Three Volumes of Poetry I’ve Read Recently

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Poetry, poetry, poetry.

1. Seeing Stars by Simon Armitage

I’ve written of my admiration of Simon Armitage on this blog before, and I’ve been reading my way though all Armitage I can get my hands on these days. I’m probably reading too much of him, to be honest, and when I sit down to do my own writing I often find that I’m doing an unconscious imitation of his style. Still on my to-be-read pile is his Book of Matches and Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey, and after I finish those I’ll have pretty much read all the Armitage that needs reading.

Seeing Stars is more amusing than the other volumes that I’ve read by him (The Shout, Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. the Corduroy Kid), though not as powerful. This collection is full of longish narrative prose poems, many of them surreal dramatic monologues by panda bears, sperm whales, or hitchhikers. Here he is reading “The English Astronaut.”

2. Among the Believers by Ron Rash

I previously read Waking, Rash’s excellent 2011 collection, and liked it so much that I ordered his earlier work, Among the Believers. Rash writes unpretentiously about the land and people of east Tennessee and western North Carolina. The poems concern hardscrabble Baptist families, Pentecostal preachers, murderers, and the murdered. His ancestors play a large part in his work, whether it’s his grandfather wooing his grandmother in “The Exchange,” or his family members in their cemetery in “Good Friday, 1995, Driving Westward.” And throughout is the anxiety and influence of Christianity.

Rash is the author of the bestselling novel Serena, which was recently made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. You heard it here first, kids!

3. In the Low Houses by Heather Dobbins

Heather Dobbins is a teacher and poet who lives in Memphis, and I had the fortune of hearing her read her work at the most recent Impossible Language reading. (Impossible Language is a series of poetry readings, often paired with art receptions, organized by Ashley Roach-Freiman. You should totally come to the next one.) Dobbins’s reading was incredible, and I had to pick up a copy of her latest collection, In the Low Houses.

Like Rash, the poems are direct and unsentimental, often fixated upon the lasting influence of departed relatives.  Dobbins eschews the temptation of using a pretty metaphor or lyrical image when more honest language will do, which is always appreciated. She writes about childhood, lost innocence, and failed illicit affairs. Some of her most arresting poems are in a series about her grandmother’s decline into the haze of Alzheimer’s disease, and in “I Didn’t Believe Him,” she recounts the last moments she shared with her dying father.

Check out her website, where you can hear her read some of the selections from In the Low Houses. Try “Alzheimer’s White,” “Foolheart in West Tennessee,” and the fantastic “Bird in the Studio.” Try them all.

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