1. Marilyn Hacker, Love, Death, & the Changing of Seasons (W.W. Norton and Co., 1995)
I had never seen or heard anything like the poems of Marilyn Hacker before Love, Death & the Changing of Seasons, and I haven't read any like it since. In Hacker's work, we are privy to the emotional, sensual, and intellectual exploits of one of literature's most engaging speakers--that boyish New York-Parisian lesbian Jew whose patina and salaciousness only add to her worldly charm. Here are poems at once relaxed yet formal and accessible, titillating and political. The voice is direct, controlled, and utterly compelling. Even better still, reading her work often gives one the delicious sensation of a good snoop. I've come to love all of Hacker's poetry, but this is the book I'll remember as my introduction to one of my favorite poets of all time.
2. Alice Notley, Disobedience (Penguin Books, 2001)
This long, sprawling, dream-like sequence of interconnected poems is segmented into journal-like fragments that can give the illusion Notley wrote them in one impossibly long pour. I've read that Notely is interested in automatic writing. That she can put herself into a trance and descend into "the cave" to write, so to speak. Astonishing. The poems that emerge are like a fiercely present conversation with the self. Even the titles of the poems seem like a continuation of the text, as if Notley yanked random standout lines from within the work and simply tacked them to the top of page. I love the randomness of titles like "Echoes the Past Fucks Me Over and Over," and "Oh Put Some Obscenely Concrete Nouns Back in Your Poems." Something about Disobedience feels like permission.
3. Albert Goldbarth, Beyond (David R. Gordine Publisher Inc., 1998)
Beyond belongs in the Smithsonian. Under glass. With cultural oddities of similar pluck. Goldbarth-an avid collector of thingamabobs, doohickeys, and what-have-yous-doesn't relegate his love of pop culture to his home. Instead he brings that stuff into his work where we can all enjoy it. His long poem "The Two Domains" is possibly the finest, most entertaining, long poem I have ever read. This multi-voiced poem takes place in an abandoned, haunted warehouse for forgotten bits and bobs of yesteryear and reads in the air like a radio play and on the page like a masterpiece. Goldbarth is a formal poet, but proves it can be as important to provide one's readers with works that are as entertaining as they are visually and sonically pleasing. I reread this book at least once a year.
4. David McFadden, Why Are You So Sad? (Insomniac Press, 2007)
I am in love with the poetry of David McFadden. Here is a poet able to steer perilously close to autobiography only to turn...