Books

Best poetry books of 2011

DANIEL HASKETT FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

“Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels’’

by Kevin Young (Knopf)

A good epic poem is hard to come by these days, and it’s not just because of our kitten-like attention spans that there aren’t more of them out there. The real challenge awaiting any would-be contemporary American epic poet is the impossible multiplicity of our history - how to tell our story without leaving someone out. Twenty years in the making, Kevin Young’s “Ardency,’’ a sprawling choral retelling of the 1839 uprising aboard the slave ship Amistad and the aftermath for its captives, rises fearlessly to the challenge of historical poetry, in both the breadth of its scope and the intimacy of its materials. Young transforms archived letters, artifacts, and oral accounts into a carefully composed clamor of voices, stolen through history into some of the year’s keenest lines. With stunning concision and detailed strokes, Young’s vision of American liberty is ongoing, all-encompassing, and utterly engrossing: “All we want is make us free.’’

MICHAEL BRODEUR

“Fall Higher’’ by Dean Young (Copper Canyon)

Advertisement

“I Want to Make You Safe’’ by Amy King (Litmus)

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“Moving Day’’ by Ish Klein (Canarium)

“The Hermit’’ by Laura Solomon (Ugly Duckling)

“Destroyer and Preserver’’ by Matthew Rohrer (Wave)

“Selected Poems’’ by Mary Ruefle (Wave)

Advertisement

“Master of Disguises’’

by Charles Simic

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

“I Was The Jukebox’’ by Sandra Beasley (Norton)

“Double Shadow’’ by Carl Phillips (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Michael Brodeur is an assistant arts editor at the Globe. He can be reached at mbrodeur@globe.com.

“New Collected Poems’’

Advertisement

by Iain Crichton Smith (Carcanet)

Iain Crichton Smith (1928-1998) was a prolific writer - in both English and Scottish Gaelic - of poems, novels, and short stories; his “New Collected Poems’’ alone is more than 500 pages long. He was raised on the Isle of Lewis, which is no better known to Americans than he is, though as one poem explains: “It is the island that goes away, not we who leave it.’’ We’ve been missing out on a terrific body of work. Crichton Smith’s imagination was productive: There was nothing he didn’t notice or feel, little he couldn’t say. His poetry combines hawk-like precision with sweeping range, as in this excerpt in the collection from an impressively Blakean long-poem, “The Human Face’’:

“Naïve soldier, you may be just/ fighting your own interest/ and the flag you capture with hot wrist/ may be your own,/ and the knife that twists inside your breast/ made of your bone.’’

DON SHARE

“Threshold Songs’’ by Peter Gizzi (Wesleyan)

“Poems’’ by Elizabeth Bishop (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Spring and All’’ by William Carlos Williams (New Directions Pearls)

“Kindertotenwald: Prose Poems’’ by Franz Wright (Knopf)

“Red Clay Weather’’ by Reginald Shepherd (University of Pittsburgh)

“Head Off & Split’’ by Nikky Finney (Triquarterly)

“Well Then There Now’’ by Juliana Spahr (Black Sparrow)

“Black Blossoms’’ by Rigoberto González (Four Way)

“Found Poems’’ by Bern Porter (Nightboat)

Don Share is Senior Editor of Poetry magazine. His latest books are “Wishbone’’ (Black Sparrow Books) and “Bunting’s Persia’’ (Flood Editions).

“A Hundred Doors’’

by Michael Longley (Wake Forest University)

This year Wake Forest University Press has delivered “A Hundred Doors’’ by Irish poet Michael Longley, who has yet to receive the American acclaim surrounding many of his contemporaries. In this collection, readers are transported to various locales, but mostly to idyllic Carrigskeewaun, County Mayo, in poems littered with British and Irish speech, bolstered by the metaphoric strengths of his earlier work. Longley, septuagenarian, is “the farrier in this townland’’ (“Horseshoe’’), forging lines sharp but soft-spoken. While maintaining their edgy, historical scope, these poems communicate an intimacy with friends, colleagues, and family that never turns inward or rings false. One need look no farther than “The Holly Bush in memory of Dorothy Molloy’’ to see how poem reflects person, which in turn reflects the world: “The poets you loved are your consorts now./Golden plovers-a hundred or more-turn/And give back dawn-light from their undersides./The edge of the dunes wears a fiery fringe.’’

VALERIE DUFF

“Ghost in a Red Hat’’ by Rosanna Warren (Norton)

“Human Chain’’ by Seamus Heaney

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Space, in Chains’’ by Laura Kasischke (Copper Canyon Press)

“Memorial’’ by Alice Oswald (Faber and Faber)

“The Chameleon Couch’’ by Yusef Komunyakaa (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“The Double Truth’’ by Chard deNiord (University of Pittsburgh)

“The Illustrated Edge’’ by Marsha Pomerantz (Biblioasis)

“One Thousand Nights and Counting: Selected Poems’’ by Glyn Maxwell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“The Blue Tower’’ by Tomaz Salamun, translated from the Slovenian, by Michael Biggins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Valerie Duff is poetry editor of Salamander magazine and author of ‘‘To the NewWorld’’ (Salmon Poetry), shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize, 2011.