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.

 

 

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.