Books to Read

Picture of Matt HainesMatt Haines is a doctoral fellow in the creative writing program at the University of North Texas.  He was born and raised in Sabina, a small town in southwestern Ohio, and graduated in 2002 from Kenyon College where he received an Academy of American Poets prize.  In 2006 he received an MFA in poetry from UC Irvine, and shortly thereafter he was given a Glenn Schaeffer Award for his poetry.  He has taught at Cerritos Community College, Austin Community College, and Huston-Tillotson University.

Three Books You’re Excited About

1. CapacityJames McMichael, FSG, 2006

Something happened to me while I was reading “Back,” the last section of this long poem.  The poem drew the book’s motifs into such presence, and it did so with such understatement, that it felt like witnessing a sudden glacial shift.  The book is hauntingly powerful, and it knows it is.  Someone once asked me what Capacity about, and there are many answers: photography, Great Britain, acts of enclosure, Ireland, famine, WWI, sex, ghosts, love, birth, talk, earth, childhood.  And yet as much as anything, it seems to be about English: the character and history of the language itself; the people whose lives and mouths and desires and needs and deaths have shaped it; and the way it haunts us by continuing to carry a legacy of which we are only fitfully and partially aware.  McMichael attempts to let the language speak itself, unencumbered by personality, and yet the power of the poem emerges from the way in which the personal and impersonal haunt and potentiate one another.  In McMichael’s work, language becomes character.

2.  VersedRae Armantrout, Wesleyan, 2010

Armantrout is working in a tradition that begins with Dickinson and moves through Williams and  Creeley.  She attends to minute particulars and couches her heavily enjambed lines in a distinctly American texture.  Her ear for modern colloquial speech – mated as it is with consumer culture, technology, and unconscious/compulsive quotation – is such that her books are also enjoyable as a marker of contemporary idiom.  And yet she manages to find the point at which slang-like textures and the inside-jokes our culture has with itself become personal and begin to open up a new mode of thinking.  Here, inside and outside fuse into a surface of linguistic hide and seek that is associative, epistemological, anarchic, and strangely erotic.  She usually breaks a poem into sections whose connections are indeterminate but evocative, employing etymological associations to anchor radically paratactic moves.  She is, for my money, what much of this moment in hyper-mediated American history sounds, thinks, and feels like.

3.  Threshold Songs, Peter Gizzi, Wesleyan, 2012

I had a hard time reading Yeats when I was younger because I didn’t realize how to read a poem like a song.  That’s not to say you have to sing it, but that pacing, pitch, and intonation are essential elements in the reading experience.  Gizzi’s poems are absolutely thrilling to me because they are so rewarding for one who pays attention these songful elements.  The poems draw you into an intimate participation in their utterance, as though pressing you against the edge of their duration.  This is what I have loved in Dickinson, later Williams, Creeley, and James Wright: an uncomfortably and achingly close lyric shot through with electrified mental activity.  The poems earn their book’s title: they bring me songfully to a place of entrances and exits, of presence and transience.