Wednesday, July 04, 2018

My 2018 Poets Crush 6 Pack

It's an annual thing, my Poets Crush List. I'm back to let you know once again who is on my mind. Not an easy task when there are so many wonderful wordsmiths out there and I am sure there are likely many that would perhaps be on this list were they not yet on my radar.

This year's six-pack is all women. I probably read a disproportional number of women versus men poets anyway, I have had some incredibly accomplished men on my lists in the past.

For now, these are six poets that are rocking my world!

Francesca Bell caught a lot of attention with her poem I Long to Hold The Poetry Editor's Penis in My Hand.  I mean it's hard to overlook a good penis poem. Bell, however, holds a special place in this poet's heart because her talent has come without a formal writing education background. Reading her work you would never know it. She has carved out a very successful non-traditional road on her poet journey.  Her publication credits are lengthy and include River Styx, North American Review, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and Crab Creek Review to name a few. She has had at 6 Pushcart Prize nominations and been a finalist in several notable poetry awards.
Francesca Bell

In December of 2014 Bell had five poems published in Pank that are riveting.  They touch on the delicate subject of children sexually abused by priests. These poems underscore something about Bell that  I especially appreciate in a poet, a fearlessness in writing. I want to write as fearlessly as Bell does. Who wouldn't, but it is not easy. In her poem Regrets, she talks about undressing every emotion and how silence is a too-tight dress I can't wait to escape. She is genuine. Her writing has a depth that can be peeled back like layers of an archaeological excavation, or she can turn one her humor on the page and entertain you.

Another remarkable thing about Francesca Bell is her translation. She translated the book A Love That Hovers Like a Bedeviling Mosquito by the Palestinian poet Shatha Abu Hnaish along with Noor Nader Al A'bed. This book is a collection of largely tender verse that  I often go to and reread parts of each night before I go to sleep.

Bell has a book titled Bright Stain that will be out in Spring 2019 by Red Hen Press. Just in time for AWP in Portland.

Laura Kasischke is a writer that I met as a reading in Kansas City more years ago than I can remember. What I do recall was her book Gardening in the Dark I fell in love with the poems in this book instantly. Hearing some in her own voice, I would reread them and her voice still resonated. I loved that the poems often would take the usual and make it quite unusual. I could not wait for more poems by this poet I had stumbled onto a reading.
Laura Kasischke

I for more of her work, another book, and what I found was White Bird in A Blizzard. It was a novel, I wasn't into reading novels at the time and thought to myself, why is she cheating on poetry?  I enjoyed the book but it wasn't poetry. I did find similarities in her language but Kasischke fell off my radar for a while and unbeknownst to me, she was busy writing. (my loss)

When her book Where Now- New and Selected Poems came out it was over 350 pages of poems. I was in heaven. I reacquainted myself with her work and was enthralled. My dog-eared copy of Gardening in the Dark could get a bit of a rest.  It was her, "...the eye maker, voice maker, the maker of stars, of space, of comic surprises."  Sometimes dreamlike, sometimes magical,

Kasischke was awarded a Pushcart Prize, The National Book Critics Circle Award in 2011 and has many other distinguished awards and has had three of her novels made into movies. Another poet rocking my world this year.

Victoria Chang
Victoria Chang has written several books that I own. Circle (her first I believe), Salvinia Molesta, The Boss and her latest Barbie Chang. I met Chang in Kansas City at a reading and have always kept my eyes out for new work from her.

I've always viewed Chang as a very cerebral poet. This especially came through in her last two books, The Boss and Barbie Chang. Her wit come through in her poems that always seem to find a way to mix seriousness with just the right quantities of humor.

Tackling issues in the workplace, and feminism in culture, she is especially skilled in form and metaphor, She has a large toolbox and plenty of language to make her writing both pleasurable and meaningful.

Barbie Change came to me as a bit of a surprise, but it shouldn't have. With The Boss, (awarded the 2014 PEN Award) I felt Chang was able to successfully carry a very concise theme through the whole book and keep her ideas fresh and meaningful.  She has nailed this with Barbie Chang as well. I feel it 's one of the best blends of popular American culture and poetry. Victoria Chang is a Rockstar Poet!

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is yet another poet I met at a reading in Kansas  City. (hint: poets out there, if you haven't read in Kansas City, you need to start planning. I had a couple of Naz's (for short) books already. Miracle Fruit and At the Drive-In Volcano. At AWP in Tampa this spring I ran into Amiee and got her to sign my copy of her news book Oceanic,  which has been all the rage.

Nezhukumatathil has a skill not everyone has. Her superpower may well be writing about the most mundane in a way you would argue with me and say, "there is nothing mundane about a C-section scar, a manicure or a valentine."
Amiee Nezhukumatathil

In person, her voice is very soft spoken but as she read her poems you will see her eyes sparkle with delight. She is a gentle person, but her poetry is built from an amazing word bank.  She's a walking encyclopedia of natural history. Plants, fish, birds, she's on a first name basis with them. That doesn't mean she will not know their scientific name. Oh no, she's on top of that too.

The beauty of Oceanic is what is found from the ocean to the sky above; life.

Amiee Nazuhukumatathi is another poet rock star!

Rachel Mennies is back. She was on my 2016 Crush List. I've had only a handful of repeaters before.  Mennies wrote the book The Glad Hand of God Points Backward.,which I read that year. While I was captivated by her book I have seen a number of her poems since then and I I view her work much the same I do Francesca Bell's. Boldly honest and cutting.

Mennies has had poems appear in the Adroit Journal, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Black Warrior Review, Colorado Review, Drunken Boat, Nashville Review, DIOLOGIST, Crazyhorse,  and Waxwing Magazine to name a few.

I met Mennies this Spring in Tampa at AWP and attended one of her panels. She impresses me as the real deal when it comes to poetry. She supports other writers - believes in a sort of literary stewardship and seems to stay abreast of things. She participated as a mentor in one of the earlier  AWP Writer to Writer sessions. A wonderful program I might add.

Mennies' writing style is the kind of forward-looking, authentic, uncut, writing I love and wish I could be turning out myself. almost everything I have seen of hers in the last 6 to 10 months has been poetry that makes me want to stand up and say, "That's what I'm talking about!"  She is once again, rocking my poetry world!

Beth Ann Fennelly is another poet who I've had the opportunity to hear read in Kansas City. She is also a repeat Crush Poet from 2012 when I did a 10 poet format. Her books Unmentionables, and Open House have been a part of my poetry collection for some time. Fennelly worked with husband tom on a novel together and I did not see any new poetry from her for a while..  Then she was named Poet Laureate for Mississippi, and also released a new book Heating & Cooling, a sort of hybrid book of micro memoirs.  Between the pages of this small book are 52 microbursts of whit and vulnerability that makes you want to both laugh and cheer at the same time.
Beth Ann Fennelly

Fennelly is a no-nonsense person that is living her writing life with husband Tom in the shadows of so many great writers that have called Mississippi their home in the past.

I was delighted to see her named poet laureate both because she has great energy and will make a good ambassador for poetry in the state, but also (and somewhat selfishly) because I am hopeful this brings back another renaissance of poetry writing for us all to enjoy.  She's a poetry rockstar as well.