Jackknife, New & Selected Poems by Jan Beatty
These poems hold nothing back, from prisons and sex, freedom and birth fathers, they slice us open in the best way. “I’m still swimming for release, / to say the thing that springs me free” Beatty writes. This is a fearless speaker, who carves desire into the unspeakable, who shows us how to “tend to the monsters inside you—”
From stretches of highways to small town diners, whatever bright darkness she enters, Beatty bends the body, carefully splits the line, delivers us to where we never knew we could go.
Without by Donald Hall
Without by Donald Hall is a book that captivated me at once. The structure of this book, split in two, illustrates the months before the death of his wife (poet Jane Kenyon), and the open, aching absence it left after. It’s impossibly intimate, so heavy in its power and realistic precision. The latter half are poems in the forms of letters entries, as the speaker reflects back on both current events in present time, but also conversations with his late wife. They are, as you can imagine, as heartbreaking as they are beautiful— readers will undoubtedly find connection in the language of this loss.
If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry & Song, edited by Pat Boran and Gerard Smyth
Dublin is a city close to my heart since I spent time studying poetry there, but regardless if you’ve ever been, this anthology is essential to writing about place. This collection offers a private tour inside the grit and charm of Dublin and its people. Lush with contributors from James Joyce and Seamus Heaney, to Eavan Boland and Paula Meehan. A book that will open its doors to discovering distinguished and emerging voices alike. It is a song that I come back to again and again, to listen and to learn.
The Small Door of Your Death by Sheryl St. Germain
This collection expertly unravels the grief of losing a son to a drug overdose, highlighting family addiction and traces of hope: “we sewed you together during the day, / frenzied and free, / each night you worked that song / you’d never finish.” The arc of this book is reflective of the way death takes its hold— a slow motion, dizzying truth, how these bits and pieces of memory are intertwining with the reality that this fiercely loved person is gone. St. Germain is no stranger to hurt, and with incredible lyricism, finds a way to weave these wounds into a way that makes a mark on the living.
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
Neruda has always been a master when it comes to love poems, and it’s still astonishing to me that he wrote this at the age of nineteen. There is a primal lust, a wet earth, a brilliance of stars in this collection— not just erotic in imagery but sensuous in nature. I’ve heard lines from this book at weddings, nearly a century after its publication, which illustrates its continued importance in the hearts of lovers and poets alike. Intense, tender, necessary.
Kara Knickerbocker is an internationally published writer and world traveler from Saegertown, Pennsylvania and the author of the chapbooks The Shedding Before the Swell (dancing girl press, 2018) and Next to Everything that is Breakable (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Knickerbocker currently lives in Pittsburgh, where she works at Carnegie Mellon University, writes with the Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University, and co-curates the MadFridays Reading Series. You can find more of her online at http://www.karaknickerbocker.com.