NY Times Best poetry of 2015

From “crisp” analysis to “swashbuckling” exploration of different forms of poetry, to “morbid, tender, funny,” the New York Times has listed its picks for the 10 best books of poetry published in 2015.

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The poetry books published in a given calendar year usually take up about 18 cubic feet of space, and would thus fit comfortably into the average refrigerator. But if you’re a book critic, you probably can’t afford to decrease your living quarters by the volume of a major appliance every year for decades. So at the close of each December, the difficulty lies, as Kenny Rogers once put it, in knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.

Mary Jo Bang, “The Last Two Seconds.” A restless, analytical collection in which the emotional force of disasters both personal and public (“She slept through the earthquake in Spain”) is often signaled by the nervous precision of the analysis itself (“The day after was full of dead things. Well, not full but a few.”)

Christopher Gilbert, “Turning Into Dwelling.” Gilbert died in 2007; this book consists of his first collection, “Across the Mutual Landscape,” and a previously unpublished manuscript called “Chris Gilbert: An Improvisation.” Gilbert was a nimble observer of his own kaleidoscopic mental states, and “Turning Into Dwelling” is a testament to his protean talents

Linda Gregerson, “Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2014.” Gregerson is known for her syntax, which pivots and drops from line to line as if she were navigating through each poem on rope swings. This is a fine selection from a crisp, thoughtful writer.

Marilyn Hacker, “A Stranger’s Mirror: New and Selected Poems, 1994-2014.” Hacker is a swashbuckling wielder of poetry’s most challenging forms (she writes a ghazal with more fluency than most poets can manage a haiku), and a vivid translator as well.

Devin Johnston, “Far-Fetched.” Johnston’s fifth collection is a triumph of refined technique, but more than that, it’s a demonstration of restraint’s emotional resonance. A delicately marvelous book.

Troy Jollimore, “Syllabus of Errors.” Jollimore’s third collection is intelligent, soulful and amusingly self-aware. One poem begins, “Is there anything anywhere in this world / that is free from possession, that is not owned / by anyone?” The next sentence, of course, is: “If there is, I want it.”

Robin Coste Lewis, “Voyage of the Sable Venus.” A powerful lyric poet in the traditional sense (in “Plantation,” for instance), Lewis is also a remarkably gifted collagist — her book’s scalding title poem is a compilation of historical descriptions of the bodies of black women.

Ada Limón, “Bright Dead Things.” Limón’s calling card is her relaxed, winningly unpretentious voice (“Every time I’m in an airport / I think I should drastically / change my life…”). Her strongest work (the poem that gives this book its title, for example) is a study in casual intensity.

Cate Marvin, “Oracle.” Violent, morbid, tender and funny, “Oracle” is Marvin’s third book, and an acute addition to her spiky body of work. Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Recuerdo” (“We were very drunk, and we were very merry”) is wittily updated here in “Memory in Plain English.”

Lawrence Raab, “Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts.” Raab brings a darker timbre to poetry’s comfortable middle register; his eminently approachable, low-key lines are never quite as affable as they seem, and the book is all the better for that.

 

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