(Listed in Alphabetical Order)

By Michael Leong, Albert Mobilio, Barry Schwabsky, and John Yau

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, TwERK (Belladonna)


In Integral Music: Languages of African American Innovation, Aldon Nielsen suggests that we understand the term “interdiction” as both “a prohibition” as well as—through a creative etymology—a tactic of “inter-dictional” code-switching: “To interdict racism would appear to require a polyglot tongue-lashing, an interruption and eruption, a critical insertion of oneself into a dangerous space between people speaking in tongues.” In her linguistically exuberant poems, LaTasha Diggs inserts herself into inter-dictional interstices that are dangerous as they are delicious. Drawing on languages including English, Spanish, Japanese, Yoruba, and Hawaiian, she creates glossolalic verses that, with a vernacular verve, revamp and renovate rigidified understandings of racial constructions.  These pages pack a performative and polyglot punch. (M.L.)

Alfred Starr Hamilton, A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind (Song Cave)


Alfred Starr Hamilton was born in Montclair, New Jersey, in 1914, a little more than a decade before Allen Ginsberg was born in Newark in 1926. He died in 2005, many of his thousands of poems lost. Subsisting on an inheritance of 1,000.00 a year, living in rooming houses, he existed on the opposite end of the spectrum from Ginsberg, whose voice is public and declarative, addressed to anyone and everyone: “ “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness … ” Hamilton was another kind of witness. Here is his one-line poem, “A Carrot”:  “I wanted to find a little yellow candlelight in the garden.” His favorite word was “wonder.” Despite the harsh circumstances of his life, Hamilton seems never to have lost his sense of the marvelous. Edited by Ben Estes and Alan Felsenthal, with an Introduction by Geof Hewitt, A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind is full of poems like no one else’s. File this under “Important Recovery Project.” (J.Y.)

Lisa Jarnot, Joie de Vivre: Selected Poems 1992–2012 (City Lights)


With an ear for vernacular phrasing (“I am in the breakroom holding coffee with my gun…”) and a propensity for oratorical styling (“Sun worshipper I, in the absence of the sun…” Lisa Jarnot produces a verse marked by agile syntax and smartly devised imagery. What I wrote about her first book Some Other Kind of Mission in 1996 still holds after three more volumes—her “best effects arrive as you zoom headlong right through her high-energy tangle of dissociation,” one in which cultural detritus is run through “a particle accelerator where connective sense is bombarded by shards of broken grammar.” But this selected offers an opportunity to witness the poet’s evolution, particularly her repurposing of dislocative effects within a somewhat more legible narrative frame. Even rhyme is made to serve her playfully subversive ends: “A grilled banana / smashes gates / and mingeless badgers / venerate // The asses of the / winter trees / rock on fat asses / as you please.” (A.M.)

August Kleinzahler, The Hotel Oneira (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)


There are few more reliably observant poets than August Kleinzahler. For thirty years he has mined his singularly nuanced intelligence to renovate our perceptual possibilities. Largely absent, though, in this volume are the figurative gymnastics he has so often deployed to freshen the ordinary; instead a more straightforward tack and elegiac tone—minor key notes always played out in the background of his many books—dominates. The title poem “The Hotel Oneira” is set in the Palisades, New Jersey, locale of the poet’s youth: “I find myself going down there, late, behind the highway / at the base of the cliffs, where the track runs.” Memory and the present sift through one another, suddenly present one uncle named Istvan with “madras Bermudas, the foreign, almost spastic gestures?” A woman (phantasmal? recollected?) visits and further mixes then and now: “A first, only the late afternoon sunlight, / glinting off windows as the sun lowers in the skies, / but not long after, that’s when the lights begin to come on; / that is when she gathers herself and leaves. / There is a story there, but one I choose not to know.” The past for Kleinzahler is forever liminal—a twilit zone in which one light fades and another supersedes. In this poet’s hotel he is a guest in his own life. (A.M.)

Andy Mister, Liner Notes (Station Hill)


Sincere and self-reflexive, Andy Mister’s Liner Notes is a beautiful blend of prose poetry, creative nonfiction, and autobiography that meditates on such topics as music, memory, substance abuse, and suicide.  “I could never write a memoir,” says Mister in the midst of a memoiristic passage.  “No one has a story anymore,” he says in a volume filled with intimate and endearing anecdotes.  “Nothing ever happens anyway,” he says just before recounting George Eastman’s suicide.  That these negations seem somehow true and fitting in the face of such apparent contradiction attests to the level of Mister’s compositional acumen.  If the soundtrack to one’s life is a cliché then Mister proves that the liner notes to one’s life can be surprisingly inventive. (M.L.)

Vsevolod Nekrasov, Translated from the Russian by Ainsley Morse and Bela Shayevich. I Live I See (Ugly Duckling Presse)


The late Russian poet Vsevolod Nekrasov (he died in 2009 at the age of seventy-five) cut his teeth on the absurdist shenanigans of OBERIU poets in the 1950s but then developed his own paired down, epigrammatic style. His lyrical poems take satiric aim at Soviet conformism, although launched from what might be called a structuralist point of view: signs are things and such things are only as useful as much as they are signs. Nekrasov makes shrewd use of the page; his field compositions employ repetition and take on the look of Concrete poetry to achieve a musical, percussive verse:


and it’s


pines pines

pines pines

pines pines

and a pine

and still

it’s so totally

a pine

a pine

and suddenly

everything’s defined.

The book itself is palm-sized and brick thick; in the hand it feels like one of his poems does, like something dense yet easily airborne, something you could throw against a wall and open a hole in its stone, if only for a moment. (A. M.)

Geoffrey O’Brien, Stolen Glimpses, Captive Shadows: Writing on Film 2002 -2012 (Counterpoint)


Geoffrey O’Brien’s film criticism, as he makes it clear in the preface to this collections, is written under the sign of Emerson, which is to say, under a demand for the most extreme poetic imagination.  For him, “The mere fact that a movie can exist is a more astonishing fact than the qualities of any given movie, just as the existence of language is more astonishing than any poem,” and there is something about the cinema for which “the ideas of authorship, of style, of the caméra stylo can hardly do justice”—an idea that becomes all the more convincing when articulated by a writer who is unmatched as an interpreter of the great auteurs. At the same time he recognizes that this strange and estranging invention is part and parcel of daily existence, “a form of life…coextensive with ours.” His passion for movies is a passion for life. He is fascinated with the idea of the transcendent that is secreted within the ordinary, and with artists who proffer their highest art in disguise — for instance Eric Rohmer, “a director who hides in plain sight, a visionary masquerading as a harmless eccentric.” O’Brien likewise writes some of his best poetry in the semblance of movie reviews, and while we wait (patiently or not) for his next book of poems acknowledged as such we should attend to these. We experience in reading them the gnostic labyrinth he describes: “We didn’t lose our way by mistake; we were guided here, even if it remains true that we can’t get out and can’t get back to the place from which the signal is emanating.” (B.S.)

Ron Padgett, Collected Poems (Coffee House Press)


Written over the past fifty years, and often published by small presses, Ron Padgett’s poems are apt to be occasional, funny, about something underfoot – such as using a French-English dictionary, drinking chocolate milk or having a fantasy about seeing his father sitting on the front porch as it rains. But for all the humor and air of innocence that dances through the poems, other feelings, at once dark and possibly unfathomable, are hinted at, without Padgett stepping back and spelling them out. His devotion to the pleasures of the everyday, no matter how seemingly incidental, ordinary and small, transform his poems into unlikely celebrations. He is one of the most self-effacing poets writing today, but that should not lull the reader into thinking he has modest ambitions because he doesn’t. The work is quiet, gentle and funny, but it isn’t modest. (J.Y.)

Fani Papageorgiou, When You Said No, Did You Mean Never? (Shearsman)


Lazy bastard that I am, I’m tempted to just reiterate what I said about Fani Papageorgiou’s remarkable first book of poems in the blurb I contributed to its back cover, where I spoke of “a poetry in which ‘almost everything happens in language’ yet what is crucial is precisely what’s covered by that harsh little word ‘almost,’ and in which ‘empty space is affected by gravity’: the empty space is that of the human heart. This kaleidoscopic sequence of searing fragments marks the arrival of an outstanding poet.” Besides, I still think that. Papageorgiou, in case you’re wondering, was born in Greece and has published fiction there; she lives in London but has spent enough of her life in New York for me to feel justified in claiming her as one of ours. Her crystalline verse conveys the poignant suspicion that no degree of propositional clarity or homely detail may be enough to get one’s sense across; to speak of love is always to speak a foreign tongue. (B.S.)

Pierre Reverdy edited by Mary Ann Caws (New York Review Books)


Pierre Reverdy is “a secret poet for secret readers,” as Octavio Paz said, and even now, more than fifty years after his death, there remains an air of mystery about this patient whisperer of disquiet and bliss. Mysteries abound. For example: How religious, really, was the man who followed his friend Max Jacob into the church and settled in the environs of a Benedictine abbey? Resonances of piety turn up in his sibylline verse only “in a lower voice,” as one of poem’s titles has it, and they fade away before one can quite grasp them. Although this new selection (part of a welcome new series of pocket-size “NYRB Poets”) gets points marked off for undue dependence on the fine but already widely available versions by Kenneth Rexroth — whose introduction to his New Directions Selected Poems is still the best thing in English on Reverdy — it is a pleasure to see them accompanied by so many fresh or hard to find translations by the likes of John Ashbery, Lydia Davis, Geoffrey O’Brien, and Ron Padgett, among others. A special bonus is Frank O’Hara’s previously unpublished version of the war poem “Live Flesh,” whose opening line — “Carcass my dear get up and walk” — suddenly turns it into a prequel to one of O’Hara’s own most famous poems, whose closing lines are

I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up


Brandon Shimoda, Portuguese (Tin House and Octopus Books)


Identity and the slipperiness of its existence is a recurring perception in Portuguese.  As a child growing up in New England, Shimoda was taunted on the school bus for being “Portuguese.” In an interview, he stated, “I’ve experienced the sensation that I am my sister many times—not that I am both myself and the sister of myself, but that I am only one self, my sister, my actual sister: Kelly Shimoda. It’s been awhile since I’ve experienced this, but I remember it well. It was a sensation, both physical and mental, and transitory, of course. In those moments, I had a brother: Brandon Shimoda. I was not Brandon. Brandon was someone else: my brother. It’s possible I was slipping into the body and mind of a third sibling, mostly sister, but not, a sibling neither sister nor brother. I don’t know where I have felt at home, if anywhere. I am half of many things, though do and do not know when to undertake or operate a hyphen.” (J.Y.)

Stephanie Strickland, Dragon Logic (Ahsahta)


The Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca said, “la ciencia … [es] mucho más lírica mil veces que las teogonías” (science is a thousand times more lyrical than theogonies). Stephanie Strickland’s sixth book Dragon Logic sees no need to make such a preference: with inventiveness and elegance, Strickland uses the figure of the dragon as a kind of serpentine ampersand to conjoin mathematics and mythology, science and superstition. In a series of dense and sonically charged texts, Strickland provocatively threads together references to the Rig Veda and René Thom’s catastrophe theory, to the Mayan deity Huracan and the algebraic geometer Heisuke Hironaka. The word “dragon” comes from the Greek verb δέρκεσθαι, meaning “to see,” and Dragon Logic is, indeed, a visionary and deeply insightful book for our new century. (M.L.)

Dana Ward, The Crisis of Infinite Worlds (Futurepoem)


All American poetry comes either from Whitman or Dickinson: We are either expansive or compressive. Welcome the latest bard in the Whitmanic line, Dana Ward, whose swirling syntax encompasses a dizzyingly complex sense of the moment, in which

The present sort of tastes like a virulent anachronism loosing its flavors by the day to become just
surpassingly sweet, I mean bruisingly so in the end (almost) more than we could take.

He doesn’t always keep to the long rhapsodic line, but when he switches to short lines it seems that he does so mainly in order to let a profusion of sense run roughshod over the barriers of form:

                 It idles in advance
of taking off toward brilliant green,
the color of a new affirmation
disposed from its antique & voracious
emanation in the winter when ‘yes’
lost its serrating warmth.

With its startling transitions, this ardent writing is by turns (or at once) declamatory and intimate; by comparison, most other poetry being written these days is just mumblecore. (B.S.)

One reply on “A Baker’s Dozen: Recommendations of Poetry Published in 2013”

  1. My list would also include
    The Collected Poems of Ai

    Gradually the World: New and Selected Poems, 1982–2013 by Burt Kimmelman

    and The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems

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