A few years ago, February 22, 2009 to be exact, I was asked this question:
What are 20 poetry books (if there are twenty) that made you fall in love with poetry, the books that made you think: I want to do this, I need to do this. What are the books that kept you going? Don’t put down the books that you think you’re “supposed” to like, but list the core ones, the ones that opened all of this up for you.
On February 22, 2009, this was my list of 20:
- Ntozake Shange, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.
- Jessica Hagedorn, Dangerous Music.
- Myung Mi Kim, Under Flag.
- Bhanu Kapil, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers.
- Catalina Cariaga, Cultural Evidence.
- Federico García Lorca, Poeta en Nueva York.
- Jimmy Santiago Baca, Martín & Meditations on the South Valley.
- Truong Tran, Dust and Conscience.
- Jaime Jacinto, Heaven is Just Another Country.
- Frances Chung, Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple.
- Harryette Mullen, Recyclopedia.
- Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera.
- Leslie Marmon Silko, Storyteller.
- Anne Waldman, Fast Speaking Woman.
- Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee.
- Oliver de la Paz, Names Above Houses.
- Allen Ginsberg, Howl.
- Bay Area Pilipino American Writers (eds.), Without Names.
- Merlinda Bobis, Cantata of the Woman Warrior Daragang Magayon.
- Walter Lew (ed.), Premonitions.
I also included these additional thoughts:
- R. Zamora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s is considered a novel, which is comprised of vignettes and many poems, and which has strongly informed my code switching and use of Catholic prayer.
- Eduardo Galeano is not considered a poet, though his numerous volumes of genre blurring work is to me very much poetry. Also, his reading and interview in the Lannan video series made me simply giddy.
- Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory For Forgetfulness is an extended meditation on exile, which to me reads as one very long prose poem.
- Trinh Minh-ha’s Woman, Native, Other is not poetry, although her discussions of women of color artists, and post-colonialism have been very important to my poetics.
- Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Poetry as Insurgent Art is really quite lovely. I realize this sounds demeaning, but I mean this sincerely. There are so many bits of taken for granted common sense and illumination in this collection, stuff I need to remember when stupid people and the Poetic Industrial Complex drag me down.
So that was 2009. I should say, at that time, I was admonished by someone (two guesses what gender and ethnicity said giver of admonition was), that my list was too provincial, too contemporary, lacking in the great enduring classics and canonical works. Obviously, this person had their own ideas and context with little intersection to or consideration of my own context (we may have “shared” space on Silliman’s blogroll back in the day, and that’s not a meaningful enough intersection for me).
I know I had answered as honestly as possible; I always say — and it’s the absolute truth — that if I had never seen or encountered poetry collections from fierce, indie WOC and POC, especially Filipino Americans, especially Filipino Americans in the Bay Area, then the likelihood of my pursuing a career in letters would have been near impossible.
What saddens me most and what grosses me out is that we still don’t allow or give space for people to find their own ways into poetry, whatever route, whatever timetable. And we just don’t let folks love the poetry they love.
I wanted to revisit this list, especially this part of the question: works “that made you fall in love with poetry, the books that made you think: I want to do this, I need to do this.” I wanted to think about how I, a decade later, would amend my 2009 list above. And maybe the way to word it now would include: stripped of all the noise and hype, what books make you rethink, make you challenge and reevaluate your own poetics, rekindle your love for, your faith in poetry, and in what poetry can do. That said, my list grows, and will continue to grow:
- Al Robles, rapping with ten thousand carabaos in the dark.
- Nick Carbó, El Grupo McDonald’s.
- Yoko Ono, Grapefruit.
- Ambar Past, Xalik Guzmán Bakbolom, Xpetra Ernandes, Incantation: Songs, Spells and Images by Mayan Women.
- Mila D. Aguilar, A Comrade is as Precious as a Rice Seedling.
- Elynia S. Mabanglo, Anyaya ng Imperyalista: Mga Tula / Invitation of the Imperialist.
- Joy Harjo, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky.
- Juan Felipe Herrera, 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971-2007.
- Russell Leong, The Country of Dreams and Dust.
- Bob Kaufman, Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness.
- Diane di Prima, Revolutionary Letters.
- Jack Agüeros, Sonnets from the Puerto Rican.
- Sesshu Foster, City Terrace Field Manual.
- Amanda Ngoho Reavey, Marilyn.
- Monica Ong, Silent Anatomies.
- Mark Nowak, Coal Mountain Elementary.
- Rajiv Mohabir, The Cowherd’s Son.
- Philip Metres, Sand Opera.
- Carmen Giménez Smith, Milk and Filth.
- Lisa Linn Kanae, Sista Tongue.
- Alan Chong Lau, Blues and Greens.
- Bruna Mori, Dérive.
I have tremendous “To Read” stacks at home. This list will continue to grow as I make my way through my stacks.