5) Davis McCombs- Ultima Thule
When I was a sophomore, I’d only known the superstars of the poetry world: Hass, Dove, Wojahn, Komunyakaa. Ultima Thule, the 1999 Yale Younger Series winner, was literary mouthwash at a time when I’d only had practice dissecting memory narrative. A deep imagist, McCombs realizes primitive truths through the voice of Stephen—a cave guide hired to spelunk the enormous Mammoth Cave Park. This is a good book to read in the winter.
Check out: Star Cavern
4) Laura Kasischke- Housekeeping in a Dream
As a big fan of Plath and W.D Snodgrass, finding Laura Kasischke was one of the major steps that propelled me as a beginning writer. She helped bridge the gap between the old and new, with spunk and exceptional craft. Her attitude lets stanzas detonate down the page—though some of the greatest moments come in the slowing of time—
Instead we are teenage girls, drunk
at one of those awful carnivals”
Check out: Fatima
3) Maurice Manning- Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions
I remember the class where my poetry professor pulled out Langston Hughes’ “I too sing America” and stomped along to the cadence. There is something communal, human and ritualistic about rhyme and music in poetry. In Manning’s debut, country boy Lawrence Booth daydreams and sings his way through an odd assortment of scenarios. With his right-hand man, Black Damon, Booth channels the heartbreak and charm of the racially tense south.
Check out: Strait
2) Larry Levis- The Darkening Trapeze
I remember discovering Levis in the dedication page of a Philip Levine book. If that wasn’t enough– when I met Linda Gregerson, one of the first books she ever recommended me was Levis’ posthumous Trapeze. Levis poems combines the surprise of short story narration with an unmatched ear for breath. Terrance Hayes calls Levis “The Whitman of our generation.”
Check out: Darkening Trapeze
1) Tony Hoagland- Donkey Gospel
What I love about Hoagland so much isn’t the political turmoil bubbling beneath some of the poems. In the same vein as Philip Levine, or Neruda, Hoagland has the rare gift of splitting the atom of a poem open into its bare truth. Many of these poems are wrapped in the delight of humor and story. This book is guaranteed to make you toggle between laughter and tears.
Check out: Mistaken Identity
– Will Georges