If you think your holiday list doesn’t encompass many who would be happy to receive a book of poetry, you may be surprised. See if any of these volumes, all published in the past 12 months, matches the personality of someone you’ll be shopping for, and then go to the special link on our home page. You’ll be shopping from the comfort of your keyboard and donating to us at the same time—all while preparing to flatter and entertain someone you care about.
Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive on Ideas alone, by Bo Burnham. How to describe Bo Burnham? Crazy popular (his YouTube videos are up to 100 million views), he is ALSO the phenomenon who had two Comedy Central specials before he was 18. Iconoclastic. Adolescent. Potty-mouthed. Hysterical. Uncanny. Charming. He inspires the legendary endless list.
You are pretty much guaranteed to hit a holiday homerun by giving this illustrated volume to anyone (well, almost anyone) on your list who is under 25. And if you know someone older who likes being blindsided by a laugh, this is the poetry book for her or him.
The second stanza of “On Poets and Farts” goes this way:
Are these poets too holy to comment on anything
less than nature’s flashiest gestures?
Are we going to spend another millennia searching
for meaning in sunsets and waterfalls?
Dog Songs, by Mary Oliver. While her reclusiveness keeps Mary Oliver from wearing the “America’s most popular modern poet” crown (she gives few readings and fewer interviews, has never sought the spotlight, and we certainly don’t expect to see her on Colbert any time soon), she has sold (and written) more books of and about poetry than anyone else alive today. And she adores dogs. She’s owned dozens over the many decades of her writing career.
Her poetry is easily grasped, to be sure, but her poems also transmit a deep understanding of devotion without an ounce of treacle. She’s a clear-eyed appreciator of all parts of the natural world and someone for whom dogs are several notches above most humans. Dog lovers will paw over this collection like a collie with a chew toy.
Here is her “If you Are Holding This Book”:
You may not agree, you may not care, but
if you are holding this book, you should know
of all the sights I love in this world—
and there are plenty—very near the top of
the list is this one: dogs without leashes.
Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die Cherish, Perish, by David Rakoff. There’s nothing to add to what we said on July 21 of this year, and nothing to stop you from giving this novel in rhymed couplets to anyone who loves to read.
From this novel:
Margaret grew quickly, a biddable child
Not overly sickly, her temperament mild.
As a baby, her mother would sneak her to work.
The foreman thought brats caused the women to shirk.
The Fall Of Arthur, by J.R.R. Tolkien. No one doesn’t know someone who is, or was, a total Tolkien nerd. This year brought the publication of a previously unknown volume in verse by the icon himself.
Ah, what a master can do:
Nearer it sounded,
Now hoofs they heard, a horse neighing,
watchmen calling. Woe had found them.
The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness Into Flowers, by Alice Walker. More than 60 new poems by the woman who wrote The Color Purple, forwent anger for meditation, prefers optimistic positivism to uninformed negativity, and believes that poetry can help achieve activism’s goals as much as anything else. This one is for those who march and those who once did.
From Walker’s introduction:
The world—the animals, including us humans—wants to be engaged in something entirely other, seeing, and delighting in, the stark wonder of where we are. This place. This gift. This paradise.
Aimless Love, by Billy Collins. There are not enough superlatives to put this volume in perspective—“New York Times Best Seller” is just one. “A sigh of delight on every page” could be another. Released in October, this New and Selected collection of America’s most popular modern poet (U.S. Poet Laureate for two years, the most seen reader of poetry in America, Garrison Keillor’s choice to replace him on The Writer’s Almanac this past summer and, yes, he was on Colbert about a month ago) is a revelation. It contains over 50 poems previously unpublished, as well as the poet’s most famous and beloved poems like” The Lanyard” and “The Revenant.”
Laughter is the natural byproduct of most Billy Collins poems, but women find themselves wishing they could find a man with such an achingly romantic view of the most quotidian moments. Men, on the other hand, appreciate his quiet confidence and clear independent spirit. You really should buy a copy for yourself too. You’ll deserve some sighs of delight when this season is finally over. (Full disclosure: this writer has the unbelievable good fortune to call Mr. Collins friend.)
“Orient” starts out this way:
You are turning me
like someone turning a globe in her hand,
and yes, I have another side
like a China no one,
not even me, has ever seen.
This past year brought some of the finest collections of intricate, deep, difficult poetry as well. We direct you to the long list on the National Book Awards website, for many of those.
Here’s to a blues-free Thanksgiving weekend and a poetic holiday season for one and all.