28 December 2016

Six poetry books for 2016 + a bonus for the kiddies

Truth is, I didn't read enough of 2016's poetry output to offer up a "best of." Whatever a "best of" is. But I read enough to be moved to write about six poetry books published this past year that especially
stood out for me.

Certainly there were others from 2016 that made their indelible mark on my skull. For example, the six books I ushered through Mansfield Press in my final year at that outfit: Yes or Nope, by Meaghan Strimas; All of Us Reticent, Here, Together, by Stephen Brockwell; Chewing Water, by Nelson Ball; Book of Short Sentences, by Alice Burdick; Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines, by Jason Heroux; Saint Twin, by Sarah Burgoyne. Every one of those wildly different titles is a brilliant contender. Here's what I say: collect the whole set.

I have also left out other books I loved, but had some kind of editorial role in. And other books I loved, but had no editorial role in.

Why didn't I read as much new poetry as I usually do? Well, a few reasons. For one, I spent far too much time reading about the terrifying decline into redneckery of the United States of America. Also, I read a lot more fiction, and a lot more essays, than I did poetry in 2016. And then there's this: I've been concentrating on reading some of the many hundreds of books I own that I haven't yet read, so I didn't pick up as many new books as I usually do.

But here are six poetry books I did read in 2016 that numbered among my favourites.

COMMOTION OF THE BIRDS, by John Ashbery (Ecco)
One of my favourites by Ashbery of the past decade: some tiny poems in here, some prose poems. I find this book so often hilarious, which isn't to say it isn't often moving.

A PILLOW BOOK, by Suzanne Buffam (Anansi)
Rich and rereadable, with surprises at every turn. Prose poems, lists, one-line poems, and abecedariums. How could I not love this book?

POUND @ GUANTÁMO, by Clint Burnham (Talonbooks)
An unsung hero of 2016, this collection is as chaotic and over-the-top as anything Clint writes. And that's what I love about him, that and his fearlessness.

ARCHEOPHONICS, by Peter Gizzi (Wesleyan)
There are so many things going on in here, and all of it intelligent and readable. Gizzi continually explores what it is to be human in this world, through prose poems, list poems, lyrics and more.

CALAMITIES, by Renee Gladman (Wave Books)
A dense and exciting hybrid of prose poem/essay/fiction, with each piece beginning "I began the day" and then going somewhere entirely unexpected.

THROATY WIPES, by Susan Holbrook (Coach House)
This book is both complicated and fun. It's also refreshing. I love its eclecticism of form, and know I'll be visiting it again and again. A great follow-up to Joy Is So Exhausting.


A VOLE ON A ROLL, by Nelson Ball, illus. JonArno Lawson (Shapes & Sounds Press)
Who knew that seventy-something poet Nelson Ball would come out with his first book of poetry for children this year? Well, I knew, because he showed me the manuscript last spring. These poems are delightful, and they are pure Nelson. JonArno Lawson's scrappy illustrations are a lovely accompaniment.

Next year, I'll try to keep up a bit more on the current output. After all, poets will have their work cut out for them in 2017.

Over and out.


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