Don’t Let Me Me Lonely – Claudia Rankine
This book was foundational in showing me ways to piece together information and grapple with the sometimes painful contradictions that inevitably exist. Rankine makes space for the reverberations of these horrifying questions that show up every day in small, but compounding ways: what is a human being worth? are some worth less than others? how does language speak to or silence our loss and pain? What can language hold?
Bhanu Kapil – Ban en Banlieue
What can I say about this book, this writer? All of Kapil’s work is incredible, but this book was my introduction. It’s an unraveling, reraveling (not a word, but bear with me) of one moment in time, paired with all of the resonating memories and images and inevitable failings at trying to get at this moment. It’s what came before, after, where it is lodged in our bodies and the laws created and the language used to make those laws. The book moves its own center as you read it. It’s a marvel.
I always wonder at why Bishop has stuck with me so strongly, even though I don’t think my work really reflects her that much. But oh my god, the way she navigates doubt and ecstasy, and the wonder! and awe! and surprise! of the word on the page, is incredible. She does what I always tell my students: it’s 100 times better to be specific about what you don’t know than vague about what you do know. Her moments of self-doubt and weakness are so relatable as well. I love how she can be at once modest and self-effacing, quiet in her work, yet also entirely herself–full of messy feelings and frustrations when she needs to be.
Pinwheel – Marni Ludwig
A book I go back to all the time for help and inspiration, by a brilliant friend who passed away last year quite tragically. With a level of intensity and precision in its sparseness, her work is astonishing in how it couples cynicism with total wonder and gratitude. It is essential to read if you’re at all interested in the literature of addiction, trauma, and recovery. Or–you know–good poetry.
It’s impossible to give a specific book, since the whole thing about Adrienne Rich is that she was constantly recalibrating, in dialogue with her past self. I can name poems: Planetarium was a life-changing read (I just tried to quote my favorite lines but couldn’t stop listing), Twenty-One Love Poems, Contradictions: Tracking Poems, were all essential to the making of my last book. And I would be remiss if I didn’t that my dog is name after a later poem of hers–“”Hubble Photographs: After Sappho.”” But it is an overall life, filled with mistakes and humanness, with unashamed love and anger and fear, that I admire.
Gale Marie Thompson is the author of Helen or My Hunger (YesYes Books, 2020), Soldier On (Tupelo Press, 2015) and two chapbooks. She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Her work appears in American Poetry Review, Tin House Online, jubilat, Gulf Coast, BOAAT, and Crazyhorse, among others. She is the founding editor of Jellyfish Magazine, and lives in the mountains of North Georgia, where she directs the Creative Writing program at Young Harris College. You can find her online at galemariethompson.com.