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My Top 5 Favorite Poetry Read of 2006

I suppose top 10 would be more tidy, but they’re just numbers.

I suppose if I were to be fussy I would make all the cover sizes consistant. Meh. Artifices.

So, in an unordered list… Just a sec… it would be more useful and meaningful to you and I if I were to explain why and what I see and liked…Which might call for a retraction to ponder and sort it out into articulate verbal form.

Hrm. So. More to append. Just so you know. appended.

Favorite Poetry of the Year:


For the Living and the Dead by Tomas Transtromer translated from Swedish by Don Coles from Buschek Books. It is on the list because of heart stopper lines and density and focus of phrase. It’s too intense to skim.

There are constant unexpected juxtapositions between nouns and verbs. Addresses on envelopes reel. Money crawls down the wrong man’s pockets, the cathedral and moon switch places, the shadows on stone ebbing and flowing like moon phases, and inside you opens up vault after vault endlessly

Really it makes me dizzy at a gut level and I don’t understand the mechanism any more than I understand how one understands a paragraph embedded in a glance. I hesitate to say so or show a sample because it may not work as well in parts, as it unfolds phrase to phrase, gaining power with momentum and cycles such as this from Alcaic which simultaneously calms and excites.

A woods in May. Here spooks my whole life:
   the invisible moving van. Birdsong.
      In silent pools the midge larvae’s
            furious dancing question mark.

monty reid
Disappointment Island by Monty Reid from Chaudiere Books comes on the list inordinately quickly since it only released last month and yet for a lot of poetry I can’t bear to reread and for this I’ve reread some 3 to 5 times after gaps and haven’t even finished the book. In a way it’s like writing a movie review part way through viewing but like the others here, poems tends to hitch my breath so it fits. But how to quote anything that conveys and stop short of a page, or of a poem, such as The Shelving or Cabin or Combustion Air? The names will mean nothing to you unless you buy the book, which of course you must.

There’s something pressing behind the narrative that is approachable as conversational text transcribed without being shaved, or bouffanted, to the page. Like suspending disbelief, forgetting it is a movie, one can forget it is written.

Maybe that’s why
I have begun to think

rusted out Ladas
are the only true vehicles

of the revolution.
We could put bullet-holes

through one of them
and put it on display

and marvel
how anyone survived.

It’s a strange mix of intense and light touch. It is good humored and comic without chasing or straining after laughs and caused so many smile through it.

It’s like a playscape but grounded. There’s the unexpected yet observational such as the soft moss has already begun/to dredge reluctant minerals from deep/within the lantern stones.


Li-Young Lee’s Roseis a long time favorite that I keep coming back to. His other books sing as well but it’s my favorite. It has an excruciating sustained tenderness underwritten with love that almost is a sorrow. It is a concrete grounded literalness yet a looking into the eclipse of his childhood and his child’s childhood, without falling to saccharine or sentimental in any conventional sense. In Braiding

We two sit on our bed, you
between my legs, your back to me, your head
slightly bowed, that I may brush and braid
your hair. My father
did this for my mother,
just as I do for you. One hand
hold the hem of your hair, the other
works the brush. Both hands climb
as the strokes grow
longer until I use not only my wrists,
but my arms, then my shoulders, my whole body
rocking in a rower’s rythm, a lover’s
even time, as the tangles are undone,
and the brush and bare hand run the thick,
fluent length of your hair whose wintry scent
comes, a faint, human musk.

Part of the appeal is the rhythm and the softness of word stroke. Part of it is the appeal of no cheap shock of horrific image, banality or cleverness. There’s a holiness and wholeness that doesn’t attempt to be self-aware or self-conscious yet doesn’t feel raw and barren but smoothed like a worry stone almost. It’s a meditation slowness with reveals for scene or language, like vantage points at a corner, in a well-designed garden .

mclennan aubade
rob mclennan’s aubade from Broken Jaw Press share characteristics that may be familiar from the others here, rhythm and the ratio of surprise, the sudden deer-scarer shifts of balance and image. There’s the gestures towards without the unpacking prosaically, some poems more of a page of watercolor studies than a labelled diagram, a fragmentation of moments or moment that compiles to something more clear. For example, (composed in the midst of action)

crossing somerset, a car
speeding towards

exposed arms, & head
& legs, a hairs
breadth

life flashing/ but safe

There’s something addictive in the double ambiguity play-tug to read both ways in enjambments such as but children/do, they listen. adults//put their legs in, splash /around. sun burns down//a headache, noon.

The mood shifts within a range but recurrent are tender notes like this below that don’t fall to maudlin or too telling.There’s the appeal of tongue feel such as in had bumped heads

toddlers make
a tether

in museums,
learning

in batches,
& leave

the way they
came in

small
&

smaller

There’s the bitten tongue and pulled word and placed word; perhaps was not a word we mentiond, /but certainly a word/we knew

Words are pressed but there’s not full click of a padlock before moving off yet there’s the feeling of closure. There’s the feeling of being and not being simultaneously, as in even unlimited travel having an astericks, bus tickets keep a sense of return alive,/ but only certain hours, zones.

griffin prize book
In the Griffin Poetry Prize Anthologyit was predominantly Phil Hall which sold the volume for the same reason as Don Coles’ translation of Tomas Transtromer. There’s a density of jumping concepts teaming up and teeming up.

My heart likewise can’t take so long of reading of the stuff and I may have made an embarrassingly private subvocal sound in the store when I read that These Presbyterian highlands sniffed/ indignant to be demonized by tiny limestone bones. /The pouting shadow of a fresh hole might blaspheme/twist a perfectly graceful egg-gathering hand…

Elsewhere in the anthology the Company of Moths excerpt tugs at me to buy the whole book for lines of understandings that sing to me like songs and flooded paths/This heap of photographs by Michael Palmer.

A lot of contrariness occurs to me regarding the list. I overlook online and chapbooks and the level of individual poem. I could constrain to published this year. I suppose I could, but didn’t and won’t. If I were to be PC (perish the immortal thought) I’d notice that it’s all male voice. The feminist within is petulant. (Is that an exposure issue; does that only make an argument for my being straight, or is it incidental and accidental?) Ah vell, I’ll stop picking at it now. Probably.

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