This is a nice call for folks to buy poetry as holiday gifts. The suggestions are a nice blend of the classic and the very contemporary. I’ll admit, I don’t know the contemporary poets name dropped (except for Hayes, but he is actually used as a third party validator for one of the suggestions).
As you might expect, I’ve done a good deal of poetry gift giving, though maybe not this year (for reasons unrelated to poetry).
But let me give a couple of ideas for folks looking for something poesy-like that might make a good gift.
Brian Turner has two books of poetry, Here, Bullet and Phantom Limb. He is a veteran and writes a great deal about war and veterans and homecoming and PTSD and the like. Political without being partisan. Got that relevant-y thing going on. Good poet.
Charles Simic is fun and amusing, while also being a little dark and is far more formally interesting than Billy Collins. A better poet, too. Something for the person you know who, among all the poets s/he might have encountered in the x years since being forced to read poetry in school, has only read Collins and needs to be carefully introduced to something better. Sort of like introducing a fish in a bag of water in its new aquarium. The World Doesn’t End is might favorite, but a book of just prose poems might be a bridge too far. Virtually anything else he’s published would work.
Charles Baudelaire. For the angry, sexually frustrated person in your life. Get a copy of Fleurs de mal that includes the poems that were not published in the original version because they were too crazy for the time. One of those poems is a not-nearly-as-metaphorical-as-you-would-think piece about having syphilis and then cutting his lover with a knife and having sex in the wound he just made so that he can inject syphilis in the wound when he ejaculates. Yeah. He goes there. He’s French, what can I say?
Wordsworth. He’s just relaxing. People who think they don’t like contemporary because it lacks the magic of the great masters, like Byron and Shelley, probably haven’t actually read Byron and Shelley and would be very disappointed and confused if they did. Those people would be better off reading Wordsworth. His poetry is amazing, I love it, but it can also be like a warm, comforting bath that takes you away to Lake Country, only with central heating. And no syphilis sex with fresh, bleeding wounds. At least, none in my interpretation of his poems.
You want edgy? You want queer? But you also want someone with real poetic skill, someone who learning and experience who knows how to write and also knows classic and contemporary canons? You want Eileen Myles. A real throwback to a mythological ‘New York in the Seventies.’ She writes poetry and also prose that is really poetry (Lyn Hejinian would be an apt comparison). Trust me on this one. Just trust me.
For someone who hates to read, you can go to the Pacifica Radio Archives and for just $17.95, plus shipping, they will make a CD of a 1956 recording of Allen Ginsberg reading his poetry on the radio, including Howl. What a present, huh?