Best poetry I read in 2018

I continue to have no idea how to talk about poetry, but here are the collections of poems I liked best in 2018.

Stag's Leap: Poems

1: Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds

Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey

2: Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey, Hayden Carruth

Plainwater: Essays and Poetry

3: Plainwater: Essays and Poetry, Anne Carson

New Collected Poems

4: New Collected Poems, Tomas Tranströmer

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

5: Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Ross Gay

Leaves of Grass

6: Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

Grace Notes: Poems

7: Grace Notes, Rita Dove

Worshipful Company of Fletchers

8: Worshipful Company of Fletchers, James Tate

Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected

9: Passing Through, Stanley Kunitz

Our Andromeda

10: Our Andromeda, Brenda Shaughnessy

Up next: Best nonfiction and fiction that I read in 2018.

Black in America: Essential reading list

We read to broaden our minds, and nowhere does this seem more vital right now than for white America to read black America. Following is a list of books that have challenged, enlightened, and inspired me.

Have read and heartily recommend

James Baldwin. Creative Commons license.
James Baldwin. Creative Commons license.

Nonfiction

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
  • White Girls, Hilton Als
  • Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”, Beverly Daniel Tatum

Toni Morrison. Creative Commons license.
Toni Morrison. Creative Commons license.

Fiction

  • Go Tell It on a Mountain, James Baldwin
  • Another Country, James Baldwin
  • The Sellout, Paul Beatty
  • The Chaneysville Incident, David Bradley
  • Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  • Passing, Nella Larsen
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
  • A Mercy, Toni Morrison
  • Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
  • Sula, Toni Morrison
  • Cane, Jean Toomer
  • The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  • Native Son, Richard Wright

Malcolm X. Creative Commons license.
Malcolm X. Creative Commons license.

Memoir/Autobiography

  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass
  • Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley

Rita Dove. Creative Commons license.
Rita Dove. Creative Commons license.

Poetry

  • Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems, Robin Coste Lewis
  • Selected Poems, Rita Dove
  • Thomas and Beulah, Rita Dove
  • Head Off & Split, Nikky Finney
  • Against Which, Ross Gay
  • Totem, Gregory Pardlo
  • Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith
  • Native Guard, Natasha Trethewey

And I still have a good many books that I want to read, including the following.

Audre Lorde. Creative Commons license.
Audre Lorde. Creative Commons license.

On my reading list

  • Collected Essays, James Baldwin
  • The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
  • Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
  • Going to Meet the Man, James Baldwin
  • Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin
  • Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, James Baldwin
  • Slaves in the Family, Edward Ball
  • Blacks, Gwendolyn Brooks
  • The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. du Bois
  • The Hemingses of Monticello, Annette Gordon-Reed
  • Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, bell hooks
  • Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama, Peniel E. Joseph
  • Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Audre Lorde
  • Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde
  • Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, Diane McWhorter
  • Freshwater Road, Denise Nicholas
  • The Street, Ann Petry
  • Citizen, Claudia Rankine
  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson
  • Black Boy, Richard Wright

What would you add to either of these lists?

Best poetry I read in 2015

To kick off my annual lists of the best things I read in the past year, here are the best 10 books of poems I read in 2015.

Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems

1. The Voyage of the Sable Venus, Robin Coste Lewis

Selected Poems

2. Selected Poems, Rita Dove

Electric Light: Poems

3. Electric Light, Seamus Heaney

Life on Mars

4. Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith

Almanac: Poems: Poems

5. Almanac, Austin Smith

Elephant Rocks: Poems

6. Elephant Rocks, Kay Ryan

The Long Approach

7. The Long Approach, Maxine Kumin

[Out of print; I seem to have the only copy in the world.]

8. House, Bridge, Fountain, Maxine Kumin

Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations

9. Of No Country I Know, David Ferry

What Goes On: Selected and New Poems, 1995-2009

10. What Goes On, Stephen Dunn

Up next: Top 10 nonfiction books I read in 2015. Any favorite books of poems you read this year?

Favorite books from March

I read a lot of very enjoyable things in March. Particular favorites from the past month:

A Joy of Gardening, Vita Sackville-West. Utterly charming in every way! A delight for literature-loving gardeners.

Offshore

Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald. My first introduction to Penelope Fitzgerald, and I found myself totally smitten by her. Continuing my newfound obsession, I am currently reading The Blue Flower, which I stumbled on at the library book sale.

The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion

The Unspeakable, and Other Subjects of Discussion, Meghan Daum. I might just share a brain with her, for better or worse.

Electric Light: Poems

Electric Light, Seamus Heaney. The most delightful neologisms.

Between the Acts

Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf. This was the third time I’ve read this novel, Woolf’s last, and I was so pleased to discover that I enjoyed it just as much now as I did as an undergrad. I like how loose and playful it is. It is not her best, but Woolf’s “not best” is far superior to the majority of fiction. So. There’s that.

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?

Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast. Funny and heartrending in all the right ways.

All the King's Men

All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren. This was on my to-read list for many years; it’s stirring and interesting, in ways that I didn’t expect.

Selected Poems

Selected Poems, Rita Dove. I also finally got around to the work of Rita Dove, one of my town’s resident famous poets. Deeply enjoyable. She has such an enchanting musicality to her work.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Kay Redfield Jamison. Borrowed from Celeste, my personal purveyor of good things to read. A well-written account of the author’s life with manic-depressive illness and its juxtaposition to her career as a psychologist.

Mr. Palomar

Mr. Palomar, Italo Calvino. Some people may find this plot-less collection of observations frustrating, but it is just the sort of thing that I love.

What did you read and enjoy in March?

Lately

I am so eager for spring. I saw a photo of what our garden looked like last June and was nearly weeping with anticipation and desire. The sun dappling the barely fuzzed zucchini leaves! The warm earth! The gnats! The sweat beading your legs as you toil in the dirt! Today, I feel like spring will never come (we’re due for more snow this Thursday). But we spring the clocks forward this Sunday and that makes me feel the faintest stirrings of hope.

Tulips
Tulips, circa April 2013.

Today, to tempt myself in the 45 degrees, which now feels practically tropical, I stood out on the back porch in the sun, in my coat, and read Rita Dove on my lunch break. The dogs wrestled in the half-snow/half-mud slush. A blue jay dive-bombed into boughs of the giant spruce tree. I thought about Dove and her childhood, about her dancing with Fred, about her mystical economy of language.

My year-old orchid rebloomed over the weekend and I feel so VICTORIOUS about it. I want someone to congratulate me.

This past week, I was introduced to Penelope Fitzgerald, via her delightful and tiny novel Offshore, and I am going to call myself a fan. I am eager to read more. I was inspired by a recommendation from our lay preacher/the New Yorker‘s coverage of her recently published biography. Read her before? Any favorites?

Playful Edie
Eden in play stance; swipe of mud on the nose.

I am trying to love and understand Eden more. She is still a baby with a ton of energy, which is why she is often so annoying. She also just has one speed: RUNNING. I’ve never seen her walk anywhere. (Except for when you call her in from the backyard, where she is patiently waiting by the shed for someone to come out and play with her. Then she really drags her feet. She slowly, slowly tiptoes to the door, looking so terribly disappointed in life and in you, especially.) Remembering that all she wants is to play with someone is helpful in moderating my patience levels. Also, she is quite sweet when she wants to be. And she adores us. Last night, two episodes of House of Cards were watched with her little shepherd head in my lap. So that helps.

November for Beginners — a poem by Rita Dove

Dusk in the neighborhood
November, last year.

Just the right poem for this time of year, by one of Guion’s professors, the magnificent Rita Dove.

November for Beginners

By Rita Dove

Snow would be the easy
way out—that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give.

So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline. We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,
memorizing

a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool. Pour,
rain! Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!

November 1981

. . . . . . . . .

Happy Thanksgiving in advance! We are looking forward to being back in the Old North State and celebrating with my family. Lots to be thankful for this year, as with all years.