Monday, December 17, 2012

Best of the Year Poetry List

Best of the Year Poetry List

It's that time of year where everyone makes their "Best of the Year" list: best recipe, best movie, best song, best album, best play, best moment in baseball, basketball, or football, best book. So, in recognition of the true value of best of the year lists, here is my intentionally brief list of the best poetry books of 2012.

In the quid pro quo world of contemporary poetry, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a sincere review or recommendation and one motivated by obligation or self-serving ingratiation. All poets have favors to repay or curry, but in writing about poetry, I try to always remain objective and focused on just the quality of the poetry. That is why I am pleased to say that I don't owe Daniel Nathan Terry anything, nor is he in a position to help me advance my professional ambitions. Thus, I can recommend his collection, Waxwings, from Lethe Press, without any fear of apparent prejudice or guile.

Terry's narrative of a difficult childhood marked by taught shame, by a reluctance to accept oneself, as that self is unaccepted by others, is relevant, fresh, and sharp. These poems grab the reader by the throat, or perhaps by the conscience, or the imagination – probably all three – and refuse to let go. They are both lyrically beautiful and brutally honest, leading us to a deeper understanding of how all of us come to be and learn to accept who we are. If you own only one book of poems from 2012, this is the one to own.

If, on the other hand, you can afford a second book of poems this year, I also recommend Scott Douglass's Hard to Love. By way of contrast, while I owe Daniel Nathan Terry nothing, I owe Scott Douglass everything. As the owner of Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Douglass has published 4 of my books. Nevertheless, having established that my recommendations are based entirely on the quality of the poetry, I also recommend this book without guilt or doubt.

Douglass has been widely recognized for his skills in design, editing, publishing, and business. Hard to Love, however, makes clear that he is also an outstanding poet. Combining socio-political acumen and insight with significant portraits and narratives from working class America, these poems are always interesting and engaging as they clearly capture the essential personality of their author and demonstrate his mastery of poetic technique and both his recognition of and ability to involve his reader in the importance of the moment.

Of course, a proper best of the year list would include many more items, and I will mention, for those with still more money to spend on poetry, Malaika King Albrecht's What the Trapeze Artist Trusts (Press 53), Joseph Mills' Sending Christmas Cards to Huck & Hamlet (Press 53), and Mimi Herman's Logophilia (Main Street Rag) as additional books every best of the year library should include. But to make this list truly meaningful, I will stop with just that handful of recommendations – a list all can afford and none would be disappointed by.

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