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Violets, you say? Don't be fooled.

1. Marilyn Hacker, Love, Death, & the Changing of Seasons (W.W. Norton and Co., 1995)

I had never seen or heard anything like the poems of Marilyn Hacker before Love, Death & the Changing of Seasons, and I haven't read any like it since. In Hacker's work, we are privy to the emotional, sensual, and intellectual exploits of one of literature's most engaging speakers--that boyish New York-Parisian lesbian Jew whose patina and salaciousness only add to her worldly charm. Here are poems at once relaxed yet formal and accessible, titillating and political. The voice is direct, controlled, and utterly compelling. Even better still, reading her work often gives one the delicious sensation of a good snoop. I've come to love all of Hacker's poetry, but this is the book I'll remember as my introduction to one of my favorite poets of all time.

2. Alice Notley, Disobedience (Penguin Books, 2001)

This long, sprawling, dream-like sequence of interconnected poems is segmented into journal-like fragments that can give the illusion Notley wrote them in one impossibly long pour. I've read that Notely is interested in automatic writing. That she can put herself into a trance and descend into "the cave" to write, so to speak. Astonishing. The poems that emerge are like a fiercely present conversation with the self. Even the titles of the poems seem like a continuation of the text, as if Notley yanked random standout lines from within the work and simply tacked them to the top of page. I love the randomness of titles like "Echoes the Past Fucks Me Over and Over," and "Oh Put Some Obscenely Concrete Nouns Back in Your Poems." Something about Disobedience feels like permission.

3. Albert Goldbarth, Beyond (David R. Gordine Publisher Inc., 1998)

Beyond belongs in the Smithsonian. Under glass. With cultural oddities of similar pluck. Goldbarth-an avid collector of thingamabobs, doohickeys, and what-have-yous-doesn't relegate his love of pop culture to his home. Instead he brings that stuff into his work where we can all enjoy it. His long poem "The Two Domains" is possibly the finest, most entertaining, long poem I have ever read. This multi-voiced poem takes place in an abandoned, haunted warehouse for forgotten bits and bobs of yesteryear and reads in the air like a radio play and on the page like a masterpiece. Goldbarth is a formal poet, but proves it can be as important to provide one's readers with works that are as entertaining as they are visually and sonically pleasing. I reread this book at least once a year.

4. David McFadden, Why Are You So Sad? (Insomniac Press, 2007)

I am in love with the poetry of David McFadden. Here is a poet able to steer perilously close to autobiography only to turn that notion on its head almost immediately after the reader is drawn into that way of thinking. The voice(s) in his work are simultaneously personal and impersonal and he uses the types of archetypal imagery that populates our dreams, to great effect. For McFadden, it doesn't matter what's "true." If the poem is getting at something bigger, more elemental, it becomes "true." McFadden will use any technique available to him (and he has many) to get to that scary place where a reader can become invested in the work and come away changed. His selected poems, Why Are You So Sad? is a perfect introduction to the work of one of Canada's few truly transcendent poets.

5. Matt Rader, Living Things (Nightwood Editions, 2008)

Matt Rader is the young Canadian poet of my generation whose work has, and continues, to influence me more than any other. Rader and I not only shared our apprenticeship, but also the landscape in which that apprenticeship took root. Living Things is Rader's second book of poetry. In it we find poems of technical prowess and intellectual acuity seldom found in the work of young writers. I am drawn to his work not only because I find it familiar but because I also find it strange. I have even used his work as a template for some of my own. Home of Sudden Service's "Wolf Lake" was written in Rader's style in direct response to his own "Wolf Lake," from his first book of poetry, Miraculous Hours. I can't help but be drawn to the sense of anxiety and displacement at the heart of Rader's work, but there is also a generosity of spirit there that moves beyond autobiography and into the history of the land itself.

6. Margaret Christakos, Wipe Under a Love (The Mansfield Press, 2000)

The best recombinant text set in the domestic sphere going. Christakos regurgitates lines like a bird with one eye on the kids and the other on her lovers and the next meal. I have read a lot of good lyric poetry grounded in the domestic, but Christakos says no to all that. Instead, she stacks text upon text and whips it around like a motorized shopping cart gone off its nut at the local supermarket. This just pleases me. Beyond the pursuit of pleasure, I know I can always trust Chfistakos to get to the heart of what it feels like, looks like, is like, to be mother to a brood and lover to the world. Her craft is enviably well in hand and, for those willing to submit to the wave of her language, it's also remarkably accessible.

7. David McGimpsey, Sitcom (Coach House Press, 2007)

It's no great secret I love sonnets, blank verse, and rhyming couplets. But I also love Archie comics and Bud; "The Price is Right" and "Celebrity Rehab." Auden and Yeats and a Wendy's hamburger are pretty good too. You know who agrees with me? Poet David McGimpsey. Here's the thing. For every one reader I know who grew up eating organic vegetables on a gulf island with parents who loved to read books, about twenty more grew up in the burbs with Betty and Veronica, Penthouse Letters, and a paper crown from Burger King on their head. Some of us, and I'm not saying who, had to beat a path to literature, so to speak. So I love that McGimpsey's poetry brings up questions of cultural capital and class in a way that's funny and smart and sad. It's true we laugh when we read about the Happy Bun, but we're also crying. This stuff is so familiar it hurts.

8. Donato Mancini, Aethel (New Star Books, 2007)

Donato Mancini is one of Canada's few truly accomplished contemporary concrete poets. I am attracted to his Aethel for the beauty and cheekiness of its visual sense and this book particularly appeals to the fine press printer and compositor in me. The poems in Aethel are comprised of a mishmash of reworked letterforms in a variety of fonts that have been twisted and reshaped into visual representations of, well, whatever Mancini imagined they could become. I love these poems so much I spent two years printing broadsides of some of them on a Vandercook at the Barbarian Press in Steelhead, BC. I wanted to give the poems a life outside the book and I wanted that life to come from a great literary tradition. This, of course, is where the poems come from too.

9. Louise Gluck, The Wild Iris (The Ecco Press, 1992)

Agony. The lyric form stretched taut as razor wire. In this multi-voiced text Louise Gluck's poppies and violets and snowdrops take us to the garden of despair and insist we take up a trowel. Violets, you say? Snowdrops? Don't be fooled. There are no other voices in contemporary lyric poetry as exacting and direct as those you will find in this book. The work is loaded with philosophical tyrannies, the unblinking eye of the void. This is the book I go to exacerbate my worries about the end times, global warming, and the dissolution of family. The masochist in me can't help but return to it again and again. If The Wild Iris made a sound it would be the sound of one long earth-encircling howl of pain.

10. Frank O'Hara, Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)

I'm trapped on a deserted island, but I've got the Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara and a palm leaf for shade. All right then. I'm okay. I will read his poems until I have them all memorized and write letters home to you for the rest of my (albeit short and parched) life. Here is a poet who lived his life and wrote it down ... and O'Hara definitely had memory down. He is a constant conjurer and the clarity of his imagery and the immediacy of his voice are enchanting. When pressed to discuss form and other technical aspects of poetry he said, "That's just common sense. If you're going to buy a pair of pants you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you." Oh, sweet homosexual poet. Bless you.

11. Marianne Moore, The Complete Poems (The Viking Press, 1981)

How do I love the poems of Marianne Moore? More than I can say. Whether she's at the baseball field or deep below the sea with the fish, Marianne Moore brings the kind of cool objective eye to her subjects that, ultimately, brings them wholly into the realm of art. Moore's poetry is truly a made thing, and I love a made thing. Her work is finely tuned to the last syllable, draws found material in like a wave, and is peppered with the kind of pragmatic wisdom writers, and readers, crave. In her poem "Picking and Choosing," Moore writes, "Literature is a phase of life. If one is afraid of it/the situation is irremediable; if one approaches it familiarly/what one says of it is worthless." Reminder to self: it's Ms. Moore. Never Marianne.

12. Charles Bernstein, Girly Man (University of Chicago Press, 2006)

If you take the best aspects of content and technique from all the books I've discussed in this dozen, Charles Bernstein's Girly Man is bound to use every one. Here are poems that are unusual, defamiliarizing, and step out of time though perhaps not place; multi-voiced texts, found texts, long poems, and the language of dreams; directness of voice and clarity of image; poems that are visually appealing on the page, poems that are ordered, yet wild. Bernstein flirts with strict received forms for their musicality and for what they can offer the poet engaged in outsider poetics. The work is often hilarious while still rooted deep in pain, the esoteric, the arcane. Oh yes, pain. He hangs out there a while. In the hands of a lesser poet, Girly Man could have become a soupy mess, but this work is hard and shiny. Bernstein's sense of the literal is unparalleled. His dry, direct voice brings philosophy to bear on our lives in a way that is not only meaningful, but useful.
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Title Annotation:ARC DOZENS
Author:Bachinsky, Elizabeth
Publication:ARC Poetry Magazine
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2010
Previous Article:Acknowledgements.
Next Article:How poems work--on whom?

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