Twenty Books: How’s that for Hybrid?

Ron Silliman has been doing top-twenty lists, like this one from Javier Huerta of "top twenty books that made you fall in love with poetry." Here is my list. I've intentionally limited myself to books from the first twenty years or so of my writing life. Maybe I'll do the latter-day books in a subsequent post. I'd love to see others' lists, either in comments or via a link.
  1. The Waste Land and other Poems -- T.S. Eliot. [Especially the ironies of "Prufrock."]
  2. Highway 61 Revisited -- Bob Dylan [Not a book of poems, but "Desolation Row" remains one of the great poems of Late Modernism.]
  3. From Confucius to Cummings -- Ezra Pound, editor
  4. The Mentor book of Major American Poets -- Oscar Williams
  5. 50 Poems -- e.e. cummings
  6. The Stranger -- Albert Camus [Not a book of poems, obviously, but very important to me in high school when I was breaking away from my parents' religion.]
  7. Ariel -- Sylvia Plath
  8. Leaves of Grass -- Walt Whitman [More as symbol than as substance until I was in my 30s. I carried around an edition bound in cheap and crumbling red leather that I bought in high school, until I finally read the thing fifteen years later.]
  9. Selected Poems -- W.H. Auden [This was an early Faber volume I no longer have.]
  10. A Coney Island of the Mind -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  11. How Does a Poem Mean? -- John Ciardi [I first found a few of the Child Ballads in this book. I also got my basic understanding of poetic devices here.]
  12. Words for the Wind -- Theodore Roethke
  13. Howl -- Allen Ginsberg
  14. The Fall of America -- Allen Ginsberg [Recommended by Ronald Johnson when he was briefly my teacher at the UW.]
  15. Selected Poems -- William Carlos Williams [Especially "To Daphne and Virginia" and "Asphodel, that Greeny Flower," and "Burning the Christmas Greens."]
  16. Life Studies -- Robert Lowell
  17. 77 Dream Songs -- John Berryman
  18. Astral Weeks -- Van Morrison
  19. Two Citizens -- James Wright [From what I've heard, Wright's least favorite of his books.]
  20. Selected Poems (Ecco 1980) -- Czeslaw Milosz [Maybe just one poem, "Ars Poetica.] ABC of Reading -- Ezra Pound

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

2 thoughts on “Twenty Books: How’s that for Hybrid?”

  1. i’m sure that any list without robert duncan, josephine miles, george oppen, ann stanford, john milton’s lyrics, william empson, john keats, and maybe charles olsen is incomplet for me. i guess it’s personal: to the reader whoeverwherever it might breathe. edward mycue

    p.s. for other language poets: lorca, brecht, horace –along with dozens more maybe(i’m getting off track here: the rail engineer of poetry teaching would tell me i need training to compose such a list because it is so easy to go off the rails.)

    a.p.s. but it’s fun to do this in response.

  2. Joseph,

    I’m really heartened to see that Ciardi’s How Does a Poem Mean? made your list. I’ve been examining that book closely recently–it’s final chapter, “The Poem in Countermotion,” is one of the few extended discussions of turns in poetry I’ve found (prior to Structure & Surprise). It’s a chapter which I think almost stands on its own–helpful reading, I think, for anyone who thinks deeply about poetry and has to convey that thinking to students…


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