I don't really have "favorite" books. I read too much, and I read too widely, to believe that any one book can encompass the totality of my tastes and reading experiences. Similarly, I think best-of lists are absolute bullshit. The only reason anyone ever made a list was because they wanted to start a fight. But here we are in the last week of the year, and I do think that some reflection is worthwhile. This week, I'll highlight some of the books by local authors that made my year in reading so memorable. Today, the focus is on poetry.
It's been a phenomenal year for poetry in the greater Seattle area. Our poets have responded to the challenges of 2017 with some of the best work we've seen in decades. Some highlights:
EJ Koh's debut collection, A Lesser Love, demands your attention. Love's gaze lands on war and love and history and pop culture; when viewed through Koh's crystalline language, those four huge subjects don't feel like opposites. The whole world makes sense when Koh writes it; even the tragedies have a kind of beautiful sadness to them. It's as confident a debut as you'll read, and that confidence is entirely earned.
Robert Lashley's second collection, Up South, takes the fury and the contemporary language of his debut and places it into the classical tradition. This is a book that looks back at the thousands of years of poetry that came before and proudly builds upon it. Lashley is on his way to being one of the Northwest's greatest poets, and Up South is a giant step in his ascension.
Halie Theoharides, the author of Final Rose, is not from Seattle. But the book was published by Seattle press Mount Analogue, and it seems doubtful that any other city could have produced this book. It's a beautiful tone poem built entirely out of screen shots of the reality TV show The Bachelor, and it's as funny as it is profane. Only a publisher as young and brash as Mount Analogue could have recognized the beauty in this project, and then brought the book to bookstores without compromise or commercial compromises.
When Seattle poet Joan Swift died, many of us who mourned were consoled by the fact that she had one more book to give us. That book, The Body That Follows Us, was published this year. And it is a portrait of the artist as an old poet. Swift faced her body's inevitable decline with humor and a very observant eye. As her last gift to us, Body is a tremendous document, charting a little-recorded time in an author's career: old age and infirmity. Swift acknowledged the brittleness of her bones, but she also acknowledged that those bones are what will outlast her.
Maged Zaher hopefully has many years of poetry ahead of him, so it seems weird that he's already published a collected edition of all his published work to date. But Opting Out is exactly the kind of career retrospective that he needs. Zaher has been fairly prolific, and there's enough work in Opting Out to chart his trajectory as an artist: from a funny, horny poet to a revolutionary who — some things never change — thinks about sex a whole lot.