Six of the best poems I’ve read in 2017 (so far)

Here’s a glimpse of some poetry I’ve enjoyed reading in the first six months of 2017. Love, loss, looking, betrayal, Trump, mould … a few lines of each to whet your appetite. I’ll post Part 2 with six more in December, so stay tuned.

January …

‘Jealousy’ by Ross Gillett

Tell me about that rogue summer / you and your perfect stranger / making a home of this loose shore. // I want traces / of the pressure you put on each other, / signs of your settling in.

Ross Gillett is an award-winning Australian poet whose poems have appeared in The Age and The Australian and in magazines including Quadrant, OverlandPoetry Monash, Island, Antipodes, Going Down Swinging, Blue Dog and Australian Poetry Journal.  His book The Sea Factory was one of the Five Islands Press New Poets 2006 series. In 2010 he published a chapbook of old and new poems—Wundawax and other poems—with Mark Time Books.

February …

‘Having it Out with Melancholy’ by Jane Kenyon

6  IN AND OUT /// The dog searches until he finds me / upstairs, lies down with a clatter / of elbows, puts his head on my foot. // Sometimes the sound of his breathing / saves my life—in and out, in / and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .

Jane Kenyon (1947–1995) was New Hampshire’s poet laureate when she died at age 47. Her verse often probed the inner psyche, particularly with regard to her own battle against the depression that lasted throughout much of her adult life. Kenyon published four volumes of poetry—From Room to RoomThe Boat of Quiet HoursLet Evening Come, and Constance—and translated a volume of works by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Her poetry was highly lauded by critics throughout her lifetime.

March …

‘Last Days’ by Donald Hall

Sometimes her right fist flicked / or spasmed toward her face. For twelve hours / until she died, he kept / scratching Jane Kenyon’s big bony nose. / A sharp, almost sweet / smell began to rise from her open mouth. / He watched her chest go still. / With his thumb he closed her round brown eyes.

Donald Hall was the 14th US Poet Laureate (2006–2007) and was for five years Poet Laureate of his home state, New Hampshire (1984–1989). He has won many other honours and awards. He met poet Jane Kenyon, whom he married in 1972. In 1994, it was discovered that Kenyon had leukemia. Hall’s struggle to come to terms with her illness and death, 15 months later, were the subject of his 1998 book, Without. Hall has published many volumes of poetry, essays, drama, short stories, memoirs and biographies. ‘Last Days’ is from Inventions of Farewell, edited by Sandra Gilbert, WW Norton & Co. New York.

April …

‘The Heronry’ by Mark Jarman

Once the crack of a branch, falling under a bulky red tail hawk, / sent a murder of crows, like a loud black rainbow, / arcing across the lagoon. Every other bird scattered, / except the night herons, who didn’t stir a bit, / hunched on single legs on single branches. / Some people in the distance pointed. / And I was glad to be there, looking where they looked. // I almost think I could write about it forever, / adding word to word like coral in a reef

Mark Jarman is Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. His most recent collection of poetry is Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems. His honours include the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Poets’ Prize, the Balcones Poetry Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry. The Heronry is published by Sarabande Books.

May …

‘sting-along’ by joanne burns

there’s no point to owning a country/ if you can’t look after your own hair / the tv burped    the weeks broke up like packets / of biscuits    we swept through them on the way / to the bus stop    holidays were full of conjunctions

joanne burns  is a contemporary Australian poet and prose writer who has published more than a dozen books of poetry and whose poems have appeared in numerous Australian and overseas literary journals and poetry magazines. She was awarded the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry for her most recent collection brush (published by Giramondo). The prize was presented to her at the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards ceremony on May 16, 2016.

June …

‘[20] Calcium’ by Tricia Dearborn

and the roaring bulk of the sea. Now it will buffer / the pH of the medium, allow me to cultivate / many crinkled circular sheets of mould. // I don’t know why I’m growing mould. / I don’t know what I will do with my life. / But watching and measuring I accrete // habits of precision, observation; learn

Tricia Dearborn has published two collections of poetry: The Ringing World (Puncher & Wattmann, 2012) and Frankenstein’s Bathtub (Interactive Press, 2001). Her poems have been widely published in literary journals including Meanjin, Southerly and Overland, and in Contemporary Australian Poetry, Australian Poetry Since 1788 and Best Australian Poems.

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