Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Attention Span 2008": My List of Recommended Poetry Books

Steven Evans, one of the most avid and active digital-friendly poetry critics and advocate for the avant-garde, has a website in which one can discover whole (new) worlds of poetry worth investigating. One of his annual features is the "Attention Span" series, which invites readers, critics, and poets to list books that they'd recommend that they'd read in the past year. The 2008 iteration will be out shortly. In advance of the official release, as a taste, here's my selection.

"Attention Span 2008" (for Steve Evans at Third Factory)
Reading List (in no particular order)

Walt Whitman | Leaves of Grass | Norton Critical Edition | 2002
This summer, I read the 1892 Leaves from cover to cover, and then the 1855 version, and did not want either to end. Despite its repetitiousness, its occasionally reprehensible poems, and its many awful lines— (“limitless limpid jets of love” being one of the most hilariously bad representations of male orgasm)—I found myself completely in love with Whitman’s project—its grandiosity, its attunement to his time, its largesse.

Fady Joudah, trans. | The Butterfly’s Burden by Mahmoud Darwish | Copper Canyon | 2007

A collection of his most recent books translated by Fady Joudah into a supple and lush English — The Stranger’s Bed (1998), A State of Siege (2002), and Don’t Apologize for What You’ve Done (2003) — aptly represents the range of Darwish’s mature style. From the courtly and ecstatic love lyrics of The Stranger’s Bed, to the diaristic and penetrating political poem of A State of Siege, to the colloquial meditations on mortality, history, and the future in Don’t Apologize, The Butterfly’s Burden bears witness to the generous breadth of Darwish’s poetic and cultural achievement.

Marisol Limon Martinez | After You, Dearest Language | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2005

I can’t shake this book, composed as an index. Little haunter, dream house, index of night.

C.D. Wright | One Big Self | Copper Canyon | 2007

Wright culls statements and stories from the poet’s interviews of Louisiana prison inmates, conducted with photographer Deborah Luster (following in the tradition of Muriel Rukeyser’s trip to Gauley Junction with photographer Nancy Naumburg). Wright juggles these voices and images in ways that create “one big self” that contains author, reader, and prisoner.

Michael Magee | My Angie Dickinson | Zasterle | 2006

What happens with Flarf finds/fights traditional form, when Emily meets Angie. Ron Silliman has already called it a classic, but this is no museum piece.

H.L. Hix | God Bless: A Political/Poetic Discourse | Etruscan Press | 2007

God Bless comes almost entirely from speeches made by George Bush and Osama Bin Laden, which Hix transforms into create poems in various traditional Western and non-Western forms, from the sestina to the ghazal. It is a fascinating project, demonstrating an aesthetic attention that becomes a kind of ethical and political attention, a close reading of the first order. A document of close listening, God Bless aptly demonstrates the profound lack of listening at the heart of this administration's decision-making process. Documentary poetry, in Hix’s rendering, becomes a kind of history lesson for the poet and his readers, a way of reading into the archive and thus extending the archive into poetry, poetry as “extending the document.”

Kate Degentesh | The Anger Scale | Combo Books | 2005

Flarf meets the MMPI, and they have a baby. If lyric tends toward the neurotic, and flarf toward the psychotic, then this book demonstrates a healthy split-personality.

Bob Perelman | Iflife | Roof | 2006

Rangy both formally and tonally, Perelman’s latest is framed by poems that situate us in the War on Terror, this book by a langpo vet moves us through elegies, investigations, re-considerations, muddlings of all sorts. He’s still lost his avant-garde card somewhere in the wash; I hope he never finds it.

Robert Hass | Time and Materials | Ecco | 2007

I’ve always had something of a lover’s quarrel with Hass’ poetry, for the ways in which it occasionally luxuriates in its own pleasures, and veers into the prose of privilege. Yet poems like “Winged and Acid Dark”—among some others here—demonstrate the terrifying limits of poetry in the face of the dark side of human imagination. In the tradition of a narrative lyric poetry conscious of its own imperial leanings.

Hayan Charara, ed. | Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poetry | U of Arkansas Press | 2008

Charara gathers the new and established voices of Arab American poetry confronting the post-9/11 landscape. Poets like Lawrence Joseph and Fady Joudah shake me to the core; poets like Khaled Mattawa and Naomi Shihab Nye bring me comfort.

Philip Metres’ recent books include To See the Earth (Cleveland State 2008) and Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront, since 1941 (University of Iowa 2007). See


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