The Rape Poems, Frances Driscoll (Pleasure Boat Studios, 1997)
I re-read this book every couple of years, and never fail to be stunned by its candor, attentiveness, intelligence and wit. The sharply detailed precision of the speaker’s recounting a rape, is amplified enormously by the way she decodes its aftermath. The writing is brilliant, and to read this book is to be drawn painstakingly into the experience.
Four Reincarnations, Max Ritvo (Milkweed Editions, 2016)
Max died at age twenty-five on August 23, 2016, after a prolonged bout with cancer. In this book, and in the subsequent “The Final Voicemails” (Milkweed Editions, 2018, edited by Louise Gluck) Max achieves that rare conflation of desolation and exultation that may only be possible when facing death. His talent is unbridled, matched by his ability to project his emotions through himself, to us.
Blessings and Inclemencies, Constance Merritt (Louisiana State University Press, 2007)
Merritt’s work is memorable, erudite and lush. Of her several books, I like this one best for the way it treats loss and loneliness; the lyricism and rhythm of the poems; her allusion to mythology; and how the poems merge ordinary moments with universal themes.
Our Andromeda, Brenda Shaughnessy (Copper Canyon Press, 2010)
These are hard-nosed, urgent, thoughtful, often funny, and always serious poems. Shaughnessy eats up the “what ifs” and “whys” for lunch with her startling dexterity with language. In the long title poem at the book’s end, she breaks down and undoes a personal tragedy, with equal measures of grief and buoyancy.
To Be Of Use, Marge Piercy (Doubleday and Co, 1973)
Piercy is beloved for her imaginative novels, but her poems have a continuing valence for me, as I read them first as a young lesbian-feminist. Her bristling and wild-eyed poems are crafted to teach much about human values and responsibilities without being at all didactic. I re-read it from time to time and it still holds the thrill of truthfulness for me.
Risa Denenberg lives on the Olympic peninsula in Washington state where she works as a nurse practitioner and volunteers with End of Life Washington. She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press, publisher of lesbian/bi/trans poetry and curator of The Poetry Café, an online meeting place where poetry chapbooks are celebrated and reviewed. She has published three chapbooks and three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).