Every week, the Poetry Foundation compiles information from Nielsen Bookscan and puts together lists of the best selling books of poetry. There's a list for books by contemporary poets, a list for anthologies, and a list for books of children"s poetry. Surprises abound--it's the only place you're likely to see Jeff Foxworthy and Mary Oliver together, let alone Charles Bukowski and Caroline Kennedy--and this end of the year list is no different.
It's a poetry new year's party a few weeks in advance, celebrating the past year's successes and looking forward to more in 2010.
So here, in order, are the best selling books of contemporary poetry published in 2009:
1. Praise Song For The Day: A Poem For Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration by Elizabeth Alexander
"Say it plain," Alexander wrote in her civic ode, "that many have died for this day." While less than a year later that day seems awfully far off, the much-celebrated and much-maligned poem that marked the occasion ends 2009 as the overall best seller.
2. Bicycles: Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni
Bicycles is a companion of sorts to Giovanni's 1997 breakthrough, Love Poems. In this collection, the poet explores the public and private nature of both love an loss -- her mother's death as well as the 2006 massacre at Virginia Tech, where Giovanni teaches.
3. Evidence by Mary Oliver
Mary OIiver's latest book of poems, her 19th, continues in the poet's signature style: meditative walks and epiphanic moments described with breathless clarity.
4. Endpoint and Other Poems by John Updike
The final book of poems from Updike, who reportedly completed the manuscript just months before he died. His poem "Ex Basketball Player" has long been the most viewed poem on the Poetry Foundation site.
5. In Search of Small Gods by Jim Harrison
The latest collection from the unofficial poet laureate of the American West, In Search of Small Gods takes on nature and aging with Harrison's typical bluntness. It's not "cowboy poetry" by any stretch, but it is poetry by someone who can make more legitimate claims to being a cowboy than most.
6. The Shadow of Sirus (paperback) by W.S. Merwin
When it bestowed its honor on the book, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize committee called Shadow of Sirius, "A collection of luminous, often tender poems that focus on the profound power of memory." Publisher's Weekly called it Merwin's "best in a decade." The paperback edition out from Copper Canyon Press was a hot seller all year.
7. Leavings by Wendell Berry
The latest collection of wise words and back-to-the-land hectoring from Berry, the Kentucky author of fifty books of poetry, fiction, and essays, includes this short gem, called "And I Beg Your Pardon": "The first mosquito: / come here, and I will kill thee, / holy though thou art."
8. Fire to Fire: New and Selected (paperback) by Mark Doty
The 2008 National Book Award winner, Doty's Fire to Fire came out this year in paperback and the poet's avid followers gobbled it up. The collection spans Doty's work from 1987 to the present, including the landmark 1993 release, My Alexandria.
9. Slamming Open the Door by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno
In 2003, an ex-boyfriend of Leidy Bonanno strangled her to death with a telephone cord. The murder and its aftermath are the subject of this collection of poems from Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, Leidy's mother. David Kirby, in the New York Times, said of the collection, "The note of sorrow dominates the book, but it isn't a one-note book."
10. Face by Sherman Alexie
This is Alexie's first book of poems since 2000, and it didn't disappoint fans of his poetry, his fiction, or his young adult novels. Alexie remains caustic and funny, despite becoming a kind of elder statesmen for contemporary Native American writing. "I'll still resist convention; / Yes, I will disprove the professorial contention / That a serious man is not supposed to be funny."