What Sparks Poetry

Books We’ve Loved

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature in which we invite poets to explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems.

In Books We’ve Loved, we asked our editorial board members and select guest editors to reflect on a book that has been particularly meaningful to them in the last year, with the intention of creating a list of book recommendations for our valued readers.

Catch Up on Issues of What Sparks Poetry

Written to daughters and sons, husbands and strangers, dead painters and live mothers, Freddie Grey and George Floyd, Henri Rousseau and Neculai, centipedes and goats and wandering wombs, it reminds me that the world is full of address, peopled by those we are subject to, responsible for.

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The irony of poetry being labeled a blockbuster, the gap left by a letter torn from the sticker and how that gap transforms the word—condenses some of the aspects of Ova Completa that I love: dislocation, play, layering, mixing, tearing: of times, spaces, structures, genres, languages.

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When asked the perennial question of what book he would take to a deserted island (or the Argentinian equivalent in the 50’s), Jorge Luis Borges said he would take a dictionary...If the question were asked to Dolores Dorantes, I’m positive she might give the very same answer.

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This book serves as a guidepost to what I already know: that total faithlessness and despair toward a world that can also be impossibly beautiful is a tragedy both personal and profound. And because of this book I remember to live and hope “in a thousand languages” and that truly living isn’t “magic, it isn’t a trick. / Every breath is a resurrection.”

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The words that come to mind when I think of this work are “vision” and “dimension,” and in “Fig. 55,” a structure the approximate shape of a barn stands above a block of almost-text. In the text, we learn that the sentences will “leak their histories” and “build an essay under the floor and have math be the ghosts.”

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Unfolding does not, inherently, mean disruption. Like a poem, we’re asked by Lao-tzu to approach the world to find the harmony between existence and non-existence. And as a series of poems, the Taoteching moves beyond its genre because it not only is an aesthetic object, but a manual for living, both as an individual and as a society.

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Reading Kim’s collection in 2022 is a self-education on Korea’s historical past and its influence on contemporary Korean/Korean American life. It remains relevant especially in the context of the ongoing rise in anti-Asian racism. (Those of us who self-identify as Asian American know that this racism is not new.)

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From Dow Chemical ingredients to Vogue and Current Affairs magazine articles, from Scooby-Doo to durian fruit, Nguyen’s repeated narrowing and insistence on focus produces an ongoing expansiveness that allows the book to be about more than its particulars, creating room to both reflect on itself and peer into the future.

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The limit of the voice of “Bees” is the parameter of its beauty. As in all perspectives, something is not seen. Actually, most things are not seen. The sense of beauty in anything is involved with what that sense excludes.

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Is there a longer poem bleaker than “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen,” a poem more resolutely written against the consolations of poetry while at the same time wildly employing all the mechanisms of poetry—a poem more bleakly written against itself?

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When we asked Poetry Daily Editorial Board Member Ilya Kaminsky to write about a book that was important to him in 2021 for our “Books We’ve Loved” series, he replied he couldn’t pick just one. This is the second installment of Ilya Kaminsky’s notes on some of the many books he’s loved in the past year.

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