Frank O’Hara once said, “You can’t plan on the heart, but/the better part of it, my poetry, is open.” O’Hara also thought about whether he should have been a painter instead. Poetry can help us understand what’s hard to put into words, express our anger and our pain (and our love), and help us praise the beautiful. Stanza and verse connect us soul to soul.
Poetry may be even more important now, because we live in a time when we are more alone than ever before. When Oprah Daily talked to Maggie Smith the author of the book, “Oprah Daily,” she said that “Oprah Daily “It’s been a claustrophobic year because our lives have shrunk a lot. Poetry, on the other hand, is about expanding. During hard times like these, I turn to poetry to remind me of all that is possible.” Yet, says Alex Dimitrov, whose new book Love and Other Poems came out in February “Poem helps me all the time, no matter what’s going on in the world. Because poetry has its own life force that comes from the imagination, which is why it is important to read poetry.” Our favorite poets Smith and Dimitrov told us which poetry books they’re into right now. To celebrate National Poetry Month in 2021, we asked them to tell us which old and new poetry books they’re into.
The Wilderness by Sandra Lim
My favorite book by Sandra Lim is called The Wilderness. I can’t get enough of it! My teacher, Louise Glück, told me about the collection. I keep going back to it. There is a surprising, lush intelligence that runs through this original, joyful book. You can’t help but be amazed by this book. A philosophical hunger is at the heart of Lim’s well-researched poems, which are full of original, energizing lines that describe the bewildering uncertainty of our lives.
Soft Science by Franny Choi
I love Franny Choi’s new collection Soft Science right now. Franny is an amazing person who always thinks outside the box when it comes to poetry and language. The book talks about softness and what it means to be human in a world that is becoming more and more cruel. Choi’s book uses ideas about cyborgs, artificial intelligence, and the Asian body to make us think about what we think is normal and how we think about our own minds. A series of poems called “Turing Test” run through the book to see if the reader and the author can understand each other. As in “Glossary of Terms,” Choi breaks down language into a graph. We learn that stars dream of being reached and the opposite of the sea is a machine, which is why Choi breaks down language in this way.
Plainwater by Anne Carson
When you try to understand people, you’re going to be a little bit confused by them. Anne Carson’s Plainwater has a main point, but is this what it is about? Isn’t it the other way? Maybe you can’t “live inside a frozen pear for six months.” The way Carson looks at things can change how you think about them. He looks at things like grief, pilgrimage, phenomenology, family, and trout in a new way. To get to know her work and figure out where to start, start here.
Blud By Rachel McKibbens
I love Rachel McKibbens because of her fierce but vulnerable voice, which is as strong on stage as it is on paper. Her most recent book, BLUD, still has a lot of interesting metaphors and raw energy. There’s more to these poems than just reading them. You feel them as well as read them. They get into your heart and make you fall in love with them like music does. What’s more, she’s an advocate for mental health, gender equality, and people who have been hurt by violence and domestic abuse. Rachel is real.
Mary Wants To Be A Superwoman By Erica Lewis
People sometimes wonder, “Did I understand that poem?” “Did I have the right background to understand that poem?” In mary wants to be a superwoman, erica lewis makes sure to give readers the background they need to enjoy the fast-moving, pop-filled, history-filled poems. She does this by giving them an amazing introduction and a collection of photos. A line in the book: “We are the reason for each other.” The book moves through time and space, with lines like, “We are the reason for each other. All of our spit and our bling.”
Her Mouth as Souvenir by Heather June Gibbons
This story by Heather June Gibbons isn’t just about her worries. She also talks about how she’s been able to make art out of them. She loves them. First, “My project is just a lot of hard work.” My favorite thing about Gibbons’ poetry is that she can make sense of life’s chaos without sacrificing its energy. These poems remain strong and wide-eyed to the end as they turn from exclamation in the first section to prayer in the second to the elegiac mode of the third section. Her Mouth as a Souvenir is a wonder that shows us that we need to go and go on.
Sons of Achilles by Nabila Lovelace
Unparalleled in its lyricism, unrivaled in its navigation of toxic masculinity, Nabila Lovelace’s, Sons of Achilles, is a bedside table book. This is why you’ll never let these poems go too far away. You need them close by. I’m not a woman who gets excited about war. Lovelace says this in her book. “I told you. On a pork chop bone, I chipped my tooth and lost most of my hair on my legs. I’m now bald. After you hear these truths, it’s so hard to feel alone.
Heart Like A Window, Mouth Like A Cliff by Sara Borjas
The heart is like a window and the mouth is like a cliff. They both embrace subtlety with clarity, but not in the same way. The Chicanx speaker moves through generations, bars, bedrooms, “the Dean’s dinner table,” homes taut with violence, and wonders, “if we can hold all of ourselves. Make sure you love both the bodies you came from and your own at the same time. To me, this book is great because each poem has the voice of Borjas. He talks about things like Fresno and resistance and hardship, but he also talks about loyalty and love.
Too Bright to See / Alma by Linda Gregg
I’ve been rereading the late Linda Gregg’s collection, Too Bright to See & Alma. It’s full of beautiful stories. Her poems are timeless and full of love, travel, family, romance, and awe for the power of nature. They fill a place in your heart. Every day, her speakers both interact with the universe and look at the ocean from afar. “Every day I walk to the edge of the world and look at the ocean./And then I return to my home.”