Suggestions for books of poetry and books by poets for all the #BookBingoNW2016 squares

Well except the Re-Read, Recommended by a Librarian, and You’ve Been Meaning to Read squares of course, but totally including Non-Fiction, Short Stories, and Novel.

It’s Summer Book Bingo time again! The awesome Seattle Arts & Lectures + Seattle Public Library summer reading fun for grown-ups*.  And you don’t have to live in Seattle to play along and stretch your reading wonts a bit. 

If you want to read poetry for more than just the Poetry Collection square, here is a list of suggestions for collections and books by poets that’ll X off this year’s squares, compiled with some brainstorming help from poets Joannie Stangeland (who you could read for Local Author), Alexandar Moysaenko (who works at Open Books: A Poem Emporium) and Billie Swift (soon-to-be-owner of Open Books: A Poem Emporium, where you can of course both pick up these books and get recommendations for lots more).


*Click on the image for more info, and to download a square to get started!


Seasoning: A Poet’s Year by David Young is a beautiful book, and I often give it as a gift. David Young is a fine, fine poet whose other books (and there are many) I recommend highly. In Seasonings he combines memoir, poetry, food writing, nature writing, and recipes organized by month to talk about place,  time, loss, sustenance, and cycles of all kinds of seasons. Joannie and Billie both immediately thought of A Commonplace Book of Pie by Kate Lebo which is described as combining “high art, pop culture, practical resource, and fantasy zodiac to make a collection of facts both real and imagined about pie” which sounds awesome. Also The Immigrants Table by Mary Lou Sinnelli—from Madeleine DeFrees’ blurb: “In this collection, Mary Lou Sanelli brings poems out of the ivory tower, straight to the family dinner table. No fast-food substitutes here, as the poet recreates a culture in which food preparation is a cherished ritual. Sanelli’s clear-eyed, yet loving, awareness of family members’ foibles, including her own, provides the reader with a menu that nourishes both body and spirit, a gourmet treat for the imagination.”


Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey — a must-read if you haven’t yet. “I have lain down into 1970, into the  bed / my parents will share for only a few more years.” Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady which includes poems narrated by the fictitious black man Susan Smith invented to cover up the killing of her sons in 1993.  Troubled Tongues, Crystal Williams— “Once, in the brownest city in the country / in the biggest high school in the brownest city / in the country was a girl among girls who / everyday bathed, dressed, ate grits, eggs / & took two city buses to school.” Gwendolyn Brooks’ Selected Poems is another I think everyone should read, far beyond “We Real Cool” which is the one poem usually anthologized—”I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life. / I want a peek at the back / Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows. / A girl gets sick of a rose.”

There’s also Salt Ecstasies by James L. White—from Carl Phillips’ Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry, “White’s voice was a crucial voice to encounter, for what it confirmed as possible—longing, homosexual longing, the expression of that longing in a poem. I think it’s arguable that Dante’s Inferno is better literature, but Dante couldn’t have given me what White did.” And Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street— “At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver, not quite as thick as my sister’s name—Magdalena—which is uglier than mine. Magdalena who at least can come home and become Nenny. But I am always Esperanza.”


Raymond Carver wrote both short stories and poetry (Where Water Comes Together with Other Water). Edgar Allen Poe wrote both, and there’s also Evan S. Connell, author of the book-length poem Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel and the excellent novels Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge among other things, and he has a short story collection (which I haven’t read, but his novels and novellas are great). Dylan Thomas’ Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog is a wonderful set of stories. Denis Johnson is another poet-novelist-short-story-writer, and his short story collection Jesus’ Son is one intense read. 


You can always go with a Pulitzer or the National Book Award, but you could also go farther, er, afield, and pick up something that’s won the Field Poetry Prize, or the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, or the Griffin Poetry Prize, or the Rilke Prize


Station Island by Seamus Heaney if you’ve always wanted to visit Ireland. Reading Novalis in Montana by Melissa Kwasny if you’ve always wanted to visit Montana (from “Mule Deer”, “When the emerald returns in June they’ll climb out of here to meet it / For now, the snow is marked with their split hearts / Cartographers, queens of trespass, they draw their blue lines / best incline down, the shortest distance to raspberry / See how they mince like the herons do.”). Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara if New York City is on your list—”oh Lana Turner get up we love you”. Diaries of Exile by Yannis Ritsos will take you to the Greek islands (imprisoned on, during war). More than Peace and Cypresses by Cyrus Cassells for Italy, France and Spain (that European tour you’ve always wanted to take). Basho or Buson or  Issa and other haiku anthologies for Japan.


Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is probably the most famous banned poetry book in the U.S., though Walt Whitman has been also been banned and even Shel Silverstein and Gwendolyn BrooksBaudelaire’s Les Fleurs De Mal also. But especially if you go international there are, sadly, many poets who have been banned in their own countries, like Mahmoud Darwish and Nazim Hikmet.


If you happened to land on this blog looking for JUST something for the Poetry square and you’re not necessarily sure what sort of poetry you might like, I recommend either The McSweeney’s Book of Poets Picking Poets edited by Dominic Luxford, or Dark Horses: Poets on Overlooked Poems edited by Joy Katz and Kevin Prufer. Dark Horses has a short essay accompanying each poem by the poet who picked it, generally offering a nice personal framing and insight into what the poem’s doing. The McSweeney’s format is 10 poets chose a poem of their own and a poem by another poet. Those other poets chose one of their own poems and one by someone else, and so on, so it’s a nicely ranging anthology.

And a couple other collections I always love telling people to read but wasn’t able to squish into any other squares: Listeners at the Breathing Place by Gary Miranda (sure and lyric), Setting the Fires by Darlene Pagán (full of hunger and wonder, hard-hitting but not blunt), Time & Money by William Matthews (one of my all-time favorite poets, plainspoken on the surface but actually really complex), Olives by A.E. Stallings (perfection, basically),  Transformations by Anne Sexton (retellings of Grimms fairy tales that are nothing really like what I always sorta thought Anne Sexton poetry was), About Night by Dennish Schmitz (“the freeways snapping / back in the dust like severed / arteries while the accomplished / doctor of silence stitches the evening / closed with stoplights which / never hold.”).


Courage: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls by Karen Finneyfrock is aimed at 12-21 year olds. Poetry Speaks: Who I Am edited by Elise Paschen, Dominique Raccah and Joy Harjo is another collection for young adults, and Naomi Shihab Nye’s 19 Varieties of Gazelle too. 


There are so many poets in translation who should be read but to keep this short, here are a few suggestions of translations which make for particularly good poems in English: David Young’s translation of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, Aliki Barnstone’s translation of C.P. Cavafy,  A.E. Stallings translation of Lucretius’ The Nature of Things (which she did in rhyming fourteeners!), Eliot Weinberger and Iona Man-Cheong’s translation of Bei Dao’s Unlock, John Ashbery’s Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud.

Joannie and Billie also recommend Susanna Nied’s translation of It by Inger Christensen, and the NYRB Poets edition of Pierre Reverdy’s poems edited by Mary Ann Caws and translated by a bunch of different people. 


Claudia Rankine’s Citizen was on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list, so that must count, and though I haven’t read it yet I heard her speak at SAL recently and she’s just phenomenal. Rankine also edited The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. I’d argue that C.D. Wright’s One With Others, a combination of poetry, investigative journalism and memoir examining Civil Rights in Arkansas and the life of her mentor, V, should count here. It’s a stunning book.


Fredy Neptune by Les Murray has the subtitle A Novel in Verse, so there you go. It’s a globe- and decade-spanning epic. The titular character is a German-Australian soldier who loses his sense of touch after witnessing a war atrocity, and travels the world trying to hide his disability, which is also a superpower, since because he can’t feel pain he can lift anything. For a straight-up novel, Richard Hugo wrote a noir-ish detective mystery called Death and the Good Life (which I will get around to reading one of these days), and of course, there’s the classic The Bell Jar by Sylvia PlathSuzy Zeus Gets Organized by Maggie Robbins is another novel-in-verse, and it’s quirky and wonderful, with a main character blundering through places, life, spirituality, and serendipity (“Suzy hails from Indiana, /  land of crops, / of Fords and farms. / Suzy lives in New York City, / land of cops / and car alarms. / Suzy lives six blocks from Harry. Touch him / and she’ll break your arms.”) And if you’ve never read Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell who also wrote poetry, then you are seriously missing out and must rectify that immediately.* 

* but not by watching the movie (even though it’s Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward it’s terrible, because they changed the ending). Also, forever thanks to Professor Dan Chaon for handing out sections of Mrs. Bridge in class that one time.


Seattle has a lot of poets. To point out just a few: you can’t go wrong with the gaze and sensibility of J.W. Marshall’s Meaning a Cloud. Christine Deavel’s Woodnote is utterly lovely. Anything by Tacoma’s Laura Jensen is a read you won’t regret. There’s also Susan RichJoannie Stangeland, former WA state poet laureate Elizabeth Austen, UW professor Heather McHugh, and the very fine Linda Bierds, who writes such precise and beautiful poems about fascinating historical figures.


I read Traci K. Smith’s Life on Mars for this one, but you have a ton of great choices from either the upcoming Poetry Series readers or past events. SAL speakers makes a great reading list all by itself.


The slenderness of poetry collections is a boon for this square! Elizabeth Bishop’s Geography III is packed with some of her finest poems, but is quite short. The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March (Art Spiegelman illustrations) is a romp of a 30s noir narrative poem, and isn’t very long at all. Cornelius Eady’s Victims of the Latest Dance Craze is only 50 pages, and Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid is another wonderfully riveting read you could reasonably do in a day. Galway Kinnell’s The Book of Nightmares and Stuart Friebert’s Funeral Pie are both on the shorter side.


All poetry is good for this square! Some which spring to mind as particularly luscious to read aloud:Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems and Gwendolyn Brooks and Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein. The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March (bonus points for doing so at a party). There’s also Phantasmagoria by Lewis Carroll, a satirical long poem about an annoying ghost which I usually recommend around Halloween. But really almost any poetry.


If postmodern makes you uncomfortable, try Madonna Anno Domini by Joshua Clover or Unrelated Individuals Forming a Group Waiting to Cross by Mark Yakich. If postmodern and religion and erudite vocabulary make you uncomfortable, read Bruce Beasley’s Theophobia. If prose poems make you uncomfortable, read Russell Edson, or Mark Strand’s The Continuous Life. If form makes you uncomfortable, try A.E. Stallings. Fragmented work? try Martha Collins’ Blue Front. Grief? Gjertrud Schnackenberg’s Heavenly Questions. Sharon Olds‘ work makes many people uncomfortable for its intimate family details. Weird a no-go for you? try Selima Hill. Surreal not your cup of tea? Max Jacob. Dislike short rhyme-y lines? give Maggie Robbins’ Suzy Zeus Gets Organized a try.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is of course the classic but there’s also The Real West Marginal Way by Richard Hugo (as in, of course, Hugo House), a really enjoyable literary autobiography in the form of essays. Also works for Local Author. (“‘Just go to Bearmouth and turn left.’ What a beautiful line. The certainty of the place, the certainty that we are not lost, the certainty that the world and our lives have checkpoints with names and definite directions we can follow, the certainty.”) I enjoyed James Merrill’s A Different Person which focuses on the time he spent as a confused young man in Europe—it’s delightful, graceful, and the parts that are a little coy or must surely be a little embellished are part of the charm. Joy Harjo has a memoir I haven’t read called Crazy Brave, and there’s The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams too.


This one’s pretty easy since it’s, you know, most of history, lots of options for reading some of those big old names from the canon you never got around to—Sappho, Cavafy, Chaucer (Chaucer himself portrayed best in film of course by Paul Bettany in A Knight’s Tale ;)), Beowulf (read the Heaney translation, it’s amazing), Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Apollinaire, Baudelaire, Rimbaud (I recommend the translation of Illuminations by John Ashbery particularly), Dickinson, etc.  And 100 years take you all the way through 1916, so even a few 20th century biggies like Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein count for this square.  Other options include 17th and 18th century haiku masters such as Basho and Buson and Issa who it should be noted—because you have to be a little strategic about your books’ lengths if you’re going for a blackout by Labor Day—wrote short poems. 

Hope you have a good time with summer book bingo! I’ll post reviews of what I’m reading along the way, and if you do take any of these suggestions for your #BookbingoNW2016 squares, comment here or pop over to Twitter and let me know.