Mark Strand – Man and Camel
As a younger reader of contemporary poetry, Strand was the first poet to reveal to me what was possible in the form at that time. And as one of his relatively late books, “Man and Camel” represents, for me, Strand’s voice and ability to conjure the bizarre in its highest form.
Marge Piercy – The Moon is Always Female
“The Moon is Always Female” is so beautifully engaged with the cycles of the female body, with its pain and strength and vulnerability. Piercy’s original language, attention to nature, and fierce loyalty to the work of poetry (“Work is its own cure. You have to/like it better than being loved.”) is a constant reminder of how I want to come to the page.
Karen Russell – St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
Russell’s first collection hit the literary scene as the work of a prodigy – she was so young – but what was truly striking about this book was how she used language. The elegance of her linguistic choices coupled with the fantastical nature of her stories shook me open and revealed how stories of the unbelievable could be the most deeply alive.
Audre Lorde – Zami
One of my undergraduate professors said that we should read “Zami” every year, and she wasn’t wrong. Lorde’s invention of genre, her exploration of critical myths alongside personal history and revelation, not only provides another entry into her poetry, but is an invitation to refuse conventional literary boundaries.
Jeanette Winterson – Oranges are Not the Only Fruit
My own work leans heavily on the Biblical and Winterson’s autobiographical novel not only speaks to/again/in the language of Christianity, but does so alongside strange moments of fantasy and a demanding, non-linear structure. Like these other books, Winterson’s writing is deeply committed to the practice of refusal and instead embraces the possibility of the page, even if it may not be easily accepted.
Allison Bird Treacy is a poet and literary critic whose work has appeared or is forthcoming from Room, Pilgrimage, Cider Press Review, and others. She is an alum of Home School Hudson and the Juniper Writing Writing Institute, and lives in Western Massachusetts with her wife and too many cats.