Hannah Stephenson

In her debut collection, Stephenson writes in direct language that ushers you in. Like origami, these seemingly simple poems are taut, smart and beautifully complex. In poem after poem she masters the killer last line. (She also keeps The Storialist, a blog in which she writes a fresh poem daily).

You Can Do This

You have parallel parked in a space
just five inches bigger than your car,
smoothly. You know Queen Anne's lace
from poison hemlock. You are
adept in remembering names,
and people's small quirks, you know
who has cats or dogs, who trains
them. You know an Aries from a Virgo,
a Libra from a Taurus. You have worked
at 4AM, or for 15 hours in one shift,
spoken cheerfully while your life jerked
and jolted. You found a gown in a thrift
shop, and it is beautiful. You are learning
to call to what you love, to see it returning.

— Hannah Stephenson

Ninety-five Nights of Listening
by Malinda Markham

I'm over my head here but I can't stop reading. Markham's evocative, unexpected language is matched with a quiet, lonesome tone. Even when I don't "get" these often-opaque poems, I am moved by one stunning line after another. Here, see what I mean:

Once I told you
everything I knew in a language
you did not speak. This is love, is division,
a pile of memories catalogued like stars.

from Postcard - Without Grace

I like simplicity, its single weight
I like the word fault for its power
to fit within the hand and consume.

Here is my arm and shoulder,
my throat and every word.

— from Mistranslate (Because Meaning Is Not Enough)

A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying
by Laurie Ann Guerrero  

Vivid and visceral, this first book of poems by Laurie Ann Guerrero is consuming. From turnips to cow tongue to a playful ode to el cabrito (goat), Guerrero's work is both hungry and tender, carrying taste and memory, culture and loss. In choosing these poems for publication, Francisco X. Alarcon hails Guerrero's work as "the poetry of saints and sinners . . . rooted in the best Latin American, Chicano/a, and contemporary American poets."

One Man's Name:
Colonization Of The Poetic


My grandmother embroidered huipiles.
Named me the color of stone, lavender
in the sun. Wore a herd of elephants
on her middle finger, the baby always
almost dead. In white cotton thread on pink
cotton dress, she stitched swans to their heads,
made bloom red roses and white-flowered
Mala Mujer. She birthed nine children.
She now sits in a room where the faces are familiar
as snow and the hands that feed her are not her own.

She wears your name, a crown, Cortez:
queen of a tongue no one understands.
What have you done?

— Laurie Ann Guerrero

The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop
by Diane Lockward

Do we really need another how-to-write poetry book? Yes, if it's this rare find. Packed with prompts, this book rises above others with sample poems, insightful interviews, and beyond-the-basics advice. Here's how I know this book works: I've marked every other page with a sticky note, have written notes in the margins (something I haven't done since college), and I'm writing a flurry of fresh poems.


Your turn: What are you reading? Have you read these? What books have you abuzz?