Our guest blogger today is Rebecca Hoogs, Associate Director of Seattle Arts & Lectures. Rebecca curates and manages the Literary Arts Series, Poetry Series, Hinge, and SAL Presents. She is the author of the poetry collection Self-Storage. She’s here to share some poetry titles to help you fill the “Collection of Poetry” square.
Poetry, I would argue, is the perfect summer reading. Even when the content or language is dense, it feels spacious surrounded by the bright white sunlight of the page. Poems offer breathing room. And books of poetry are even better: there is no need to read chronologically; you are free to meander, stop, start, get lost, pop into that little metaphor without a care for time. You don’t always know where you’re going to end up—in fact, the journey and the surprise of where you arrive are the pleasures. Reading a good poem is like having a glass of wine with lunch—an indulgence that encourages you to slow down and savor each word.
As your poetry sommelier for today, allow me to recommend a few books that I love. When I was first fell in love with poetry and began to try to write it myself, I was inspired by the work of Sharon Olds and Marie Howe in particular. I was captivated by their story-telling and metaphor-driven work as well as their focus on the female experience. Olds’ The Gold Cell and Howe’s What the Living Do are two well-worn collections that still resonate, perhaps even more so now that I’m well, more well-worn myself.
As I began to teach poetry as literature to undergraduates at the University of Washington, I used the power of story to draw them in to two book-length narratives: Without by Donald Hall and What the Ice Gets: Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1916 by Seattle poet Melinda Mueller. The former is the heart-rending story of the illness and death of Hall’s wife, the poet Jane Kenyon. It is also, of course, the story of their great romance, love, and too-short life together. The latter book is a moving and artful version of the historical account of Ernest Shackleton’s doomed expedition. Fans of adventure and history will find themselves unable to put this book down.
As I developed my own style of writing, I found myself drawn more and more to poetry that was sonically playful and employed meter and rhyme as well as poets who have been inspired by the classical world. Two contemporary poets whose poems I want desperately to steal are A.E. Stallings and Sarah Arvio. Stallings lives in Greece and her most recent book, Olives, is formal, playful, and has provided me with a model for writing about motherhood. Arvio’s second book, Sono, is a rollicking relic of word play largely inspired by a year spent living in Rome.
Through the Seattle Arts & Lectures Poetry Series, it has been my honor to present and spend time with many of the best poets of our time, each of whom invariably becomes my new favorite poet by the end of the night. Last year’s series ended with Claudia Rankine and I believe that there is no more important book of poetry in recent years than Citizen. It is a genre-defying book which illustrates our country’s history of both explicit racism and casual, everyday racism.
Finally, I want to end with suggestions for books by two poets who have been teaching artists for SAL’s Writers in the Schools (WITS) program. Former Washington State Poet Laureate, Kathleen Flenniken, is the author of two books and her most recent, Plume, centers on her experience growing up near Washington’s Hanford nuclear reactor. Cody Walker now teaches in Ann Arbor, but returns to Seattle this summer to read from his second book, The Self-styled No-child. Cody is hysterically funny, epigraphically brief, and pointedly political. He reads at Elliott Bay on August 15.
Feel free to email me at any time (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you need additional ideas or to suggest poets for future years of SAL’s Poetry Series. I hope you find some new poems to savor!