I did this survey almost a decade ago. Some of the poets became really famous. All of the poets were living in Minnesota or Wisconsin in 2005. It seemed a waste not to share this list with everyone.
BEST-LOVED BOOKS OF
FAMOUS AND ALMOST-FAMOUS POETS
The New York Times recently asked some overly famous poets if they could name a single book of poetry (published in the last 25 years) that they most returned to time and again.
This intrigued us at the Loose-Leaf Poetry Series. So in late January 2005, we posed the same question to some of our favorite poets and asked them to comment within the space of 2 sentences.
Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado
“I translated it myself, but that’s only because no one else had.
As for a comment, I would say that he always reaches over and touches his heart with one hand. Then he says things like
I love Jesus, who said to us
Heaven and earth will pass away.”
The Small Hours of the Night by Roque Dalton
“This is a selected translation by a Salvadoran poet who was murdered in 1980 at the age of 40 for his participation in the Salvadoran resistance. Dalton’s poetry has the scope, imagery and verbal energy of a Neruda with a wry sense of humor and an utter lack of self-importance or pretense. An extraordinary poet whose work inspires me every time I dip into it.”
Michael Dennis Browne
Poems of Nazim Hikmet (Revised and Expanded)
Translated from the Turkish by Randy Blasing and Multlu Konuk
“A glorious poet, a true revolutionary, fully human. Writing should be daring, and Hikmet is just about always that.”
(toss-up) Wild Iris by Louise Gluck and In Mad Love and War by Joy Harjo
“Gluck’s spooky manner and her odd voicing of non-human beings cuts through
any indulgent tone we might expect in poems that are, at their essence, about seeking God. As for Harjo’s book, it is always new, always about something I just now recognize and always beautiful as both prose and poetry—Harjo speaks American in our native tongue, in jazz and land and forms that rise from around us.”
The Theory and Practice of Rivers by Jim Harrison
"If you love rivers or the idea of rivers this is the book for you.
Graceful, elegant, wise.”
Glass, Irony and God by Anne Carson
“I return to this book because of her audacity, her extravagant language—the far shore she reaches. The poems are smart, tight—they are a formation.”
North True South Bright by Dan Beachy-Quick
“This first book of poems by Chicago poet Dan Beachy-Quick is remarkable for its lyric/language fusion, its ecstatic, dramatic voices, and its ease and ability in changing personas. Gorgeous and ripe, textural and extravagant, the words here have a full-mouth-feel and a kinetic, heartfelt sway.”
Ultramarine by Ray Carver
“And oh dear—it’s a tossup with Wislawa Szymborska’s Poems New and Collected.”
A World Rich in Anniversaries by Jean Follain
Translated by Mary Feeney and William Mathews
“There is no one book I read MOST, but [this is] one of the books I reread. This book is available within a larger collection of French prose poems called Dreaming the Miracle (White Pine Press, 2003).”
All books by Jim Moore
“For his humanity, his sorrow, his lyric truths, his political voice which matches his political actions, his honoring of the human joys and struggles. But also, Gwendolyn Brooks’ Blacks: merely and perfectly brilliant in all ways, and John Ashbery’s A Wave and Houseboat Days: in honor of his delirious commitment to all language (even limiting myself to these three has made me fantastically uneasy).”
Book of My Nights by Li-Young Lee.
“He writes in simple, clear phrases. I wish my mind could unravel the world in his vocabulary and then reconstruct it as he does. It is a pleasure to participate in his work.”
Ed Bok Lee
The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
Edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell
“A dense, rectangular root with filaments that keep growing. It’s the most worn (and taped-up) book in my collection.”
“Books published since 1980 that I return to again and again? None.
Before 1980, there are a few.”
Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times
Edited by Neil Astley
“This question implies a great breadth of poetry knowledge, which having become a serious reader of poetry only in the last fewyears, I don’t have. But that said, this is a great anthology full of poems that seek to unravel the most important questions and topics in life and death.”
Karen Magnuson (formerly Karen Taylor)
The Gift: Poems by Hafiz
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky
“This book is a perfect example of the parallels between creativity and spirituality and demonstrates the act of creating as also a spiritual act. I find it both uplifting and inspiring and full of wisdom I have not found anywhere else.”
MaryAnn Franta Moenck
A Scripture of Leaves by William Stafford
“Again and again I revisit William Stafford, that first love in my poetry writing life. And I suppose I must choose A Scripture of Leaves, exemplary of faith in the recording and decoding of signals from the every-morning world.”
Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski
I love how he combines pleasure in the world—its people, music, landscapes, art—with a real awareness of how destructive human nature can be. Even when they are difficult, his poems inspire me with a sense of possibility.
The City in Which I Love You by Li-Young Lee
“I love the complicated historical and autobiographical perspective of the opening sequence, and Lee’s Asian-American take on the Whitmanian vision in the long poem, “The Cleaving,” which ends the book. A few years ago, I wrote a play based on Lee’s poetry and his memoir, The Winged Seed—I was attracted to both the resonance and beauty of his language and the stories behind it.”
Bright Existence by Brenda Hillman
That book has love and joy and celebration and sadness in it. It is
filled with respect for the mundane and the sacred.
My Alexandria by Mark Doty
“Doty’s third collection of poetry captures the complex and oftentimes contradictory web of emotions related to love, illness, death, and mourning. More than any other poet of his era, Doty catalyzes, and makes accessible the impact of the AIDS pandemic in the lives of ordinary people.”
The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General
Assembly: Poems Collected and New by Denis Johnson.
“Johnson’s dark vision will frighten many of you away, but for those who can face it, the compassion, unflinching honesty and heart-breaking beauty of these poems seems to me without parallel in American poetry. Particularly note “The Veil,” the latest complete book of poems collected in this generous edition.”
Thomas R. Smith
The Complete Poems by Patrick Kavanagh
“Born in 1905, Patrick Kavanagh struggled against impoverished farm origins to become, with Yeats, one of the major 20th century Irish poets. I find his tenderness, toughness, and often bitter humor a potent and appealing combination; in this Kavanagh is close literary kin to James Wright and Alden Nowlan.”
Shroud of the Gnome by James Tate
“Whenever I meet a creature I’ve never seen before (like a strange insect or an exotic squirrel) it breaks me out of whatever dark mood I’m in and I feel a rush of optimism from the world truly revealed as surprising, touchingly vulnerable, and best of all, funny. James Tate’s poetry evokes this wonder world for me, particularly in this book, time and again.”
The Tunnel: Selected Poems by Russell Edson
“Okay, I might be cheating here since much of The Tunnel was written more than 25 years ago, but as Russell Edson demonstrates being sneaky is a poet’s prerogative. These prose poems quietly achieve and maintain a perfect tension between the mundane and the surreal, between horror and beauty, and between the tragic and the hilarious that perennially amazes and inspires me.”
Morgan Grayce Willow
The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich
“Rich’s explorations of language and myth provide a powerful poetic framework for understanding the known — and the unknown — world. Her images, rhythms, and sense carry us to the source and back, thus armed to proceed with our daily lives.”
© 2005 Sharon Suzuki-Martinez