The overwhelming majority of what I read each week is unpublished—from my students, or from my work as poetry editor of Acre Books. If one collected all of that work into book-form each week, they’d surely add up to several books. I can’t speak about those, of course, except in general terms. Sometimes when reading a particularly good poetry submission or student’s poem I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the author—how at the center of anything we might call talent, skill, or dedication is really love. When an author loves their work, you know it. You can’t help but know it. You hold their language inside you, like a memory of your own, so that long after you’ve closed the book, you carry their voice with you into the world.
Beyond this, what I’m reading right now is what I’ve read before. I blame this, primarily, on having recently read Hannah Lillith Assadi’s debut novel, Sonora, which sent me into a fog of nostalgia so dense I have yet to fully see straight. The language of the book is glutted with gorgeous desolation—in its haunting descriptions of the Sonoran desert and an intense, almost Sapphic friendship between two young women, both outsiders, both haunted by trauma, with a fierce devotion to one another that elevates and devastates them. Of course there’s a love triangle. Of course no one gets what they want. It’s a story full of sand and ghosts and desire, and although the particulars of their lives are quite different from mine, I couldn’t help but relate it to the way I felt during an earlier decade in my own life, when the future always seemed to stretch into a vast, imposing terrain. I couldn’t have possibly known how to navigate it alone, which is why I didn’t just love my friends, I needed them.
When I think of myself then, I always land in the summer of 2001, when I was lucky enough to be a fellow at the Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets. At the time, I was in the middle of a two-year heartbreak, and had recently read John Yau’s “Borrowed Love Poems.” Upon reaching my slim room in central PA, I immediately taped the poem to my wall, and read it often that June when I couldn’t sleep—just me, sweating, occasionally watching the fireflies out the window, reading John Yau’s poem over and over. I could have given you, then, so many reasons why I loved the poem, but couldn’t have told you why I needed it—though clearly I did.
At Bucknell, I met three other poets who would change my relationship to poetry and to myself: Brandon Som, author of The Tribute Horse; K.A. Hays, author of three collections, most recently, Windthrow, and Lindsay Bernal—whose first collection, What It Doesn’t Have to Do With, just won the National Poetry Series. Through whatever vague terror and malaise I seemed always to carry around with me in my early twenties, I was also acutely aware of how very fortunate I was to love so many people, to encounter the work of these people before they were widely known (I was certain, even then, they would be)—as my love for them and their love of poetry would shape me and my work, and sustain me. After reading Assadi’s novel, I found myself reading through the work of these poets, then went to John Yau’s Borrowed Love Poems—the book, this time, not just the poem, because now I can afford to buy books.
A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.—an insightful and eloquent scientific inquiry into the concept of love, how the act of loving expresses itself in the human body and brain. One of the more charming aspects of this book is that the authors frequently turn to literature, specifically poetry, to illustrate their points, which makes the book not only accessible but rather elegant. Biochemistry and neurology have never been this sexy.
Field Theories by Samiya Bashir—a frenetic, brilliant, formally kaleidoscopic, dizzying pleasure. Bashir writes about race, physics, folklore, violence, history, scarcity, and pleasure with a lyric urgency all her own. I can tell you right now, this one’s not going to leave me for a long time.