We are coming up on the halfway point of 2016 at the end of the month. Hard to believe we’ve already reached it, but we have. The six-month signpost means a lot of books have already been published, so Flavorwire‘s attempt to provide a list of the best books of poetry published so far this year is not as out of place as it might first appear.
I need such lists. Poetry, especially contemporary poetry, is a dense, Dantean forest to me. It’s been much harder for me to formulate my taste in verse over the years than it has in fiction. I can read and enjoy many different kinds of poetry, but it’s also much easier for me to reject a work of poetry that doesn’t speak to me. Poetry is the highest of the literary arts–precise, demanding, and ultimately, the most rewarding–but there’s no margin for error or folly. Every word must do useful work in the structure the poet builds. If it doesn’t, I do not hesitate to cast aside the poem and, often, the whole volume of which it’s a part.
So, suggestions like those of Sturgeon and Barnes are helpful to me. Their brief descriptions of the themes and preoccupations of the various poets will help me decide if I want to buy the book and read it, and perhaps search for other volumes by the same author. Sturgeon’s praise of Works and Days by Bernadette Mayer is effusive and makes me want to read it. I know going in that reading it will be a gamble. I’ll either enjoy it or lament that I wasted my time. But I’ll take that gamble, for the same reason that a lot of us will risk being caught out in one of Nature’s frequent thunder and lightning shows in the summer: there’ll be rain and wind, and we might even have to seek cover during all of it; but we might also see by a flash of light something we haven’t seen before, or see the whole sky light up gloriously, as the truth strikes close to home.