Poetry Books: A Summer Reading List

I came back from AWP with a massive amount of poetry collections. When it comes to books, I have poor impulse control (understatement of the year) but there were a lot of poets at AWP that “I knew” either through previous interactions (MA, MFA, readings, etc.) or who “I met” through Twitter, FB and Binders, so again, I had to buy their books and get them signed. I had to.

My intentions after returning from AWP were good. I would finish out the spring semester and then bury myself in the lovely pile of books that I stacked on my dining room table. Guess what? It’s June 17th and the pile is still there. Untouched. The major reason for this literary neglect is that I thought I had a solid three weeks of reading time from the end of the spring term, May 11th, to June 4th when my son, Cameron, was supposed to be born.

Let me reiterate: his due date was June 4th. When did he show up? May 16th.

So, yeah.

Anyway. I’ve found that mornings, after Cam eats and goes back to sleep, are prime time for poem drafting/ revising/reading, so I am finally prepared to tackle that stack of books that is taunting me from across the room. I’ll be posting about each book (I’m hoping to average a book/chapbook a week) because I know that most of the time I come to poetry collections through recommendations from other poets.

Stay tuned.

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30/30 Debrief

The month of April was full of excellent poetry projects and I was lucky enough to participate in several of them including Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Project. I wrote a poem every day for the month of April and it was a positive and enlightening experience on a number of levels.

First, 30/30 reaffirmed something I already knew: I like prompts. I liked prompts when I was an undergraduate enrolled in my first poetry workshop, I continued to like them through my MA & MFA programs and when I give my students prompts in class, I write with them. The prompt can be fairly specific and structure (write a sonnet about spaghetti) or it can pretty loose (write a poem about your mother) but I find the chance to explore different subjects and forms liberating, so when certain patrons requested poems about certain topics for 30/30, I didn’t feel locked in or limited. It was liberating.

I also discovered that a structured routine can work for me for a short period of time. For example, writing everyday over the course of several months or a year wouldn’t work for me. I’m the type of poet who needs to let things marinate, so I’m more likely to draft or free write a few times a week and then let those ideas sit and return to them in the following weeks. However, in terms of generating drafts to revise, forcing myself to write a poem everyday  and falling into a pattern in order to complete that task was useful. I did most of my writing in the evenings and after I got into a groove, I really looked forward to coming home and spending those hours writing. Regardless of how the poem turned out, the routine was good for me.

Third, I definitely have subjects that I return to again and again. I also find certain subjects “easier.” For example, poems about relationships (mothe11074360_10153129576130791_6587523387526103526_nrs & daughters; fathers & sons; friends; lovers) come a bit more naturally to me as do poems that concern the natural world (birds, butterflies, plants, landscapes, etc). Poems that are more political in nature or a more abstract are much harder for me to enter. What was great about 30/30 was that I was given the opportunity to write all kinds of poems, which forced me to stretch.

Moving outside of my comfort zone also made me realize that I’m not bothered if a poem fails. I don’t see it as a waste of time. This is something I tell my students all the time. The act of writing is never a waste of time, even if you only write one word or line or phrase that you like out of an entire page of scribbling. I wrote drafts for 30/30 that I liked and that I’m looking forward to revising over the coming months. I also wrote drafts where I’ll probably scrap the entire poem save a line or two or I may just abandon it all together. And you know what? It’s all good.

Fifth, there’s a greater audience for poetry than I think a lot of poets realize. Part of the 30/30 process is fundraising and I’ll admit, I was nervous in terms of meeting my goal (even though it was modest) but I was pleasantly surprised to find an abundance of support for poetry and project in general. Co-workers, friends, family and acquaintances all requested poems and/or made donations. Not only did I meet my goal, but I exceeded it. Poetry dead? I think not.

Finally, I’m a big proponent of supporting poets in whatever way I can. I wrote about good literary citizenship in a previous post and I think that 30/30 promotes that idea in spades. Not only did I get to meet and write with the poets that joined me in the month of April, but I was also able to attend the meet and greet in Minneapolis during AWP. There’s a group for 30/30 alumni on Facebook and it’s wonderful to see so many poets supporting one another in a variety of endeavors.

Admittedly, by the time May 1st rolled around I was exhausted. This was partially due to writing a poem a day and the fact that it was the end of the semester and I was staring down five classes worth of grading. I was also pregnant, so some might say I was crazy to even take the project on, but I thought it was perfect timing. I figured I’d have tons of work to revise this summer and get ready to send out for the fall, which is exactly what I had when the month was up.

I’d encourage any poet to try out 30/30 whether it’s through a venue like Tupelo Press’s project or simply something you do with a writing group or on your own.

A Debrief of AWP 2015 Minneapolis

For me, AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) is usually a mix of excellence and exhaustion, so I give you a list of all the excellent I encountered at this year’s conference.

1. Welcome booth sponsored by Rain Taxi at the Minneapolis airport

2. Fun sights seen on my way from airport to hotel: giant mural of sheet music on a brick building, penguins from the film Madagascar peering out of an office window, statue of Mary Richards & a little boy in a batman costume.

3. Friendly helpful staff at the Millennium Hotel where I made my home for four nights.

4. A king sized bed. Hello.

5. Electronic AWP registration via email confirmation #

6. The AWP app.

7. The skywalk. YES.

8. A sturdy tote.

9. Dinner with Sam Snoek Brown

10. An absolutely amazing reading by the the Dark Noise Collective Thursday morning & purchasing The Break Beat Poets Anthology immediately upon leaving said reading.

11. Participating as contributor to “The Full Time Professorship: From Application to Hire to Continuing Life as Writer” panel.

12. The Two-Year College Caucus and networking with community college colleagues.

13. The book fair.

14. Attending the “The Bigness of the Small Poem” panel.

15. Seeing my former mentor & poetry professor from Allegheny, Christopher Bakken.

16. Buying books and having them signed by amazing poets.

17. Meeting folks face to face to that I know through Twitter & Facebook.

18. Attending the “Publishing Sucks, Even When You’re Good At It” panel. I laughed. A lot.

19. Meeting Marie, Kaylie and a bunch of previous contributors at the 30/30 Meet & Greet.

20. Walking the greenway through Loring Park on a beautiful, spring Saturday in Minneapolis.

21. Spending a few hours at the Walker Art Center & Sculpture Garden.  Free admission!

22. Writing a 30/30 poem inspired by a sculpture in the Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center. I also drafted said poem sitting outdoors, in the sunshine at a picnic table when it was snowing the day before.

23. Attending the “Finding Voice” panel with Roxane Gay, Pablo Medina & Michael Thomas.

24. Attending the Kevin YoungCarolyn Forché reading. This was my final event at this year’s AWP and it was incredible.

25. Discovering a plethora of moose merchandise at the Minnesota gift shop at the airport.

I am now home, sitting on my couch while my dog sleeps on the love seat, my finches chatter from the kitchen and my husband types on his computer. I had a glorious time in Minneapolis but I’m glad to be home and I can’t wait to start working through the stack of books I brought home from the book fair. Below is a list of titles and books I picked up (complete with links):

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A Sweeter Water, by Sara Henning

Confluence, by Sandra Marchetti

The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, by  Maggie Smith

The Octopus Game, by Nicky Beer

Train to Agra, by Vandana Khanna

Citizen, by Claudia Rankine

The Middle, Angela Hume 

Bat, Renee Beauregard Lute with paintings by Susan Solomon 

Chthonic, by John James

Blood Dazzler, by Patricia Smith

The Last Two Seconds, by Mary Jo Bang

The Breakbeat Poets, Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana & Nate Marshall (Eds.) 

The Art of Syntax, Ellen Bryant Voigt

Streaming, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

Book of Hours, by Kevin Young