Shallcross by C. D. Wright

I still remember how I felt the first night I read these poems. Tucked into myself in a corner of Mississippi; entering a C. D. Wright poem was strangely like walking into my mother’s kitchen in a dream. Familiar, but uncanny and strange. All the oddities and mercies of living the south are abundantly present here. Shallcross was a collection assigned by my MFA director Kendall Dunkelberg. Kendall has given me many valuable things, but among the most special to me is this book, which was my first encounter with the work of C. D. Wright. 

Thrall by Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey was the first ever poet I heard give a reading. Trethewey had just been named the U.S. Poet Laureate and was giving a reading at a university in a town next to mine. I was in community college, and my creative writing instructor Marilyn Ford took our class to hear her read. Thrall had just been released. Thrall is a masterclass in weaving history; historical documents citing early genealogies among colonial and indegenous people, family history, folklore–all of this is entangled to make a record of ongoing restlessness. 

In Full Velvet by Jenny Johnson

This book is misleading in its slimness–it’s abundant in its offering. Johnson’s attention to the body and all its strange existences is unparalleled. This book troubles the gender binary, and in this way it was one of the first collections that I saw myself in. When I think vulnerability, I go back to this book. The incredible poet L. Lamar Wilson assigned this book in a workshop on poetic grotesque. My memory of  his gentleness cannot be untangled from my understanding of vulnerability as a space of potential. 

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Every line is a perfect song. As much as I love this collection it’s hardly ever with me; it’s with my friends, colleagues, students, and fellow poets. And I love talking to them just after–this book moves through a person. Everyone I talk to has a favorite poem from it, but mine’s “Tonight, In Oakland.” I don’t know much more to say. I’m a cricket trying to describe the feet of an archangel when it comes to this collection.

This Small Machine Of Prayer by Beth Gordon

This collection won’t be in the world till a little later on, but I’ve had such a privilege to know it already. I’ve been reading this book and I’ve been witnessing its making for a few years. The rigor in this collection is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. What’s an elegy without joy? How boring our imagination would be if we could already fly. How can we so carefully participate in love, in sharing meals with our closest friends with our grief so neatly hemmed up? I can’t wait for everyone else to read this collection. There’s a moon rising and a sun setting inside it–there’s a whole world in this book and enough room for us to meet there.

C.T. Salazar is a Latinx poet and librarian from Mississippi. He’s the author of two other chapbooks: This Might Have Meant Fire (Bull City Press) and American CavewallSonnets, forthcoming in 2021. He’s the 2020 recipient of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters award in poetry. His poems have appeared in The Rumpus, Verse Daily, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Cincinnati Review, 32 Poems, RHINO, and elsewhere.

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