Each Ploughshares issue contains book recommendations from our Advisory Editors. Now, for the first time, we’re publishing an Editor’s Shelf selection on the Ploughshares blog. Enjoy these recommendations by Martin Espada, DeWitt Henry, Philip Levine, Margot Livesey, and Antonya Nelson.
Martin Espada recommends Psalms of the Dining Room by Lauren Schmidt: “The poetry of Lauren Schmidt does what poetry should do: make the invisible visible, indelibly, unforgettably. If ever a collection of poems embodied Whitman’s dictum to speak for ‘the rights of them the others are down upon,’ this is it. The poet worked for several years as a volunteer at The Dining Room, a free meals program (what used to be called a ‘soup kitchen’) in Eugene, Oregon. The poems inspired by the experience of working with this community–the poor, the unemployed, the physically and mentally disabled, veterans, the homeless–humanize the dehumanized, compelling us to see what we do not see and hear what we do not hear, to gaze upon the ‘ugly’ until it becomes beautiful, to re-imagine, re-invent and repair the world. these are poems of lament, praise and thanksgiving; thus, they are truly psalms, and belong to that Biblical tradition. They also belong to the tradition of poets who have rolled up their sleeves to work among the damned, and have written from that perspective. In a cascade of miraculous images, vividly imagined, the poet moves from witness to visionary, expressing the sure knowledge that a vision of the impossible, expressed in the language of the possible, must precede any great change, personal or political, intimate or global.” (Wipf and Stock Publishers, December 2011)
DeWitt Henry recommends Murdering the Mom by Duff Brenna: “Brenna’s childhood and coming of age are as harrowing as Maxim Gorki’s, but where Gorki’s vision calls for a Soviet revolution to free underclasses from the cycle of brutality, Brenna’s celebrates our common humanity, complexity, and resilience, the revolution within. This is a memoir remarkable for its ironic acceptance of outrages.” (Wordcraft of Oregon, 2012)
Philip Levine recommends D. Nurkse’s A Night in Brooklyn: “After I read D. Nurkse’s last collection of poems, The Border Kingdom, I told myself there was no one in the U.S. who could write a better book. Well I was wrong, there was a poet who could and recently did publish a better book, the same D. Nurkse. A Night in Brooklyn, his newest collection, finds him on home territory–he was for a time the Poet Laureate of Brooklyn–he should be the laureate of the Western Hemisphere. He possesses the ability to employ the language of our American streets, shops, bars, factories, and any place else and construct truly lyrical poems, sometimes of love, sometimes of anger. He can be wonderfully large and inclusive: ‘In these long slant-lit streets, she says, / you will find factories that once made shoehorns, / waffle irons, or pearl cuff links and store front churches / where voices adored the living God while tambourines . clashed a little behind the beat. . .” from “Twilight in Canarsie,” which finally gets the poem it deserves. The voice behind these poems is certainly Nurkse’s, but more often than not I feel it’s that deepest voice we hear rarely if ever and then only in poems, the voice of those closest to us, those we love and care for and who–because they are human–remain mysteries: ‘All my life I have been dying, of hope and self-pity, / and an unknown force has been knitting me back together.’ No one is writing more potently than this.” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012)
Margot Livesey recommends The Beach at Galle Road by Joanna Luloff: “In these beautiful stories set in Sri Lanka during the civil war, Luloff writes from the point of view of young and old, Americans and Sri Lankans. The result is an intricate web of stories that take us deep into a troubled place and time. I loved reading The Beach at Galle Road because of Luloff’s profound grasp of her characters and her ability to show the ways, large and small, that they are all marked by the war.” (Algonquin Books, October 2012)
Antonya Nelson recommends Stories for Boys by Gregory Martin: “Stories for Boys is a charming and moving coming-of-age story, its narrator situated in the pivotal position between being his father’s son and his son’s father. So refreshing and unique is Martin’s treatment of the material that the reader will never mistake this book for its inferior competitors dealing with similar subjects (suicide, latent homosexuality, child abuse). One hopes this is the new wave of memoir: stories of people whose lives are not easily categorized nor dismissed. It is a sweet read.” (Hawthorne Books, 2012)
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