The last three books of poetry I’ve read couldn’t be more different. Two of them, “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur and “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith, came to my attention on Twitter. Did you know there’s a vibrant poetry community on Twitter? Actually, there’s a vibrant writing community there. I’ve found some fantastic books, poetry, flash fiction, short stories, nonfiction, etc., there and, these days, it’s the only reason I’m still hanging in. The only reason.
Anyway, I digress. The third book, “From Every Moment a Second” by Robert Okaji, came to my attention from Robert himself. I read his poetry blog almost every day and consider his poetry among the best you’ll read anywhere.
If you need a good book for a gift or if you want to treat yourself I recommend all three.
“Milk and Honey”, published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, is an extraordinary book. It’s a book that grabs you by the shoulders and gives you a good, hard shake. It’s not a comfortable read but it’s an important one. I confess, I didn’t realize there was so much about loss and trauma in this book. I thought it was about relationships and love, which it is, but it’s far from being all hearts and flowers. It’s also gritty and heartbreaking and, really, isn’t that the truth of relationships?
when my mother says i deserve better
i snap to your defense out of habit
he still loves me i shout
she looks at me with defeated eyes
The book is divided into four chapters: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, the healing. The poems are devoid of title and punctuation which, I think, gives the writing an urgency that can not be ignored. My favorite poem is in “the breaking” and ends like this:
i am not a hotel room
i am home
i am not the whiskey you want
i am the water you need
don’t come here with expectations
and try to make a vacation out of me
“Milk and Honey” is a collection of poems that reveals vulnerability yet demands respect.
“From Every Moment a Second“, published by Finishing Line Press, is aptly named. Robert Okaji is a poet with a gift for examining and expanding the small details of life in a language that reads like a dream.
Who knows where bird
begins and tree
which branch shifts
snow, which bears
He has a way of weaving the natural world with the human one and making it feel right and effortless.
I am too enamored of this fondness
for imprecision, never certain where
evening ends in your lattitude,
where morning begins in mine
Reading Okaji is like soaking your sore muscles in a warm fragrant bath. Soothing, peaceful, gorgeous. Of all the poetry books I’ve read I recommend “From Every Second a Moment” most highly.
Last summer the poem “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith went viral. As far as anyone can remember, this was a first for poetry. It was the perfect poem for a specific moment in the culture that just blew us all away. (Story here if you’re unfamiliar with it.) I bought her book of the same title, published by Tupelo Press, and was immersed in a mother’s unequaled love for her daughter. The poems are written for or about her daughter and, often, contain a desperate sweetness that tugs at your heart.
In other words, I love you,
I will come back. A child
is not a talisman. Neither am I,
I’m afraid. I am the sky,
but do not pray to me.
I have no power here.
Maggie’s gift for imagery and storytelling shines in many of her poems but one I particularly loved was “Nest”. A few lines:
For nesting, the hawk gathers the girl’s
long hair — glinting, caught in a low branch,
snagged on a clothesline. Soon he’ll look
for her gold curls, almost transparent
in the light, and see strands the color of bark,
dull and dark and straight.
Maggie, like her daughter, questions life. She looks for reason in an unreasonable world. She takes us on her journey and we’re happy to be invited along.
The diversity of the writing by these three poets is striking as is how much I, as a poet myself, can learn from them. It’s exciting to see the range of voices represented and the independent presses that are willing to put these works out into the world. We are lucky to have the opportunity to read and share these fine books. I hope you will.