American Sunrise by Joy Harjo
Harjo opens this profound, poignant book of poems with the beautifully written “Break My Heart,” about the treatment of Native Americans at the hands of the U.S. government and how that history has continued to affect millions in the present day. The language is simple but elegant in its purity, and I read many of her poems multiple times. There is, of course, much pain here–but I believe this is about more than pain—it is how an entire race of people is attempting to walk itself into the present moment while carrying that pain, as they live side by side with and attempt to forgive those who have taken so much from them: land, language, children, ancestors, and culture. Harjo also gives the reader historical notations, where she tells us about American settlers and Natives in the 1830s; illegal dealings regarding Native treaties; the history of her family and tribe; and intimate details about the land that she knows land that seems to be carved into soul. These are incredibly informative and allow the poems to become a much richer reading experience than they otherwise would be. My favorite poems are “Break My Heart,” “How to Write a Poem in a Time of War,” “Falling From the Night Sky,” and “Bless This Land.”
Be With by Forrest Gander
This astonishing collection of poems by the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner of poetry shows us how grief, loss, and love are tangled up in ordinary nature. The second poem in the collection is called “Beckoned,” about how the narrator must finally come to terms with his tremendous loss: At which point there was no way out for me either. /At which point I carried on in a semi-coma, dreaming I was awake, /avoiding friends and puking, plucking stingers from my face and arms. His physiological and psychological pain are obvious with both his metaphor and plainer words here, and he uses dozens of these types of phrases throughout the book. Favorite poems: “Beckoned,” “On a Sentence by Fernanda Melchor,” “Stepping Out of the Light,” and “Tell Them No.”
A Book of Luminous Things ed by Czeslaw Milosz
This book holds some of the most readable and yet oldest poetry in the world, begin in the eighth century up to the early 2000s. Divided into eleven sections, including History, Travel, Epiphany, The Moment, and A Woman’s Skin, this book includes some of the most important poets who have ever lived. From the United States: Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, Williams Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, W.S. Merwin, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Creeley, just to name a few. From around the world: Wislawa Szymborska, Tomas Transtrommer, Wang Wei, Yehuda Amachai, Li Po, and Rainer Maria Rilke. This book is not large and imposing as other anthologies are and much easier to carry around in paperback. I have treasured this book over the years and read and re-read a variety of poems many times, as well as discovered new favorites that I have missed along the way. Luminous, indeed.