Most best-of lists come out in December, I know, but since my birthday happens in January, I’ve always done the requisite reflecting on l'anee passe a few weeks late. Here then is what mattered most in the poetic year, offered for those of you who don’t live near a superlative reading series, or great bookstores.
On a personal level, this year was important as I was living in Germany at last birthday and gave my first European poetry reading in the Zimmer Theater in Tuebingen. Moreover, I finished at long last a series of poems I’ve been working on for a couple of years called The Elegy Beta, a series of responses to Rilke which I hope you will hear much more about the future and conceived as a collaboration with the Argentine photographer David Wittig. I also began a partnership with musician Jake Armerding trying out new ways of distributing poetry to the people. You really should check this last link out; big things are happening.
In the broader world though, first: B.K. Fisher’s Mutiny Gallery was published: a book about the poet’s travelling with her daughter which reads more like a novel than a book of poems since their are consistent characters to whom things happen, but which tries several formal devices to convey those happenings, making it an engaging read start to finish which, needless to say, not all poetry books are.
The second runner-up for most important happening in poetry this year is pages 8-11 in the December issue of Poetry Magazine (reprinted in full here). Richard Kenny’s three new poems in that volume are acute pieces of thinking, and beautiful besides, but the interview printed afterward–his attempts to explain those poems–condense a monograph’s worth of poetic theory into a few humble but muscular pages. Required reading.
To this entry I should also append the news, announced only a few days afterward, of Christian Wiman’s leaving the editorship of Poetry Magazine. Wiman took the magazine into the stratosphere, changing the design, the headquarters, and the structure of the magazine, while tripling its readership. Surely, his is one of the most productive editorships that have ever been, and his acumen made itself felt across all quarters of the establishment, such as it is.
Matthew Dickman’s new book Mayakovsky’s Revolver came out and he has switched presses: he is now on Norton who produced a beautiful black book for him rather than the paperbacks he had been stuck with for his previous. Dickman also produced a book called 50 American Plays with his brother Michael Dickman which I’ll be teaching from in the spring, and which is terrifically smart.
Brenda Shaughnessy’s new book Our Andromeda also came out this year, which I was looking very forward to as her last two were just exceptional. This new book is too long by half, which is to say that some poems are just outstanding and the other half probably could have used a stronger editorial hand, but is still important because Brenda Shaughnessy is a star, and those poems that do work work marvelously.
But the single most important thing to happen in poetry this year (as it might be measured in 20 years’ time) is the death of Jack Gilbert and the publication of his Collected Poems. This volume is significant because most people don’t know any books from Gilbert apart from Refusing Heaven, and because it’s a gorgeous copy absolutely essential reading of a poet that seems more important every time I return to him.