Writing and Teaching English

Promised Book List

It’s not everyday that I have read my poetry in public, but today was one of those days. Sharing my work tonight with the students at Anderson University conjured nostalgia for my own poetry nights in college. Afterwards, I chatted with our really talented students and promised one of the seniors that I would share a list of some books I read in graduate school. As you see, I’ve made that promise public because I thought this student may not be the only one interested in my favorite books from my MFA.

The list I made during the program at Ashland University was of 50 books that influenced my thesis Settler. I’ll spare you at least 40 of those and narrow the list to a few that I would not only recommend to others but would also enjoy reading a second time. Besides, I was supposed to be ready to talk about these in my thesis defense; however, the committee didn’t ask me questions about the list, so you, dear reader, are my chance to redeem that knowledge.

Addonizio, Kim, Dorianne Laux. The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry. New York: Norton, 1997. Print. I love books that help with writer’s block. Even when I don’t have writers block, little activities to spur my writing can produce things I never would have made on my own.

Beckman, Joshua. Things Are Happening. Philadelphia: The American Poetry Review, 1998. Print. I found this author from the Costanzo book (two books down). I have a tendency to write more about nature than anything. In my seeking balance, I was impressed with how he wove nature and urban life together. He did this so well that I walked outside with the book and literally read it out loud to the living things–trees, shrubbery, and all–so that I wasn’t the only one hearing the words.

Behn, Robin, Chase Twichell. The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach. New York: Harper, 2001. Print. This is another good book for when I need a little jolt to get myself writing.

Costanzo and Daniels, comp. and ed. American Poetry: The Next Generation. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon UP, 2000. Print. This anthology was compiled 14 years ago in effort to share poetry of writers under 40. So now, they’re under 55, but still, these are our contemporaries. I was fascinated, to say the least. 

Lee, Li-Young. Rose. Rochester: BOA, 1986. Print. I sigh just thinking about Lee’s work, particularly in this book. He is a master of imagery, but even more importantly, his poetry reminds me of the rare beauty in simple things.

Levertov, Denise. This Great Unknowing: Last Poems. New York: New Directions, 1999. Print. Levertov is one of my poetic role models. This is the fourth of her collections that I have read. It is the most intriguing to me because these were poems that were only published posthumously–meaning she may or may not have edited them the way she wanted before publishing. I find that so raw and attractive.

Oliver, Mary. Why I Wake Early. Boston: Beacon, 2004. Print. Oliver is another poet I find myself admiring often. This book was a great one to actually read in the morning, as the title suggests. She always gives me something greater than myself to contemplate the rest of the day.

Pinsky, Robert. The Sounds of Poetry. New York: Farrar, 1998. Print. I’m not going to butter this up–it’s a really difficult read. The logistics of poetry can be dry on paper. However, the points in this book are the bones that hold poems upright, so it’s worth the work to read.

Wiman, Christian. The Long Home. Ashland: Story Line, 1998. Print. I haven’t read much else of Wiman, but this book has me hooked. I’ll definitely be reading more of his work. The title poem in this book made me laugh, cry, and write. It’s the entire second half of the book, but I read it straight through without even moving in my chair.

Well, there you have it. Some may not consider this graduate reading–I know, you probably had to read Biology texts or Historical documents to get your degree. Still, these books have taught me things about life that I cherish. Check them out, and let me know in the comments what you think.


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