5 Favorite Poetry Collections: Kelli Russell Agodon | Poet | Author - Writer's Digest

5 Favorite Poetry Collections: Kelli Russell Agodon

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Here's part four of the five-part series in which poets share their five favorite poetry collections--with reasons for their selections included. Hopefully, it'll shine light on collections that absolutely need to be read (by the way, check out my 5 best books of 2013). This week, please welcome Kelli Russell Agodon!


When Robert asked me to come up with a list of my favorite poetry books, I immediately went running around my house grabbing books I’ve fallen in love with—Susan Rich’s The Cartographer’s Tongue, Martha Silano’s Blue Positive, Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Becoming the Villainess, Annette Spaulding-Convy’s In Broken Latin, Nancy Pagh’s No Sweeter Fat—when I was done, I realized I had covered my coffee table with all of my best friends’ books.

Yes, these are all Seattle area poets who I love and see regularly. And yes, they are all amazing books, books I keep on my desk, and refer to when I’m writing myself. Yes, these are favorite books I highly recommend all of them for these reasons—

  • The Cartographer’s Tongue captivate you through its story of travel.
  • Blue Positive will blow you away (especially the poem “Harborview”).
  • Becoming the Villainess will entertain you with superheroes and myth.
  • In Broken Latin shares an edgy nun story.
  • No Sweeter Fat has the fat lady poems I adore.

But as a Capricorn and literary citizen, I also feel it’s my responsibility to offer you books that are not based in my region or written by my friends. I realized if I wanted to create a list of favorite books, I was going to have to set some perimeters for myself.

I decided to make a second list of books. These books would be by poets I either don’t know or who I don’t see on a regular basis. They are books I purchased just by chance or someone’s recommendation. I decided that these books also had to be on my desk (as opposed to my bookshelf) as I wanted to share with you the books I reached for when writing to inspire me.

So I created this list of books I am head-over-heels over. These are not just sweet books I appreciate, but I-don’t-trust-you-enough-to-loan-you-this-book-and-really-I-can’t-be-without-it-that-long. These are those books, the ones that will always be a part of my personal collection and the ones I can recommend fully to you.

So here’s List 2, poets who are not in my area, who I don’t know or see on a regular basis, whose books I’ve fallen in love, my favorite books I highly recommend—

Tina Kelley’s The Gospel of Galore (2002, WordTech Press). This is an old book. It’s cover is two-toned, but when you open it, the poems are in a blue sky Technicolor, they are full of robins and waxwings drunk on chinaberries, dahlias and irises, falling in love with a man who gave blood thirty times. This book has lines like When the moon is flecked with bad news and early lovemaking can still be a form of prayer. It is the book I reach for when the word won’t come, when I need to remind myself of the specific natural world around me. All of it, written in the precise language of names.

Richard Siken’s Crush (2005, Yale University). For a long time I didn’t know if the cover was a cigar, a finger, or something else. This is the intent and the mystyery lures you in. Open this book and you get what you don’t expect, fresh narrative poems creating an absolute beautiful, sad, humorous, poignant read. The voice of these poems is someone is talking to you personally—There was a show on the television about buried treasure./You were trying to convince me that we should buy shovels/and go out into the yard/and I was trying to convince you I was a vampire (from “I Had A Dream About You”). I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read this book because I’ve lost count. I panic when it’s misplaced and every time I read it I fall in love with it again.


Eduardo Corral’s Slow Lightning (2012, Yale University). Also a Yale Younger Poet, Eduardo’s book breaks my heart in the best way with its beauty. I could read the poem “Watermark” every night before bed, In the dark only the Devil can cast a shadow./Too poor to afford lilies,/she walked down the aisle holding a glass of milk./Her left breast/is nicknamed Juan. The right, Diego. The poems are rich with these moments and never just in one world—English, Spanish, body, mind, father, son, love, pain—we move through these worlds thoughtfully, asking the question, “What became of me in those moments?” and never wanting the book to end.

Brenda Shaughnessy’s Human Dark With Sugar (2008, Copper Canyon Press).  For a while I was getting depressed I couldn’t find a poetry book I could really get into. Somehow, I found this book and I immediately was lost inside it. Sensual, smart, witty, I fell for lines like this: I hid your life vest in the death trap on purpose, my love, (from “Three Sorries”). And: I don’t like what the moon is supposed to do, from “I’m Over the Moon.” Her lines work on many levels and just after I had fallen in love with this book, I learned she had a new book out, Our Andromeia, which is sadder, but just as good and just as recommended.

Christine Garren’s Among The Monarchs (2000, University of Chicago).  Two years after I officially quit my corporate job and had moved to a town of 2,500 people, I found this book. This was the book that not only connected me to poetry, but grounded me. Her poems are usually one stanza with longer lines; “poetic snapshots” was how I saw them on the page. I remember sitting on my deck, thinking about the changes in my life and reading this from the poem “Picnic”: When the man and woman are finished, they throw the last wings/to the dog. There’s an apple in the woman’s lap, in her skirt,/in late spring. At some point, in watching her fold the cloth/into the basket, I remember that I’m going to die. And there it was. I’m stopped. The whole book is filled with these lines where you just pause and nod. She knows how to capture the moment, a poetic photographer, who can enchant.


Kelli Russell Agodon is the author of Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room (White Pine Press, 2010), Winner of the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Prize in Poetry and a Finalist for the Washington State Book Award. She is also the author of Small Knots (2004) and the chapbook, Geography (2003). She co-edited the first eBook anthology of contemporary women’s poetry, Fire On Her Tongue and recently published The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice, a book of poetry writing exercises she coauthored with Martha Silano. Her third collection of poems, Hourglass Museum, will be published in February 2014 by White Pine Press. Kelli is the co-founder of Two Sylvias Press and was the editor of Seattle’s literary journal, Crab Creek Review for the last five years. She is an avid mountain biker, paddleboarder, and hiker. She never underestimates the power of museums and good dessert to heal what ails. She writes about living and writing creatively on her blog, Book of Kells at: www.ofkells.blogspot.com. Visit her at www.agodon.com or on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/agodon. Or write to her directly at: kelli (at) agodon.com.



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