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Three Awesome Poetry Books You Should Read

Brenna Clarke Gray

Staff Writer

Part muppet and part college faculty member, Brenna Clarke Gray holds a PhD in Canadian Literature while simultaneously holding two cats named Chaucer and Swift. It's a juggling act. Raised in small-town Ontario, Brenna has since been transported by school to the Atlantic provinces and by work to the Vancouver area, where she now lives with her stylish cyclist/webgeek husband and the aforementioned cats. When not posing by day as a forserious academic, she can be found painting her nails and watching Degrassi (through the critical lens of awesomeness). She posts about graphic narratives at Graphixia, and occasionally she remembers to update her own blog, Not That Kind of Doctor. Blog: Not That Kind of Doctor Twitter: @brennacgray

We don’t talk about poetry enough!  Not here at Book Riot, not in life, not anywhere. Poetry is fabulous. And contemporary poetry is super exciting and fun.

If you don’t read poetry regularly, or if high school gave you a sense that poetry is somehow not for you, there are lots of good reasons to try it again. First, if you’re a reader, you’re probably a reader because you really dig on words. I love reading poetry because I love the playful feeling of carefully selected words between my lips and teeth; I like to see how the words interact on the page and just behind my eyelids; I like to build a little nest in the spaces between words and just chill out for a time. You can do all that with prose, of course, but it’s also easy not to, because the pace of the narrative often keeps you galloping along on the surface of the words. Sometimes it’s nice to get in between them and chill out.

Second, books of poetry are super tolerant of your finite time and monetary resources. Poetry is inexpensive, man. And a book of poetry, unlike a needy and demanding novel, is totally okay with you saying, “Listen, I only have 10 minutes, so I’m only going to read one poem.” Try telling a novel that you’re only going to read three pages.  That bitch won’t quit.  Before you know it you’re late for work, and you get fired, and then you lose your house and your kids have to go to public school.  See that?  Poetry is good for your children.

Ok ok. But seriously. I’ve been reading lots of poetry lately and you should too. Here are three recent ones that have delighted me.

Impact: The Titanic Poems by Billeh Nickerson: The content of the poems in this collection is evident from the title. What I loved about it, though, is the meditative and sombre tone. I found each of the poems between these covers sent me on a meandering and thoughtful journey. It’s the kind of book that takes a week to wander through because each poem asks for your breath, your time, and your patience. Nickerson’s style is sparse and stripped back, but the emotions evoked here are not at all.

Glossolalia by Marita Dachsel: Okay, you know when good art makes you uncomfortable in that deliciously squirmy way? Glossolalia is a series of monologues, each in the voice of one of Joseph Smith’s 34 plural wives. The ones who loved him, the ones who didn’t, the ones who regret their lot, the ones who tempted the ones who regret their lot, the ones who had more complicated reasons for needing and wanting sister wives… the lot. I have a bit of a kryptonite thing going with stories about the founding of the Mormon church generally, so I was compelled and intrigued from the start, but Dachsel’s mastery over multiple voices really elevates this collection to something special.

Salvage by Michael Crummey: This is not the first time I have recommended Riot Readers check out Crummey, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but normally I talk to you about his novels — most recently I think I’ve suggested Galore and River Thieves — and not his poetry. But one of the things I love about his voice in his novel is his careful eye for description, and that is even better and more evocatively expressed in his poetry. This is not an easy collection — we are warned right out of the gate of “poems about loss / next 100 pages” — but it’s a worthwhile one.

Tell me all about your favourite poetry books!