This April, as I've done on a bunch of other Aprils, I'm only reading poetry. It's good for the soul and it's a nice way to celebrate National Poetry Month, which otherwise may pass unnoticed, what with Passover, the arrival of Spring and Beverly Cleary's birthday.
Should you wish to join me, but stand baffled in bookstore poetry sections, allow me to suggest some terrific poets. Some of them read with me on tour for my recent novel, We Are Pirates -- I invited a poet at each stop -- and some of them I've just been digging lately. As Emily Dickinson probably said sometime, check 'em out.
Poet: Mary Ruefle
How they strike me: Like laughing your ass off with your best friend in the world, somewhere outdoors, who then suddenly gives you fantastic advice you hadn't ask for but totally need.
Book I like of theirs: Trances of the Blast
I smell the cream
before I put it in my coffee
because I never want to suffer
like that again as long as I love,
it was unbearable, no one should
have to suffer like that, not the
littlest animal, ever
Suggested beverage pairing: sparkling water with an unusual bitters in it - the Hudson Standard makes a good Spruce Shoot.
Poet: Cate Marvin
How they strike me: Like an army of the surliest girls you knew in high school.
Book I like of theirs: Fragment of the Head of a Queen, although Marvin's new one, Oracle, is on top of my pile.
I lose my hat, I lose my mittens, I lose my head.
When the blizzard hits, all is white, and you stand
me before a mirror, wind your scarf round my neck.
Now I want to push this story down your throat.
I see you cornered on the street corner. I approach.
Suggested beverage pairing: Cosmopolitan secretly made with Everclear.
Poet: Harryette Mullen
How they strike me: When someone holds your hand and looks you in the eye and won't let go until you stop trembling.
Book I like of theirs: Sleeping With The Dictionary. No, wait: Urban Tumbleweed. OK, get them both.
Beside the bed, a pad lies open to record the meandering of migratory words. In the rapid eye movement of the poet's night vision, this dictum can be decoded, like the secret acrostic of a lover's name.
Suggested beverage pairing: What's in this tea? Has the sky been this color all this time?
Poet: Thylias Moss
How they strike me: Like when you're listening to two people speak in a language unknown to you and then suddenly you hear your own full name.
Book I like of theirs: Last Chance for the Tarzan Holler
Long ago a fish forgot what fins were good for
and flew out of the steam.
It was not dreaming;
it had no ambition but confusion.
Suggested beverage pairing: Really, really fresh grapefruit juice.
Poet: Melissa Stein
How they strike me: Like when you talk to someone at the entrance to a restaurant, both waiting for your dates, and at the end of the meal you go to pay the bill but your wallet is gone.
Book I like of theirs: Rough Honey
Why do you
imagine these terrible things?
asks my mother, or her
ghost. Because the paper's
crisp and white.
Suggested beverage pairing: Half a bottle of wine swiped from the neighboring table while the couple are staring into each other's eyes
Poet: Vicente Huidobro
How they strike me: Like losing your wallet, but not caring
Book I like of theirs: Altazor, which had me at "Translated by Eliot Weinberger"
We play outside of time
And the windmill plays along
Mill of inspiration
Mill of narration
Mill of determination
Mill of proliferation
Mill of embrocation
Mill of cultivation
Mill of vexation
Mill of salvation
Suggested beverage pairing: Whatever Huidobro's having.
Poet: Victoria Chang
How they strike me: Like a day at work that goes so badly that you start to grin in triumph and punch the air because it's actually glorious.
Book I like of theirs: The Boss, great company on the last edits of We Are Pirates
I am to be afraid too afraid
to be me of what will happen if you open
this box of me for the boss to see that
I am afraid of the boss
Suggested beverage pairing: blood of that terrible, terrible office manager you had to deal with when you were temping
Poet: TJ Jarrett
How they strike me: Like someone who teaches you how computers work and also how to make great pie, but when they leave you forget again so you keep inviting them over.
Book I like of theirs: Zion
To be free of metaphor is a mercy. Anything that can be named
can fail you. What you think you know is so far
from where we started. Fear nothing, but trust nothing you see.
Not the self, this body, those wings.
Suggested beverage pairing: shot of cheap whiskey, bottle of fancy beer
Poet: Elissa Gabbert
How they strike me: Like a magic 8 ball that seems to say something new each time, and each time it makes you tear up.
Book I like of theirs: The Self Unstable, sneakily published by Black Ocean as a "lyric essay"
Girls want to be beautiful. Boys want to be powerful. In other words, everyone wants to be powerful.
Suggested beverage pairing: flight of ciders made from similar apples that each taste completely different.
Poet: Matthew Zapruder
How they strike me: Like when you're watching an old movie on television and the heroine says something and you think, "I was about to say that myself, about something completely different."
Book I like of theirs: Don't make me choose between Sun Bear and Come On All You Ghosts
and then I passed an entire row of plastic flowers
and wanted to be the sort of person
who bought them all
but really I am a runway covered in grass
and all I truly love is sleep
Suggested beverage pairing: What my father called "A Jewish Manhattan," i.e. bourbon and Manischewitz kosher wine.
Poet: Mary Jo Bang
How she strikes me: Like she's the one who took drugs on Thanksgiving and now I'm sitting next to her just figuring out she's on a vision quest and not just talking about her day.
Book I like: The Last Two Seconds, holeymoley you should have seen her read from it in St. Louis
We know where we are going and it isn't back and forth.
We want and light comes. We call what we want what we need.
Suggested beverage pairing: mineraly Portuguese white wine
Poet: Kathy Fagan
How they strike me: Like a long bracing walk in the forest, and when you get back to your house you have the feeling it's actually an identical house and you've been tricked.
Book I like of theirs: Lip
I am mad at the houses,
each with its own roof and the same
I hate all the lawns,
that only look good
for maybe eight minutes on a Thursday in June
some leap years.
Suggested beverage pairing: French press coffee, let's just have a little more, and a little more, goodness I seem to be tap-dancing around my house with no music on.
Poet: Robin Ekiss
How they strike me: Like when you are looking closely into your father's eyes and you see that they're made of gears and levers and that's when you realize you're dreaming.
Book I like of theirs: The Mansion of Happiness
The hospital has many wings;
it's hard to tell where the meat ends
and the butcher begins. Doctors feel clinical
when they can't heal.
Suggested beverage pairing: You know what? I'm not going to drink tonight. I've been going out too much, and--OK, double bourbon neat, but that's all.
Poet: Eileen Myles
How they strike me: Like when you put on a hat and look in the mirror and you suddenly look much cooler.
book I like of theirs: Snowflake
so I want
to call someone
but I'm there.
Suggested beverage pairing: Ice cold bottle of Coke on a scorching hot day.
Poet: Ellen Bass
How they strike me: Like when you've missed your train and your bag spills open and all your stuff is all over the floor of the station and some nice gentle person stops and helps you get your act together. And maybe you marry them.
Book I like of theirs: Like A Beggar
There is no war here now.
And only the usual number
of people are dying.
Suggested beverage pairing: Water from one of those unexpectedly-really-delicious drinking fountains.
Poet: Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge
How they strike me: Like a conversation so terrific you stay up too late to finish it and the next day are cranky but it's worth it.
Book I like of theirs: I Love Artists
I seek a permanent home, but this structure has an appearance of indifferent compoundedness and isolation, heading toward hopelessness.
The boys pulls an animal on a leash.
Suggested beverage pairing: Wheatgrass juice, side of aquavit.
Poet: Rodney Koeneke
How they strike me: Like I secretly took drugs on Thanksgiving and am sitting next to a friendly, very normal cousin whose every utterance suddenly seems freaky.
Book I like of theirs: Etruria, one of the many perks of subscribing to Wave Books
I worry, making canapés over the sink, that nothing will be easy, ever
if all of this is happening for reasons,
that that family is my family, crying out in pain,
thin daisies bent flat in a summer wind.
Suggested beverage pairing: glass of gin served with a cube of frozen lime juice slowly melting and turning it into a civilized gimlet.
Poet: Trisha Low
How they strike me: Like deciding to look up one little thing on YouTube and five hours later you're obsessed with a form of dance you've never seen except in these clips, let's just watch a few more.
Book I like of theirs: The Compleat Purge
this is not a love letter, nor is it a letter of longing, although it is couched in similar vocabulary. this is a letter between equals. (kind of maybe)
Suggested beverage pairing: Let's-empty-the-cabinet-4AM-punch.
Poet: Janaka Stucky
How they strike me: a moment late at night where you suddenly think, "Wait, hold everything, I love death metal and will never listen to anything else as God is my witness."
Book I like of theirs: so eager to get my hands on The Truth Is We Are Perfect, coming any minute now from Third Man Books, that I'm going to say I already love it
Representative lines: I wish I could quote this poem he perhaps improvised in Boston about building a tiny insect. Just trust me on it.
Suggested beverage pairing: I got back to my hotel room very, very late after the reading. So late I thought the clock was broken. Pretty sure it was martinis.