MAO II – Don DeLillo
I often ask my grad students if they believe that novelists reflect the culture, or anticipate the culture yet to come. I think the real, honest answer is that they do both. This novel, written in the ’80s, is centered around terrorism and media culture and feels very of the moment to me, then and now.
The Incognito Lounge – Denis Johnson
This was the first book of poems I read in college that did not feel like a dead relic. Its people were people I’d seen, people I knew, even shadowy versions of myself. I can recite maybe half of it from memory for a reason; the poems are precise, heartbreaking in the best way, and utterly without pretense.
In the Language of My Captor – Shane McCrae
What more can you ask of a book than for it to interrogate the culture, raise serious questions, and make you think. This work covers the experience of race through a historical lens, offering persona poems; some are historical while others springboard from a real person or event into an imagined monologue. It’s inventive, thrilling work.
Partial Genius – Mary Biddinger
My fellow Black Lawrence Press poet, Mary Biddinger is one of the most distinct voices in contemporary poetry. Her poems present a world that somewhat resembles ours, especially in its absurdities, yet manage to convey a kind of affirming value in our struggles. Her work is most lovely version of melancholia I know, and I’d make a #TPQ5 of her books alone if I could.
More Than This – David Kirby
One of my favorite things about music is being able to recognize an artist by the distinct qualities of his or her voice: think Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, or Leonard Cohen, or Tom Waits. No one else quite sounds like them. The same can be said of David Kirby, who manages to take what appears at first read to be pastiche and presents you instead with an intricately woven fabric of ideas from one of America’s most original poetic thinkers.
Steve Kistulentz is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection The Mating Calls of the Dead (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). His other books include the novel Panorama, (Little, Brown & Co., 2018) and the forthcoming novel, The General Secretary. He has also published two award-winning collections of poetry, Little Black Daydream (University of Akron Press, 2012) and The Luckless Age (Red Hen Press, 2010), winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award. He directs the graduate creative writing program at Saint Leo University in Florida and lives in the Tampa area with his family.