Sixteen of the best poems I read in 2016

Throughout 2016 I’ve selected and posted lines from the 16 best poems I’ve read during the month. In this post I’m giving you the best of the best of these poems and lines—plus quite a few that didn’t feature in my original series for one reason or another.

1. ‘After a Death’ by Tomas Tranströmer

Once there was a shock / that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail. / It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy. / It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires. / One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun /

Tomas Tranströmer’s poem ‘After a Death’ did not feature in my 16 poems series until now — but his poem ‘On the Outskirts of Work’ was my #10 in July 2016.

2. ‘Morning’ by Frank O’Hara

I’ve got to tell you / how I love you always / I think of it on grey / mornings with death // in my mouth the tea is never hot enough / then and the cigarette / dry the maroon robe // chills me I need you

Frank O’Hara’s ‘Morning’ was my #14 in March 2016.

3. ‘Great As You Are’ by Susan Griffin

Be like a bear in the forest of yourself. / Even sleeping you are powerful in your breath. / Every hair has life / and standing, as you do, swaying / from one foot to the other / all the forest stands with you.

Susan Griffin’s poem ‘Great As You Are’ was my #1 in August 2016.

4. ‘A Slim Volume Taken Into the Provinces’ by Ed Roberson

The ink is thin the paper is poor/ my eyes balance on the pale/ words around which a stream // flows almost erasing / the way across / the idea // Shadows the black flowers / of the light self / -sowing through the trees /

Ed Roberson’s poem ‘A Slim Volume Taken Into the Provinces’ was my #12 in 2016.

5. ‘Wandering Compass’ by Laura Bylenok

I touched everything. Pearls. / Pills. They were mine. / The freezer-burn I scraped up /
with my nails and melted / on my tongue was mine. / There was nothing to take / and I wanted it. Just dusk.

Laura Bylenok’s poem ‘Wandering Compass’ was my # 5 in May 2016

6. ‘You in the shade of a Tree’ by Kiyoko Nagase

For some time now I have been aware / of your eyes fixed on me from the shade of a tree. / You, so fondly treasured by your husband, / are radiant with a fair glow like a Renoir / or a Titian. / I have been tempered by toilsome sparks of fires / all by myself, gasping for air.

Kiyoko Nagase’s poem ‘You in the shade of a Tree’ was my # 7 in April 2016.

7. ‘September Song’ by Geoffrey Hill

Undesirable you may have been, untouchable / you were not. Not forgotten / or passed over at the proper time. // As estimated, you died. Things marched, / sufficient, to that end. /

Geoffrey Hill’s poem ‘September Song’ did not feature in my 16 poems series until now — but his poem ‘In Memorium: Gillian Rose’ was my #9 in November 2016.

8. ‘Visitor’ by Brenda Shaughnessy

For each night is a long drink in a short glass. / A drink of blacksound water, such a rush / and fall of lonesome no form can contain it. / And if it isn’t night yet, though I seem to / recall that it is, then it is not for everyone. / Did you receive my invitation? It is not / for everyone. Please come to my house / lit by leaf light.

Brenda Shaughnessy’s poem ‘Visitor’ did not feature in my 16 poems series until now — but her poem ‘Card 19: The Sun’ was my #2 in December 2016. 

9. ‘As Wasps Fly Upwards’ by Judith Beveridge

Sometimes I lie awake at night and remember / that death will come – … / perhaps from a fever, my skin crawling / as though I were lying in the path of a horde of bull acacia ants; / or intense itching and burning as if I’d been / rubbed with a concoction of wasabi, hot mustard / and the necrotising venom of a white-tailed spider. / Or perhaps, just from a build-up over the years / of light, ephemeral stings – / barely noticed, no pain worth recording – / just a remote hum in a honey-vault of light / then a smoky drifting away.

Judith Beveridge’s poem ‘As Wasps Fly Upwards’ was my #3 in October 2016.

10. (UNTITLED) by Catherine Barnett

C minus A and B equals— / Tree with no branch equals

What grief looks like: / A knife rusted in the side of / A goat // No, no / A coin falling in water / And the fish dart for it.

Catherine Barnett’s poem (UNTITLED) was my #14 in January 2016.

11. ‘Nox’ by Maria Takolander

A poem addressed to Anne Carson
When he finally leaves, satisfied I am pathological, / I remove a laptop from my black bag of tricks, / usurping the drawing of cardiac arrest. / Nox is not here. / Your book on grief is at home amongst my alphabetised books, / a perfect accordion sheaf folded in a rectangular box. / You might understand how I compose. / This elegiac poem, recounted just so.

Maria Takolander’s poem ‘Nox’ was my #13 in December 2016.

12. ‘Mourning Picture’ by Adrienne Rich

Our clapboard house stands fast on its hill, / my doll lies in her wicker pram / gazing at western Massachusetts. / This was our world. / I could remake each shaft of grass / feeling its rasp on my fingers, / draw out the map of every lilac leaf / or the net of veins on my father’s / grief-tranced hand.

Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘Mourning Picture’ was my #4 in September 2016.

13. ‘Mitosis’ by Katherine Soniat

Her almost late-phenomena she spotted   alive and / standing in a filthy doorway.  Her womb.       His eyes / on hers, and it struck       how she’d not checked on him / since childhood—absent        from his cells’ dark busyness. / Under the skin     such heaviness         and the same / heart he had from the start.

Katherine Soniat has taught at the University of New Orleans, Hollins University, and was a faculty member at Virginia Tech for twenty years. Currently, Soniat teaches in the Great Smokies Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She has published work in many journals including Poetry, The Nation, The Southern Review, and Antioch Review, and her collections include The Swing Girl, Alluvial, A Shared Life, and Bright Stranger.

Her poetry has not appeared in my 16 poems series until now.

14. ‘After Reading Robert Adamson on Francis Thompson’ by Anne Elvey

Alone (but for a man who takes the same / route)—my keys are threaded through / my fingers. My folded umbrella swings // like a baton. There is breath in a tree / and in the light undulant on the water. / I come upon an egret at a turn. Not you.

Anne Elvey is author of Kin (Five Islands, 2014), short-listed for the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize 2015, and four poetry chapbooks, the most recent this flesh that you know (Leaf Press, 2015). Anne is managing editor of Plumwood Mountain: An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics. She holds honorary appointments at Monash University and University of Divinity. ‘After Reading Robert Adamson on Francis Thompson’ appeared in Review in The Australian, July 9–10, 2016.

Her poetry has not appeared in my 16 poems series until now.

15. ‘Flying Saucers’ by Gary J. Whitehead

Some regrets take the air, / almost visibly, bright / against the mind’s wide sky. /  The child you never had, / for some reason red-haired. / The way you said goodbye / to your first real girlfriend. / The boy, the bicycle, / the stop sign you ignored.

Gary J. Whitehead’s third collection, A Glossary of Chickens, was published by Princeton University Press in 2013. His writing awards include, among others, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, the Pearl Hogrefe Fellowship at Iowa State University, and the PEN Northwest Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency Award. His poems have appeared widely, most notably in The New Yorker. ‘Flying Saucers’ appeared in Salamander in Spring/Summer 2016.

His poetry has not appeared in my 16 poems series until now.

16. ‘Swan’ by Hadara Bar-Nadav

She dreams of green / meat and eel grass, / a blizzard of fireflies, / but survives on air / and decay. / Winded instrument / that sings / about drowning / under a pale awning. / Her cry stripped / of its chord, /

Hadara Bar-Nadav’s newest book of poetry, The New Nudity, is forthcoming from Saturnalia Books in 2017. She is the author of Lullaby (with Exit Sign) (Saturrnalia Books, 2013), and has won many prizes. She is co-author of the textbook Writing Poems, 8th ed. (Pearson/Longman, 2011) and an Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. ‘Swan’ was published in Crazyhorse in Spring 2016.

His poetry has not appeared in my 16 poems series until now.

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