So, what rocked my world?
The remarkable power of ‘naming.’ MOEZ SURANI‘s book-length poem ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация (BookThug, 2016), lists the code names for UN miltary interventions from 1945 to present that could easily be mistaken for the titles of children’s picture books. At once absurdly funny and utterly grotesque, the poem packs a wallop, chillingly prescient and foreboding. High mass.
Reading HOA NGUYEN’s VIOLET ENERGY INGOTS (Wave Books, 2016) aloud at one of our Slo-po nights was simply the most fun—hearing it play, stop/start, question trippingly back forth out of my ears and mouth—a self-play that the poet herself invites as she reveals/battles conditioners on all fronts. Even more remarkable upon each return.
Equally playful, (beautifully executed by Coach House Books), Magyarázni by HELEN HAJNOCZKY is a cultural immersion course of everything Hungarian in ‘the new world’ as the child of a refugee immigrant. Each poem is lovingly paired with folk art, and, as with the paperdoll cut-out costume on its cover, to find a language of place, the desire to fit in both worlds. (Also of note, from Coach House, best book cover of the year, 3 Summers by Lisa Robertson).
ANNA MOSCHOVAKIS‘ reading here at KFB slayed, as does her newest THEY AND WE WILL GET INTO TROUBLE FOR THIS (Coffee House Press, 2016). What kind of ‘trouble?’ Only the kind that hard poetry brings. The trouble that brings us here. The trouble that keeps us here. The trouble that raises these questions, unflinchingly. And bares the findings.
I love surprises. Discovery. “Look here, look,” as poet Fred Wah insists time and again. So, I’m always thrilled to open a chapbook to find a bunny (Michelle Brown, Foreign Experts Building, Desert Pets Press, 2016).
And, to encounter RUTH ROACH PIERSON, again. UNTRANSLATABLE THOUGHT (Anstruther Press, 2016) is, simply put, the most beautiful book of poetry I have held in my hands this year. The poetry itself, and the book in hand. As the title suggests, the words on the page alone suffice. I am in awe.
Also, worthy of note, another chap I find myself placing in many readers hands, the extremely popular (and quite good) I Wanted to Be the Knife by Sara Sutterlin (Metatron Press, 2016), with the best opening line of the year. And, already a classic, Rachel Rose‘s Thirteen Ways to Look at CanLit (BookThug, 2015).
Speaking of BookThug, Surani and Porco in the same year (not to mention my personal favourite read of 2016, ERIN WUNKER‘s divine Notes From A Feminist Killjoy). Love how you pick them.
Alessandro Porco‘s/BookThug’s labour of love project, Poems by Gerard Legro by Jerrold Levy and Richard Negro, (edited with an introduction by Alessandro Porco), is an archivist’s wonder and joy. Two Black Mountain College students in the ‘everybody’s doing it why can’t we?’ phase of their teens challenge the flavour of American post-war modernism in this stand alone treasure.
SUZANNE BUFFAM’s A Pillow Book (House of Anansi, 2016) does what I believe good poetry does best. Tricks the mind into hearing something new. No, it’s really not this, it’s this. Maybe. This is how we dream, fragments enter, leave. Leave what? Poetry doesn’t get any finer than this. A keeper.
Two debuts. MICHAEL PRIOR’s Model Disciple (Signal Editions | Véhicule Press 2016) JP HOWARD say/mirror (the operating system, 2015). From Prior’s opening line, “I am all that is wrong with the Old World, / and half of what troubles the New.” we find are ourselves on the same raft, intimately exchanging breaths, language as life preserver, constantly finding footing, place. Howard’s poems are a love letter to her diva, Harlem runway model, Ruth King, her mother.
I would be remiss not to mention a couple of books that ‘came late’ to me. From The Song Cave‘s brilliant catalogue, A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind, The Poems of Alfred Starr Hamilton (it’s title suits, delectable), TOM CLARK‘s poetic illustrated diary, Cold Spring (Skanky Possum Press, 2000), and Gesture Press, Pure Mental Breath, poetry SHEILA E. MURPHY with photography by BLAINE SPIGEL (1994).
Some of the best poetry (and writing about poetry) I read this year, was the brilliant A Pestschrift for CAConrad in TRIPWIRE 10 (Oakland :2016), and the MAD PRIDE issue of Matrix Magazine edited by poet Roxanna Bennett.
Also when poet Steven Carter rushed in with his new copy of Poetry Magazine (December 2016) to read to me two jawdropping SAM SAX poems, On PrEP or on Prayer.
Steven, I will cherish you, that moment, forever.
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