I brought back about 50 lbs worth of books from AWP, and am only now getting started into reading them. My favorites so far: Interglacial: New and Selected Poems and Aphorisms, by James Richardson, published by Ausable Press. My favorite part are the aphorisms. He can do in one sentence what some poets do in whole long poems. Here are a few that have grabbed me:
"The road you do not take you will have to cross."
"Solitude takes time. One becomes alone, like a towel drying, a stone warming."
"Indecision is excess of decision."
They are almost zen koans; I find I can turn them over and over in my head, and not tire of them.
The second favorite so far is Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes are Pierced, by Catherine Barnett, which won the 2003 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books. I have always admired the work Alice James does, and their independent cooperative small press spirit. And this is a truly stunning book. I could not put it down and read the entire thing in one sitting; which matters because there is a bit of a narrative arc and a story to the poems. In brief, the poet's sister lost two young daughters in a plane crash off the California coast a few years ago (Dean and I also knew a couple on that plane, who gardened in the pea-patch across the street from us). These short, direct, personal lyric poems explore the anguish and grief and coming to terms and remembering of this devastating loss. And it works, I think, because the poet is one small step removed from it, being the sister of the mother. The distance allows her to bear looking closely at the events (hearing the news, the funeral, memorials, visiting the crash site, the things left behind, anniversaries, etc.) and to make art out of the experience; to make something beautiful, that we can all potentially learn from, and appreciate, as grief and loss touch us all at one time or another. These are riveting poems:
from "After Trying to Calculate the Weight of a Six-Year Old"
. . . They say the plane disappeared into the ocean--
they don't say anything about the ocean
how the ocean was changed
. . . For example, if you keep halving the distance
from sky to water
you should never get to water.
negative three g's,
250 miles per hour,
700 fathoms down,
quiet field --