Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Top 10 Poetry Books for Christmas

birds chatting

If you are trying to be a better poet, you know that writing poetry is only half the work. Reading good poetry is the other half. It is what informs your sensibilities, introduces you to new techniques, makes you jealous (in a good way) so you work even harder to find just the right images, sounds, rhythms.

I read a lot of poetry, because it helps me become a better poet. It also makes me a better writer in general. And it creates bonds between me and my girls, as we often read together after supper. Last night, for instance, my Eldest asked me to read some Shakespeare blank verse to her, from The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. Then we had a sweet conversation about the poem, and we both learned something about blank verse.

This is the other thing I love about reading poetry, especially with my children. It's a simple way to have a conversation about literature, without requiring the longer commitment of reading a whole book together (though we do that too).

Below are some of the books we have shared, and continue to share. I've taken the liberty of adding my own book of poetry to the list. Funny enough, my kids once asked me for a signed copy (which they thought was hilarious). And they still read the poems, and it makes me smile. I still read the poems sometimes too, and I wonder about the person who had those experiences; many of the poems are the "little stories" behind the bigger story I tell in God in the Yard.

Top 10 Poetry Books for Christmas

1. The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. This is an excellent resource book that my girls and I go back to again and again. It's where we found villanelles, sestinas, and (last night :) blank verse. It includes lots of great classic poems, grouped by form.

2. Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words is a fun little book that will get you playing with words in new ways. I remember writing the poem Bottled after taking Wooldridge's advice about collecting fun words. I am fizzle fazzle pizzaz... I started.

3. InsideOut: poems. I partnered with International Arts Movement to bring this book into the world. Some of my favorite poems are the short ones like this, called "Almonds": I remember the scent/and how you crushed them;/brown skins/turned to dust,/scattered like spilled cinnamon.

4. Valentines. Okay, I know you are thinking, "Wrong holiday, L.L.!" But this is a great little book of poetry. For years Kooser wrote poems for a whole mailing list of women, as a simple Valentine's gift, until the stamps got too expensive. I'm glad they did. Now we can read the poems too. Here's an excerpt from "Pocket Poem": What I wanted this/to say was that I want to be so close/that when you find it, it is warm from me.

5. The Butterfly's Burden. This collection, by a Palestinian poet, never fails to make me swoon. Take this little untitled poem for instance: The fog is darkness, thick white darkness/peeled by an orange and a promising woman. :)

6. Barbies at Communion: and other poems. I don't know anyone with a style quite like Marcus Goodyear. He sees the most amazing things in the common: credit cards, Barbies, a seashore. Here's the end of a poem about mowing on a Sunday: I'll admit my sin. I love this Sabbath/work, my mower's loud drone/swallows the noisy world whole.

7. Contingency Plans: poems. If you like form poetry, this is a perfect choice. The sestinas alone are worth the price of the book (if you don't know what a sestina is, come back tomorrow. I promise to give you a Christmas Future sestina, whether you are naughty or nice. :) One of my favorite excerpts comes from a poem called "On Restlessness." For some reason I say it in my head a lot: If it helps, find some paper: write your question./Mine merely asks 'How do you and I operate?'

8. How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry. Hirsch says poetry is "a secret that can no longer be kept a secret." If you've wondered why and how you should read poetry, this book will give you some unexpected and delightful answers, so that maybe you'll find yourself saying, like he does, "It always carries me away."

9. Nine Horses: Poems. One quiet Sabbath, I read this entire book of poetry to my kids. They loved it. Collins is pure grown-up, but he's accessible at many levels. One of our favorites was about the neurotic fear of a mouse who might burn the whole house down by accidentally striking a match in the walls.

10. The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems. Neruda will teach you the power of the image. Abstract language takes a back seat to poppies, a green knife, footsteps light as flour dust. I am particularly enamored with the love poetry. Here's an excerpt from "Twenty Love Poems, 7": Leaning into the evenings I toss my sad nets/to that sea which stirs your ocean eyes. I think it's the power of the images that makes Neruda still so readable even in translation (and this translation collection, btw, I hear is one of the best).

Merry Christmas, in 24 days. I'm going to go read a little poetry. :)

Mourning Doves in the Tree photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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Blogger Kelly Sauer said...

Do you know, I would buy Inside Out again. I love it so much...

5:30 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

I'm partial to at least a few of these myself.

Glynn was after me about coming up with a list but I don't like limiting myself. I can say my list would include unequivocally Mahmoud Darwish and Neruda. I'd probably also add Marge Piercy, W.S. Merwin, Ruth Stone, Patricia Fargnole, Rachel Wetzsteon, Lucille Clifton....

Looking forward to the sestina.

6:13 PM  
Blogger Melissa Campbell said...

Thank you for the Christmas list! I'll pass it on to my husband and girls for ideas. I am also taking up your challenge to try a villanelle. Almost have it finished. I am going to link back to your site when I post. Have a great evening.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Nancy Kelly said...

Ohhh. I'm sending this post to dh! Aside from your book and Collins', I do not have these. Wouldn't that stack look lovely under the tree?

8:25 PM  
Blogger Louise Gallagher said...

Ohhhh, that Christmas book list keeps getting longer and longer.

Awesome list -- thanks so much!

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have such passion for poetry! It is so cool to see it flowing out of you - and you continue to influence me in that direction too. I have a couple of these books already (but why didn't I get the author to sign mine?!). I have also had Billy Collins "Ballistics" on the table for a long time.

6:27 AM  
Anonymous Sandra Heska King said...

Oh, my husband needs a second job.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Megan Willome said...

My writing group just did "Poemcrazy" this fall. Each week we did a few chapters. We all agreed it was excellent therapy (and the poems weren't too bad, either).

1:13 PM  
Blogger Bonnie said...

Loved your list..........continue with Wendell Berry, Luci Shaw, George Herbert. Great book by Luci called Breath for the Bones :Art, Imagination and Spirit. She has an incredible list in the back. Billy
Collins was on Garrison Keillor's show this past Sunday reading poems and being in a skit: a panhandler poet on the subway!

4:38 PM  
Blogger annewalker said...

Hey, thanks for sharing this list of poetry books about christmas. Very nice, I really love reading short Christmas poems and it's really nice to have a book of poetry. Thanks!

Happy holidays,
Anne Walker

12:31 PM  

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