Top Reads 2009: Poetry

My poetry reading was varied and haphazard this year, but I would highlight the following five collections and poets for 2009:
  • While it seems like it must have been ages ago, my reading log notes that I devoured Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters on January 1-2, 2009 (a Faber edition I recall buying in York). They are haunted by the suicide of their addressee (Sylvia Plath), and now also by allegations of Hughes' abuse and callousness in the relationship. But I guess I'm still enough of a New Critic to not let that detract from the poetry, like the eerie earthiness of "Karlsbad Caverns."
  • Charles Wright's latest collection, Sestets, gathers his work that has been trickling out in magazines and literary quarterlies over the past few years, including one of my all-time favorites, "Cowboy Up." This is an almost 'metaphysical' collection about which I hope to write in more detail soon.
  • For something completely different, I was deeply marked by a week with Carl Sandburg, Selected Poems (in a LOA edition edited by Paul Berman). This was a treasured purchase from the celebrated Malaprop's bookstore in Asheville, NC and was a source of meditation while we stayed in a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. During our time there, we also visited Sandburg's home near Flat Rock, NC. His gritty homage to Chicago is still a paen to the underside of glitzy America, and his honesty about the "working class" still rings true. His was an America that still made stuff, before all that was solid melted into thin air.
  • 2009 will also be the year that I kept bumping into Albert Goldbarth in various places--like his poem, "Sentimental," which I recently noted. But it took me a while to connect this to a poem I highlighted back in 2008, a recent New Yorker poem, "The Way." He's now at the top of my "to-read" poetry list for 2010, along with Sherman Alexie and Anne Carson.
  • Honorable mention: Keith Taylor, If the World Becomes So Bright. A collection of "Michigan" poems by a Michigan poet; a regional treat. And I love how the last lines capture our inbuilt semiotic proclivities to "read" the world: "I would like to be cold and clearheaded about / these events, but it is hard not to take them as signs."