The Best Poetry of 2009

If I Were Another

Mahmoud Darwish, Poems Translated by Fady Joudah

 

Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine's greatest contemporary poet, died last year. In the hands of fellow Palestinian Fady Joudah, last year's Yale Younger Poet, the full spectrum of his lyric accomplishment sings across borders. "I was not a passerby in the words of singers… I was the words of singers," claims Darwish. It's true.

 

 

 

 

Sonata Mullatica: Poems

Rita Dove

 

Set in lush 18th-century Europe, Dove's quasi-novella in verse recalls a nearly forgotten musician -- half-Hungarian, half-African prodigy George Bridgetower, Beethoven's onetime protégé. Thomas Jefferson makes a cameo at one concert, but he's a minor character in this engrossing pageant of racism, patronage, enlightenment, and betrayal. In Dove's poems, Bridgetower's life sings.

 

 

 

 

 

Hollywood & God

Robert Polito

 

Polito imagines "Hollywood and God" as a real intersection out in the smog near the L.A. freeway. Of course, he's naming a nexus in the American psyche, too, where glitzy stars cavort with a cinematic patriarch. "If only God would save me, I would know how to hurt you," says the title poem. Fallen legends drink themselves into ruin; Paris Hilton prays by shooting guns. This collection is shattered, mythic, and dazzling.

 

 

 

 

The Looking House

Fred Marchant

 

Marchant, Vietnam veteran, former conscientious objector, keen reader of the classics, knows how to harness the psyche's uneasy map for times of conflict, nightmare, and war. Better yet, he knows how to sing his map in a way that consoles. His poems offer dense ecosystems of attention, tracing routes towards praise, finding ways "to thread / one soul to the next."

 

 

 

 

 

Apocalyptic Swing: Poems

Gabrielle Cavocoressi

 

Jazzy, taut, full of skeptical faith, "jagged music," and mysterious grace, Calvocoressi's poems range across backrooms, boxing rings, Baptist churches, and country chapels, looking for a City on the Hill and finding instead "cheap needles" and "joyful noises." Lost lovers change the locks but then wait for " some rough voice to call you / home." A marvelous tough kaleidoscope of American resilience.

 

 

July 25: On this day in 1834 Samuel Taylor Coleridge died of heart disease at the age of sixty-one.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).