Timothy Donnelly's 6 favorite contemporary poets
The Boston Review's poetry editor recommends authors whose poetry collections are as surprising as they are insightful
Ten Walks/Two Talks by Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch (Ugly Duckling, $14). In this book about New York, inspired by the travel diaries of the Japanese poet Basho, Cotner and Fitch perfected a style—hip, wry, goofy, chill, patient, wide-eyed, curious, wise—that’s as difficult to pin down as it is infectious. Reading this book enhances the way you perceive what’s new as it gently reanimates what you think you already know.
The Waste Land and Other Poems by John Beer (Canarium, $14). This tongue-in-cheek homage to various literary monuments (including works by Marx, Rilke, and, of course, Eliot) is also a serious sendup of literary momentousness. Beer might have found 100 ways to go wrong in this audacious debut, but he writes his way around all of them and triumphs.
English Fragments: A Brief History of the Soul by Martin Corless-Smith (Fence, $19). With great discernment and one of the best-tuned ears in poetry today, British-born Corless-Smith sifts excerpts from his vast reading into lyric fragments of rare elegance.
Raptus by Joanna Klink (Penguin, $18). Part of what makes Klink’s poems so remarkable is their refusal to rely on the ironic tones and gestures that are stock-in-trade among her contemporaries. In this intensely lyrical book, her third and best, a crisis of faith provides the occasion to commit again to a life of compassion, care, and grace.
Mean Free Path by Ben Lerner (Copper Canyon, $16). Knowing that trains of thought constantly collide in Lerner’s third book doesn’t quite prepare you for the complicated beauty of it. An ingenious study in interruption and loss, it is no less a tribute to not letting go, to picking up where one left off.
Come on All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder (Copper Canyon, $16). In his third collection, Zapruder continues to cultivate a tenderhearted outlook on life and “whatever’s the opposite of the need / to control everything.” The fact that he does so in an effort to be happy despite good reasons not to be (death, depression, war) lends the book a surprising gravitas and dignity.