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Desiderata: Our Favorite Poetry of 2013

“Let’s just take a sec to acknowledge that if 2013 was about anything, it was about defining, or really re-defining, the reader. Personally, I was redefined by some poems. Tony Hoagland and Mary Ruefle and Mary Szybist and Frank Bidart, in particular.”– Cheston Knapp (Managing Editor, Tin House Magazine)

Veronica Martin (Columnist, The Open Bar): Soul in Space by Noelle Kocot. Read around a campfire at the coast, read in the morning under a bouquet of flowers and then taken back home to the city from the sea and re read, even after the flowers had long dropped all of their pollen, this collection of poems has resonated with me in all geographies over the past year. Kocot’s defined meditations—“To give up something is to re-kill it” and “How often we say things we don’t mean/ Fully, with our full selves” and “Talking about oneself is rarely intimate”—are laced with nature, with bees and super-meadows and mosquitoes, and let go into an eventual verse that soothes as much as it empties: “You see, I’ve learned to stretch the canvas/ Of my life into a boundless river,/ To elongate and subtly alter the lie/ By taking the F from the ineffable fiction/ Of the original word and grinding it up/ Into a pigment that bathes these walls/ In a seascape which I leave behind/ In hopes that you may someday swim/ With fullest reverence past it.” “How often we say things we don’t mean/ Fully, with our full selves. But this is/ All right, since we cannot make sense of/ The growing weeds, the things that go/ Where only blue travels.” Kocot’s poems are full of statement and nature and longing but also something stronger, punctuated with the telling of a loneliness. The life on the page is a calculation, a reflection and also an invitation into this geography of silos and summer ash and bed sheets. These poems feel like linens left out to dry in a vast unpopulated and silent space, the world more woven into their threads with every breeze, not forgotten but regarded, left intentionally, so we might at once observe and inhabit the decomposition of their soul and the creation of a new entity: “I don’t/ Want to sound coy or even ridiculous,/ But after all, the azure of a face drawn/ In sand at the edge of a sea is my own/ Two deaths. The first one happened 7/ Years ago. I’ve grown all new cells since/ Then.” She leaves us  “Lost in the harp of your grey dress” and lying in “…an overturned/ boat, the arc of modernity, the poem.”

Allyson Paty (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): Shane McCrae’s Blood. Where blood is familial bond and lineage, carnage and injury, McCrae’s poems engage American slavery—and the cultural inheritance of slavery. Violence instructs the prosody, and McCrae’s use of line is singular and galvanizing. An awesome book, in the true sense of the word.

Matthew Dickman (Poetry Editor, Tin House Magazine): King Me by Roger Reeves. I have not read a first book of poems this year so exciting and ecstatic! Roger’s narratives flow with the life-blood of a Neruda energy, his images explode and reassemble in the heart of anyone reading these poems. This is an important book from a young poet who’s voice we hear traveling through the American landscape of race, gender, sorrow and joy. King me is a book that does what Anne Carson once wrote: he kinged my mind.

Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant, Tin House): I have to go with Portland poet James Gendron on this. His Sexual Boat (Sex Boats) is one of the funniest, most absurd books of poetry I’ve read in a long time, yet it has undeniable staying power. Although to be honest, I’m probably making this decision based on some new poetry (all about witches) I saw him read this fall. Watching through drunkly wet eyes as Gendron (and our own infinitely charming Matthew Dickman) closed out Lit Hop PDX—an epic literary bar crawl through SE Portland—remains one of my favorite non-sober moments of 2013.

Lance Cleland (Workshop Director): While my poetry highs of the year were Patricia Lockwood’s “Rape Joke,” my introduction to Bianca Stone’s work via her upcoming Tin House/Octopus publication, and Mary Szybist’s well deserved National Book Award, the collection that has stayed with me is Frank X Walker’s Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers. In its 49 poems, the book recounts the life and death of the civil rights activist through a variety of voices, including Byron De La Beckwith, his assassin. As you might expect, the book fluctuates between love and hate, empathy and rage, and the fact that those emotions can sit so comfortably side-by-side on the page is what makes Walker’s work so vital. It is a testament to both the author and his treatment of the subject matter that events that took place some 50 years ago never feel distant. Part of my love for this collection stems from my discovering it during the Zimmerman trial. And while it is sad that the echoes of hate found in Beckwith’s voice still find us today, I take comfort in knowing that poets like Walker are not distancing themselves from the fight.

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