Monday, February 23, 2009

Weighing in with my 20

I've been reading with great interest the various 20-book lists that have been peppering the blogosphere in response to, I believe, Aaron Smith's prompt:

"What are 20 poetry books (if there are twenty) that made you fall in love with poetry, the books that made you think: I want to do this, I need to do this. What are the books that kept you going? Don’t put down the books that you think you’re "supposed," to like, but list the core ones, the ones that opened all of this up for you..."

In thinking what books I would list, I've decided to focus in on those years when I was an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley in the mid to late 80s. In other words, that period when I was beginning to discover contemporary poetry in earnest for the first time. I won't, for example, list poetry books I read in Spain during the better part of the nineties; nor will I list, for example, The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, which I read while I was a graduate student in a seminar on the San Francisco Renaissance led by Gary Snyder; nor Basil Bunting's Briggflatts, which is a key text for me today. If the question posed were, "Which books do you return to, again and again, today (2009)?" some of the books listed below would not make it.

So consider this list, then, a sort of time-capsule, a snapshot of what captured my imagination before I even knew that I was going to pursue poetry for the long-haul. Some of the titles, and their authors, remain important to me. Others (and I won't name them) you might say I've "outgrown." Here are the titles, "in no particular order:"

Selected Poems (Wake Forest University Press)
John Montague

Spring and All (New Directions)
William Carlos Williams

Golden State (George Braziller)
Frank Bidart

Storm Over Hackensack (Moyer Bell)
August Kleinzahler

At the Rainbow (University of New Mexico Press)
Robert Vasquez

Entering a Life (Arte Público Press)
Ernesto Trejo

History of My Heart (Ecco)
Robert Pinsky

Field Guide (Yale University Press)
Robert Hass

Black Hair (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Gary Soto

The Gold Cell (Knopf)
Sharon Olds

Cloudless at First (Moyer Bell)
Hilda Morely

By Lingual Wholes (Momo’s Press)
Victor Hernandez Cruz

Collected Early Poems (New Directions)
Denise Levertov

The Country Between Us (Harper Perennial)
Carolyn Forché

Roots and Branches (New Directions)
Robert Duncan

The Passages of Joy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Thom Gunn

October Light (Kearney Street Workshop Press)
Jeff Tagami

Emplumada (University of Pittsburgh Press
Lorna Dee Cervantes

Facegames (As Is/So&So Press)
Juan Felipe Hererra

Martín & Meditations on the South Valley (New Directions)
Jimmy Santiago Baca


Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks, Francisco. Some of these are old friends, but you've listed a few for me to put on my to-be-read list.

It's always interesting to see literary influences, don't you think?


Barbara Jane Reyes said...

Great list, Francisco. I love that you have included Tagami's book October Light here, and I know you have mentioned him before. I'd love to talk more about your reading of it, what you "got out of it," and all.

See you soon.

Francisco Aragón said...

When I think back about how much I loved (and still love) Jeff's book, a number factors weighed in. First, I sort of placed the volume in the same category as, say, Soto's Black Hair: work that was able to craft (and I underscore craft here) solid work about people who aren't being "sung."

The other thing I loved about that volume is the physical object itself. I loved that it was a multidisciplinary book that included black and white photographs. I loved it's simple yet elegant design and its use of the solid green line as a design element on the page.

And third, and this is something I've come to appreciate more with the passing of time: I love, really love, that the book was born out of a community-based press. I'm partial to small presses these days, more and more.

Tammy Gomez said...

great list.
takin' notes, as usual.

hope this finds you well.