What Sparks Poetry

Books We’ve Loved

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature in which we invite poets to explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems.

In Books We’ve Loved, we asked our editorial board members and select guest editors to reflect on a book that has been particularly meaningful to them in the last year, with the intention of creating a list of book recommendations for our valued readers.

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From Dow Chemical ingredients to Vogue and Current Affairs magazine articles, from Scooby-Doo to durian fruit, Nguyen’s repeated narrowing and insistence on focus produces an ongoing expansiveness that allows the book to be about more than its particulars, creating room to both reflect on itself and peer into the future.

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The limit of the voice of “Bees” is the parameter of its beauty. As in all perspectives, something is not seen. Actually, most things are not seen. The sense of beauty in anything is involved with what that sense excludes.

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Is there a longer poem bleaker than “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen,” a poem more resolutely written against the consolations of poetry while at the same time wildly employing all the mechanisms of poetry—a poem more bleakly written against itself?

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When we asked Poetry Daily Editorial Board Member Ilya Kaminsky to write about a book that was important to him in 2021 for our “Books We’ve Loved” series, he replied he couldn’t pick just one. This is the second installment of Ilya Kaminsky’s notes on some of the many books he’s loved in the past year.

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When we asked Poetry Daily Editorial Board Member Ilya Kaminsky to write about a book that was important to him in 2021 for our “Books We’ve Loved” series, he replied he couldn’t pick just one. Below is the first installment of Ilya Kaminsky’s notes on some of the many books he’s loved in the past year.

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Her poetic line stretches out like a horizon barely visible over the steering wheel. Of course, if you’ve never burned a tank of gas, cross-hatching city streets on a late spring Sunday afternoon, braiding the voices of Al Green or Smokey Robinson through the ribbons of heat rising from the asphalt, this book is an invitation to joyride.

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Voigt's poems are shorn of superfluity, each line shaved down to its essential, burning core. She is a poet of control and precision; across decades and amid differing poetical movements, Voigt is steadfast in her adherence to a clear-eyed iambic elegy—an elegy defined most strikingly by her devotion to unsentimental self-interrogation and her equally unflinching assessments of public life.

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Digging below the Greek words for “hero” and “love,” Beachy-Quick unearths, via Socrates, a common antecedent meaning: “to disappear into one’s own harm,” later remarking: “It is not enough to learn the words; one must learn from them.”

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We are, as she says, “living our whole lives in a state of emergency” and therefore have no choice but to resist the petty politics of disenfranchisement peddled by nationalist revanchism and instead to embrace a truly radical form of conservatism — the effort to “save that earthly life, that miracle of being, which poetry conserves and celebrates.”

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Written in the spirit of Basho’s famous journey to the far north, Roo Borson’s Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida artlessly folds together the reflecting mind and the wayward, brimming world. It’s a book I dip into now and then, when I desire something intent, nascent-seeming, clear as water.

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Lingering over the shapeshifting passages in Lovability is one of the supreme pleasures of reading this book, and a primary way that Frey encourages us to question what we think we already know. The human tendency is to linger over such passages with an “either/or” mentality: does it mean this or does it mean this? I think Frey might simply answer “yes.”

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Camille Dungy is both an outstanding writer of the “natural world” and one of the most deft makers of metaphor working today. Her metaphors refuse to let the reader rest in their connections, but instead create a kind of friction in the mapping of vehicle onto tenor, a strangeness that invites the reader to follow the various threads of implication in an unlikely pairing.

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Unlike volumes that map a career, guiding readers through each book a poet has published, The Threadbare Coat offers poems from various publications sequenced to lead us anew up paths and across hillsides, to “the fort of stillness” or “the quiet island,” into “woods & water” and “sweet vernal grass,” at the speed of footsteps or the “speed of the running wave.”

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Each of us enters Johnson’s book through that singular, seemingly never settled and always unsettling noun, holding a small flat object labeled Inheritance. A thing made and possessed by another, and now — is it really yours? A thing given, but was it freely chosen?

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