The Back Country – Gary Snyder

The first book of poetry I read without it being assigned. Snyder’s poetry opened up a world of rhythm that was specific to the landscape, a lesson not everything had to be forced into the more Eurocentric forms.

Questions of Travel – Elizabeth Bishop

Bishop’s last line of ‘Arrival at Santos’ — ‘We are driving to the interior’ – demonstrates how a collection that springs out of a different strange place becomes this rich self-exploration. Some of the most important poems of the 20th Century including ‘The Armadillo’ and ‘Squatter’s Children.’

Refusing Heaven – Jack Gilbert

My go to book for lessons in how to fuse place, love, spirituality and grief. Gilbert’s lines ‘If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, /we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.’ is a lesson that you can juggle both abstraction and concreteness and stop feeling as if you have to blindly follow one set of rules.

Incendiary Art – Patricia Smith

There are so many important collections in the 21st Century that challenge the history we grew up with. This collection is an avalanche of images that a person clinging to their whitewashed history books cannot ignore, realities that undercut the official stories. The title poem is one of the best examples of terza rima but also leaves us with a breathtaking, painful couplet ‘Our sons don’t burn their cities as a rule, /born, as they are, up to their necks in fuel.’

North of Boston – Robert Frost

Between this and Stevens’ Harmonium, one of the most important collections in understanding American Modernism and a great lesson in narrative and blank verse. There are memorable pieces like Mending Wall and some like The Fear that should be memorable.

D.A. Gray’s latest poetry collection is titled Contested Terrain (FutureCycle Press, 2017). His work has appeared in The Sewanee Review, Appalachian Heritage, Still: The Journal, War, Literature & The Arts and Rattle: Poets Respond among many other journals. Gray holds an MFA from The Sewanee School of Letters and an MS from Texas A&M-Central Texas. Retired soldier and veteran, the author teaches, writes and lives in Central Texas.

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