Some of this year’s best poets are the newest. PW talked to three poets publishing their debut volumes this year, and one whose highly anticipated second collection will appear.
Poet: Amanda Nadelberg
Book: Bright Brave Phenomena (Coffee House Press).
Nadelberg’s second collection is a jumpy look at the ins, and especially the outs, of love. This poet has wildly capacious vision and a prickly sense of humor—there’s a bit of everything here, or everything here is in bits.
The floor of the river
answered the phone, took a message—
the fire smelled of peanuts, the telephone
like stars—it was forever ago dear friend,
you beast, and still I won’t let go.
About publishing the book: “I met [Coffee House publisher] Chris Fischbach when I was 20 and he became a life-changing friend and mentor.I then interned at the press in my junior year and it was there that my reading tastes began to identify themselves. When I finished this last manuscript, Coffee House was the press I most wanted to walk blindfolded with an egg on a spoon for, not just for the books they publish but for the community they create and ideas that they help bring into the world and, yes, I was thrilled and very grateful when they accepted it.”
Who is your ideal reader? “I am beginning to think my ideal reader is someone who doesn’t read poetry, somewhere in America, someone in the forest with me who can’t hear the tree I felled fall because they won’t listen. But I also think this book is secretly (or not so secretly) me talking to myself, by which I mean, it feels like it’s indubitably for me.”
Poet: Eduardo C. Corral
Book: Slow Lightning (Yale)
The newest winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, America’s most prestigious first-book prize, is a dark debut by a poet who subtly interweaves Spanish into the fabric of his taut English lines, and who traces familial and erotic love back to a common source.
We’d crumble the Eucharist & feed it to the pigeons.
Sin verguenza. Escuintle. He Who Makes Things Sprout.
In the margins of a book of poems by Emily Dickinson
He scribbled: she had a pocketful of horses/ Trojan/
& some of them used. Often I mistook him for a storyteller
when he stood in the rain. A su
About publishing the book: “Honestly, I still can’t believe I won the Yale Younger. Some days I wake up and think, Did I dream the past year? The morning after I got the phone call from [Yale judge] Carl Phillips,he sent me an e-mail assuring me that I hadn’t dreamt the whole conversation, which was very sweet of him. A couple of days later, I received an e-mail from Yale University Press informing me that I had not won the Yale Younger. I was stunned. I almost burst into tears. Then I realized someone had forgotten to remove my address from the bulk e-mailing to all the poets who’d entered the contest. A few minutes later, someone from the press e-mailed me to apologize for the mix-up. Needless to say, those five minutes were intense. I hope never to relive them again!”
On mixing Spanish and English: “It mirrors the way I think. Some thoughts begin in English, end in Spanish. The Spanish completes the logic of the line and it intensifies its music. I don’t use Spanish as ethnic embellishment. It’s a vital part of the structure. If the Spanish is taken out, the poem collapses.”
Poet: Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Book: The Ground (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Phillips’s debut reels in the long aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, mourning a lost New York, but also alive in the city left behind, where myth and music mix in old and new forms that become rituals of self-preservation.
The eye seeking home
has to lower
lower. The eye seeking
home has to
There are no
Why a book about 9/11 now? “Poetry is an improbable throat for the imaginationto sing from, and in the case of The Ground the throat in question is a New Yorker’s throat. In that sense, 9/11 has a profound place in the volume in terms of looking back, reckoning, letting go... yet, nevertheless, at its core The Ground is simply a love song to my hometown, and an exercise in answering the question, Where made you?”
Poet: Rebecca Lindenberg
Book: Love, an Index (McSweeney’s)
Lindenberg’s debut hovers around the tragic disappearance and death of the poet Craig Arnold, who had been Lindenberg’s partner and who went missing while hiking alone in the mountains of Japan in 2009, an event that rocked the poetry community and sent Lindenberg spinning into grief. These poems are heartbreaking, not just because they mourn a lover lost but because they celebrate the enduring presence of a love shared.
You give me the filthy carpet of an East Village apartment.
You give me seeming not to notice.
You give me an unfinished argument, begun on the Manhattan-bound F train.
You give me paintings of women with their eyes closed.
You give me grief, and how to grieve.
Was writing this book healing? “Writing the portions of this book that I penned after Craig’s disappearance was definitely very healing. Poetry was a tremendously important part of Craig’s and my relationship when he was alive, and so when I was writing these poems, I was writing to Craig— almost like leaving the voicemail after voicemail after voicemail that I left on his phone after I first learned he was missing, before I understood that he might always be. He died so very suddenly, I wasn’t ready (at all) to let go of him, or that conversation we held between us. Writing the book helped me to ease out of the clasp of that grief more slowly. And as I worked, each poem I wrote to Craig, about Craig, about us, felt like a kind of offering I was trying to make, though it is very hard to imagine any of them being good enough. Finally, the book became a repository of memories I didn’t want to lose, and I didn’t really want to change, either.”