Thankful Thursday: Literary Compass

After a tough slog through a sludge of books, what a relief to find light.

You’ve felt it too, right? Book after book leaves you listless and bored, or even worse, annoyed. You think you’ll never read a good thing again. You’ve lost your literary compass. You can’t tell so-so from super.

And then, like love, you try again, pick another, and stumble upon a striking line, a moving passage. You race through chapters, stay up all night, and wake wishing work away so you can stay in and read.

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful for the turn of literary luck, the golden page. Sometimes just a passage, or a single poem, is all it takes.

These books recently restored my bookish faith:

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
by Claudia Rankine

Before her award-winning book, Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine wrote this mixed-genre collection thrumming with power, politics, observation and heart. Defying containment, this is a work of essay, image, memoir and poem. Passage after passage resounds; I’ve marked nearly every page.

“Sometimes,” she writes, “I think it is sentimental, or excessive, certainly not intellectual, or perhaps too naive, too self-wounded to value each life like that, to feel loss to the point of being bent over each time. There is no innovating loss. It was never invented, it happened as something physical, something physically experienced . . . [she] said the poem is really a responsibility to everyone in a social space. She did say it was okay to cramp, to clog, to fold over at the gut, to have to put hand to flesh, to have to hold the pain, and then to translate it here. She did say, in so many words, that what alerts, alters.”

by Celina Villagarcia

With roots in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Celina has penned a slim collection and a strong debut. She drew me in with this poem (the linebreaks are excellent):


At ten,
I felt and
heard things

differently. This
knowing — made me

live — like I was
on the outside

always looking in.
I felt I was

without skin—

vulnerable to
every thing


When I write—

these words protect
—when I write

these words
give me skin.

— Celina Villagarcia

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The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad
by Adam Gnade

No larger than my hand, this small book packs a punch of candid, funny, touching truth. In a series of lists — DIY Guide to Navigating Youth Without Going Bitter, or, Guide to Not Freaking Out All The Time — the advice sometimes veers toward sap before making a tight swerve to tough love.

Irksome Particulars
by Matt Cook

I found this treasure (and the book above) tucked in a corner of small-press gems at the mammoth Powell’s City of Books. This is a pocket-size collection of irreverent prose poems, each no longer than a page and most just a few lines long, from the former poet laureate of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Rinky Dink Press
On a mission to get poetry back into the hands, and pockets, of the people, this Phoenix, Arizona-based micro press is small in size but big on quality. Each palm-size gem is handcrafted from one sheet of paper into a book that “marries a DIY attitude with skilled poetics and fine-art aesthetics.”

I love this poetry-for-the-people vibe. Write on!

It’s Thankful Thursday. Joy expands and contracts in direct relation to our sense of gratitude. What are you thankful for today? A person, a place, a possession? A book, a song, a poem? What makes your world expand?