Top Books of Poetry Recommended as Gifts

With Gary Gutting’s recent New York Times article about “The Real Humanities Crisis” in mind, I’m feeling even more bolstered as I compose this post recommending 4 books of poetry for gifts this holiday season. If book touring taught me anything, it’s that word of mouth is still worth its weight in gold on the book circuit. Thank goodness for that! Word of mouth may travel slowly, even through social media, but it has an important, cumulative effect. Here are 4 authors whose work has earned critical praise in its own right…and also comes highly recommended by yours truly.

And if these reviews aren’t persuasive enough, consider my friend Deb’s insight today, which was effectively: “This would be a very different country if we had 2 minutes of coverage every evening on the news about what’s new in the arts.” If there’s someone you’d like to share the literary arts with, a book of poems is a great way to start. A book is a gift you get to open again and again!

To Embroider the Ground with Prayer by Teresa J. Scollon:

  • What the cover says: To Embroider the Ground with Prayer is a portrait of poet Teresa J.
    Scollon’s several worlds, as she accompanies her father through his
    illness and death and records the richness of family and community life
    in her Michigan town. These poems enjoy reverence and irreverence in
    equal measure as grief appears side by side with playfulness and humor.
    Scollon employs a wide range of poetic styles and voices: elegies,
    narratives, and persona poems are organized in recursive circles that
    evoke family, village, local characters, and the author’s adult life
    beyond her hometown.
  • What I say: I recently reviewed this book on Goodreads by saying that I found this to be absolutely the most moving, accessible, precise, honest book of poems I
    have read in years. Eighty-eight pages of poetry that brings the
    genre into any reader’s hands. Clear and direct without being bland;
    mysterious without being obscure. Lovely imagery, moving insights,
    relatable loss…incredible.

Speaking Wiri Wiri by Dan Vera:

  • What the cover says: Winner of the inaugural Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize [that’s a big deal, readers!], Dan Vera’s Speaking Wiri Wiri
    is a work of historical insight and wry wit, unexpectedly delightful
    and full of surprises as it meditates on the challenges of multiple
    identities, ethnicity, geographies of migration, familial displacement,
    popular history, and more. Everything is fair game for Vera, who finds
    poetry in the mundane and the monumental, the hidden lives of iconic
    television stars and the alternate and accidental histories of Latinos
    in the United States. Carmen Miranda makes an appearance, as do Captain
    Kirk, Vladimir Nabokov, and José Martí in a literary landscape careening
    lyrically between lost and found. 
  • What I say: This is on my Christmas list…so if I get it, I’ll be reviewing it on Goodreads. Suffice it to say that I’ve had the privilege of hearing Dan Vera read out loud and I felt immediately moved by his work. It’s specific and sensual, vivid and honest. I remember listening to poems about experiences I have never personally had, but somehow Vera’s verse enabled me to find relatable threads and enter the poems all the same. Other poems rang incredibly true and personal. He’s a voice not to miss!

Belonging by Britt Kaufmann and Quick Draw: Poems from a Soldier’s Wife by Abby E. Murray:

  • What Britt says: “This collection of poems loosely chronicles my upbringing in a Mennonite
    community in the Midwest and my move, as an adult, to the mountains of
    Western North Carolina.”
  • What’s amazing about Abby: Her blog is…how can I say this? An incredible resource for poets. She’s clear, opinionated, honest, and funny! Keeping up with her blog and then reading her book might make you so smart your friends don’t even recognize you anymore!
  • Why both of these books: I know both poets personally and have heard and seen them read out loud. I also had the chance to overlap with each during various drafting stages of their work. I always marveled at their dedication and precise ways of seeing. Finishing Line Press published these authors and it is a great little press with affordable, beautifully designed chapbooks. Check them out!

Happy Holidays and happy reading!

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