Carl Phillips – In the Blood
This book was my first introduction to Carl Phillips. It was selected as the 1992 Morse Poetry Prize (Northeastern University), and I discovered it shortly after as a student at Northeastern. Rachel Hadas described these poems so well in her as “Universal and private, lurid and hidden, transcendent and terrestrial…” I’ve been going back to Carl Phillips ever since. I certainly see here what would become a hallmark over the next two decades: a personal heat so masterfully contained yet so tenuous that the blaze is always imminent.
Linda Gregg – All of It Singing
Linda Gregg had three passions: nature, the sacred, and romantic love. She was also poet as spiritual practitioner. “The art of finding in poetry,” she wrote, “is the art of marrying the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.” She has taught me so much about being available to “see carelessly,” to notice plainly without agenda. For all that it reveals about the ineffable and how it reveals it, this book (any Linda Gregg book, really) will always find itself on my “deserted island” list.
Wanda Coleman – Wicked Enchantment
Though she received a Guggenheim and NEA grant, the poetry establishment wasn’t ready for Wanda Coleman. She was considered “controversial” which, in hindsight, seems a convenient way to dismiss a visionary who was contending with issues of anti-Blackness, misogyny, poverty, and alienation in her poems long before it was safe to do so. In fact, now as I think of it, Wanda Coleman’s poetry has likely created safe space for the rest of us in ways we probably won’t be able to fully account for. This collection is both quintessential and essential: it is one of the most complete studies of rhythm, vulnerability, form, conflict, and something that resembles resolution in American poetry.
John Ashbery – April Galleons
I’ve had what might be called a “love-hate” relationship with Ashbery’s poetry over the years. It has generally been difficult for me to find a way in experientially or emotionally. “April Galleons,” however, offers an abundance of ways in, and I find these poems among the most lyrical and beautifully written of Ashbery’s work. “But the abandonment by love is a de facto sign / Of something else coming along, / Something similar in its measuredness…” This book has been around the world with me and been stolen by friends numerous times. The poems yield to the reader as much as the reader is willing to yield to the poems, and I think that’s the genius.
Robert Hass – Human Wishes
When “Human Wishes” was reviewed in The Boston Globe, it was speculated that Robert Hass would be one of our major poets because of his “intelligence, depth, musicality, sweep, intimacy, humor, observation, learning, and above all, compassion.” That about says it all for me. I find Robert Hass’s poems among the most important poetic meditations on humanness. This collection rewards for its abundance, stunning beauty, and diversity of form.
Issam Zineh is a Los Angeles-born, Palestinian-American poet and scientist. He is the author of the forthcoming chapbook The Moment of Greatest Alienation (Ethel Press, Spring 2021). His poems appear or are forthcoming in Bear Review, Clockhouse, FERAL, Fjords Review, FRiGG Magazine, Glass (Poets Resist), Nimrod, Poet Lore, Psaltery & Lyre, The Seattle Review, Sporklet, and elsewhere. Twitter @izineh.