Who to read, who to read…the eternal question in this poet-glutted 21st century world. I asked
a bunch of poets who their “Can’t Miss” picks were. Here are their responses:
Here's a list of must-reads, for what they're worth:
William Blake: The Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Visions of the Daughters
of Albion, and the prophetic books (Milton & Jerusalem). Northrop Frye's Fearful Symmetry is still a good guide
through all of Blake (and in its own way, as dense as late Blake). David Erdman's The
Illuminated Blake has a masterful plate by plate commentary on Blake's art as it relates to his writing.
Hart Crane: The Poems of Hart Crane edited by Marc Simon with an
Introduction by John Unterecker is the text to get. Unterecker's Voyager, a biography
of Crane, is a fine biography. See my "Gloss on Hart Crane's 'Lachrymae Christi'" (in Archaic
Design) for a reading of what in my opinion is not only Crane's finest single poem but one of the great poems of the 20th
Robert Kelly: Kelly's The Loom, a 36 section poem, of 405 pages,
published in 1975, is one of the great under-read books in 20th century American poetry.
César Vallejo: I worked 48 years, off and on, to be sure, translating and retranslating all of Vallejo's poetry.
The only Latin American poet close to Vallejo in originality, complexity, and daring, is not Neruda nor Huidobro but the hardly-translated
Cuban José Lezama Lima. A young American poet/translator should do for Lezama Lima what I have done for Vallejo.
Laura Laura Solórzano: Solórzano, for my money, is the freshest, and strangest new Mexican poet since Octavio
Paz (if one by passes the Spanish expatriate Gerardo Deniz, capably translated by Monica de la Torre). Laura has published
a half-dozen collections, and one, Lip Wolf, beautifully translated by Jen Hofer,
is a great homage to metaphoric transformation.
Let me give you five picks, the order of which implies no hierarchy. It is impossible to reduce the list to
only five, but I will make pretend. The five are as follows:
1. Walt Whitman
2. Rainer Maria Rilke
3. Kenneth Patchen
Vallejo or García Lorca
5. Wallace Stevens
Essential poets, I would say:
Rainer Maria Rilke
For essential but lesser known, I'd say:
1. Duane Locke
2. Heller Levinson
3. Constance Stadler
4. Vernon Frazer
5. Matina Stamatakis
While it is essential to be fully immersed in the works happening currently in one's time and place at the hour
most present to one, I feel it is also essential to revisit on a weekly, if not daily, basis, the innovators and masters of
the craft who have contributed a body of work of the very highest caliber during the past decades of one's immediate lifetime.
With that in mind, here is my list:
T.S. Eliot (England) (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965)
Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina) (August 24, 1899 – June 14, 1986)
Pablo Neruda (Chile) (July 12, 1904 – September 23, 1973)
Seamus Heaney (Ireland) (April 13, 1939 - Present)
Rainer Maria Rilke (Bohemia-Austria) (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926)
Well, naturally, you should read all the poets in the Bug.
But 5 Must-Read-Non-Bug Poets are:
--> Paul Celan: Not so much “Todesfugue,” but the late work’s (especially translated by
Pierre Joris) silence blizzards.
--> Kurt Schwitters: Dada Funk-Meister & Daddy Merz—made total culture assault joy-jiggling fun.
--> James Joyce: Finnegans Wake is the most livified poetry of
--> Clark Coolidge: Eavesdropping on words talking to other words.
--> Gary Panter: Normally considered a painter & set designer (most famously, PeeWee’s Playhouse), the prose-poems of Panter’s 1984 comic The
Invasion of the Elvis Zombies captures Amerwrecka’s pop culture parasitism with collaged grotesqueing lyricism.