Michael Robbins spends fully a quarter of his allotted space explaining why “best of the year” lists are silly (his word), and then dishes up some great suggestions. Among my favorites is Our Andromeda, by Brenda Shaughnessy (Copper Canyon), which, as Robbins notes, is not really a 2013 book:
OK, this book came out in 2012, but I didn’t get around to it until a few months ago. It’s too long by a third, and Shaughnessy can be precious. And, to be honest, I don’t care for poems about parenthood. But this poet has a twitchy mind that risks cuteness and moon-swoon to play in lyrical sandboxes. She can suggest Gerard Manley Hopkins rewiring Plath’s “Daddy.” (That sounded better in my head.) I keep returning to the stunning staccato conclusion of “Visitor” (the best poem here, despite a sag in the seventh and eighth lines): “Like a dark book in a long life with a vague / hope in a wood house with an open door.” Shaughnessy makes syllables matter more than the mostly domestic dreams they chart. I love to listen to her.
Meanwhile, Anne Barngrover has some great choices of her own, including
Vow by Rebecca Hazelton (Cleveland State University Poetry Center):
Alan Michael Parker describes Hazelton’s voice as “brainy, half-feral, sad, and sensuous,” and I would add to that sharp, sassy, and strangely beautiful. Vow tells a treacherous story of love gone wrong in a landscape of claws, teeth, and snagged fur…
This book is a mind-trip and a rabbit hole into a world where suddenly everything seems larger-than-life and wild. After all, “No one thinks/ they are in a tragedy until they notice where the laughter should be.”
Straight Razor by Randall Mann (Persea Books):
Always teetering on the edge between tenderness and violence, love and fear, damage and healing, Straight Razor plunges us into the unflinching worlds of the San Francisco gay scene, the “empire of moss” in central Florida, and the childhood school traumas where “You write I will not touch him/ one hundred times./ She watches like a shopgirl/ who was never a girl.” Mann’s lyrical precision, five years in the making and exact as a knife, perfectly mirrors the speaker’s sense of control even as the poems’ content rubs us raw. Reading this book, you will both rejoice and cringe, laugh and gasp, sweat and shiver.