December 18, 2015

2015 Best of Poetry Lists

More end-of-year best book lists are being announced. There are the known and "official" best of lists, like the National Book Awards and there are plenty of lesser known ones.

Still time to grab an end-of-year poetry gift for a friend or for yourself.

The GoodReads website has its list of readers' choice book awards, including 20 books of poetry. There are a few titles or poets that I know, but the majority are ones I don't know. There is Felicity by Mary Oliver, but also the winning title, The Dogs I Have Kissed, by Trista Mateer who is "Known for her eponymous blog and her confessional style of writing, this is Trista Mateer's second collection of poetry."

Assuming that the list is simply based on votes by readers of the site, you can either see it as a real list of books readers enjoyed or a chance for lesser-known poets to have their friends vote them up. I'd like to believe it is the former, a kind of crowdsourced what-I-read-and-liked list. Either way, it brought to my attention some books I would not have seen otherwise.

Another list of 8 comes via the Flavorwire website.  

I occasionally look at Amazon's list of best-selling poetry books because it does mean something to know what people are buying. That list always has titles that seem like they were purchased by students for a class (lots of anthologies) and also a bunch of current titles. I'm not a big buyer of anthologies, but I can see someone buying 100 Best-Loved Poems in the way that I once bought the Miles Davis "Greatest Hits" album (knowing he never had any "hits") in the hope of getting the best in one place.

December 16, 2015

A Blessing

James Wright and Robert Bly began a friendship through letters. Eventually, Wright would visit Bly's farm in western Minnesota and fall in love with it. “I think your farm is the first such place I have ever really liked — it is beautifully mysterious and very much its own secret place.”

He began taking the train out there every Friday after classes, and staying for the weekend, sleeping in an old converted chicken coop, which was heated by an oil stove.

On Saturday mornings, he would come into the farmhouse for breakfast, go back out, and return at lunch with a poem. He said of the Blys: “They loved me and they saved my life. I don’t mean the life of my poetry, either.”

One day Bly and Wright were driving home from another friend’s farm when they passed two horses in a pasture. They stopped and got out to see the horses, and in the car Wright began writing a poem in a spiral notebook. That became one of his most beloved poems, “A Blessing.”

A Blessing

by James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

from Collected Poems

December 9, 2015

Prompt: Poetry as Food

I read an article about how the Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust works with a poet who is appearing at CĂșirt International Festival of Literature to select poetry suitable for display in waiting areas of their hospitals. These "Poems for Patience" is a collection that hopefully will give people pause for reflection and space for hope in both those joyful celebratory moments as well as the all too often times of pain or worry. This year the poems were selected and introduced by Naomi Shihab Nye.

On Poetry Day (7 May) a Menu of Poems called ‘Flow’ was distributed throughout Irish hospital wards, waiting rooms and other healthcare settings for patients, visitors and staff to enjoy. You can see the menu at

This got me thinking about serving poetry as food. Poetry as something you take in on a daily basis and that sustains you. Some of it good and solid and healthy, and sometimes some that is light and sweet, or heavy and probably not the best thing to have at that time.

There are a good number of poems about food, but that is not what we are dealing with in this prompt. There are also some well known poems about eating poetry.

One that is often anthologized and used in schools is "How To Eat a Poem" by Eve Merriam.

Don't be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that
may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.
You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.
For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away.
Also well known is "Eating Poetry" by Mark Strand, which appeared on this year's National Poetry Month poster and begins:    
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry...

But what I am more interested in for this month's prompt is what Galway Kinnell does in his poem "Blackberry Eating."

Maybe the Galway Hospital triggered the Kinnell connection, but in his poem we have him first being quite literal in his eating -
I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making;
- and then something else happens. The blackberries, with their "black art" become words, if not poems.

and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.
The prompt this month is poetry as food - poems that explore how we consume poetry, what it gives us, and may or may not contain references to actual foods.

With holidays and such at year's end, I'm sure you will have more than enough foods prompting you.

The submission deadline for this prompt is January 10, 2016.