BY ERIC MARKOWSKY
All in all, 2011 was a pretty good year for poetry. Not only did a poet win this year’s Nobel Prize for literature (way to go Tomas Transtromer), not only did this year’s National Book Award for Poetry winner give an awesome acceptance speech (really well done, Nikky Finney), but a bunch of my favorite poets all published new books to boot, including Dean Young, Billy Collins, Adam Zagajewski, Stephen Dunn, and Derek Walcott.
Below, you’ll a find a few more reasons to celebrate some of the
Best New Poetry of 2011
Last year, I ended my “Best Poetry of 2010” post by looking to the future. I wanted to plug Valzhna’s Mort’s upcoming collection because I’d hear her read locally, and I just about fell in love with her. Now here’s the reminder I promised you: read Collected Body. It doesn’t disappoint. I could try to give you a thorough rundown of what makes this collection distinctive, but I don’t know that I could do a better job than L.A. Grove has already done at the California Journal of Poetics. Read the review here and then give Collected Body the attention it deserves.
Michael Dickman’s second collection won this year’s James Laughlin Award for the best second book by an American poet. His verse is spare and often unnerving, leaving lines precariously balanced on the backs of single words. I found a lot of what I read in Flies funny, if darkly funny, without really being able to say what exactly it was I was laughing at, as if I were laughing just to break the tension in the room even though I was alone.
Stumbling across Donald Hall’s new collection felt like running into a favorite old teacher at the supermarket on a trip back home. I remember hearing Hall read when I was in high school and thinking for the first time that maybe it was possible for real live people to write poetry, too; that poetry wasn’t the sole province of the legendary dead I read about in my English classes. I still think of that as one of Hall’s greatest achievements: demonstrating the literary potential of every day. His simple diction and formal clarity continue to testify to the power of ordinary events so long as we are prepared to pay attention.
Not a poet I know much about, this collection came as a pleasant surprise. Come, Thief is Hirshfield’s seventh collection, the followup to After, which was shortlisted for the 2006 T.S. Eliot Prize. Hirshfield’s voice is commanding, moving the reader effortlessly through images and scenes that often appear at disjunctive, or sometimes seem to appear out of nowhere, but which inevitably yield some resonance, as if each poem produced an echo to fill the moment of silence that it created. Aphoristic and colored by Zen philosophy, Come, Thief invites long consideration of its smallest gestures.