Nikki Giovanni – My House (1972)

This is the quintessential Giovanni collection for me. It reminds me so much of how I discovered poetry and why I feel in love with it. I love how personal and liberating this book feels.

Anne Sexton – The Complete Poems (1981)

Anne Sexton was probably the first poet I read who wrote so candidly about desire. She so expertly presents her version of the world front and center without shame. Some of my very early experiments with craft and form came from reading All My Pretty Ones.

Gwendolyn Brooks – Blacks (1987)

I saw Brooks’s Selected Poems in the public library as a teenager, but I couldn’t understand most of it. Only in graduate school did I try reading Annie Allen again, and I was amazed at the world that was flowering before me. I go back to this volume when I want to see how much I have learned in my time away from it. It is an entire archive of Black Chicago in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon – ]Open Interval[ (2009)

This book is deliberate and an unexpected experience, weaving together concepts and ideas in ways that astonish me. Though Van Clief-Stefanon did not invent neither form of the bop nor the sestina, I go to her work when I want to access a knowledge to them. This project demonstrates how punctuation and breath are whole languages within themselves, even on the page.

Assotto Saint – Wishing for Wings (1994)

This encompasses so much of the tenderness that Assotto Saint put into his practice as a creator and his investment in his community. Wishing for Wings documents the black urban experience of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in ways that were often overlooked at the time. I’m forever awed at the simplicity of the lines and the weight they continue to carry.

Malcolm Tariq is from Savannah, Georgia and is the author of Heed the Hollow (Graywolf Press, 2019), winner of the 2018 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and Extended Play (Gertrude Press, 2017). A graduate of Emory University, Tariq has a PhD in English from the University of Michigan. He lives in New York.

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