what I know must be there

I have difficulties with poetry, especially at the new-book bookstore, standing in front of the poetry shelves. I don’t know what is wrong but I can never find what I know must be there. It is very different in front of the poetry shelves of the secondhand bookshop where every other worn volume promises pleasure.

Annie Proulx, “Bird Cloud,” p 67

I’m reading this book, and was surprised to find the above quote in it last night, after a strenuous day spent shopping for poetry books at St. Mark’s Bookshop in New York City.


  • Support independent bookstores
  • Spend a beautiful day moving around in the city
  • Actually handle and browse potential new books before buying them
  • Check out the poetry available in a shop (rather than a catalog)
  • Endeavor to find poetry books that I can love (after finding that I’m not inerested in a large percentage of the books on my shelves at home – not sure what this means)

Working from a list of poets that held some interest, I found a pretty good percentage on the shelves at St. Marks. Enough to buy 10 books.

James Tate, Return to the city of the white donkeys
For the ease of reading and amusement factor; also, must own James Tate due to interest in the prose poem

Jackson Mac Low, Thing of Beauty
For expanding my understanding of what a poem could be; because the covers feel nice; because Anne Tardos explains things

Leslie Scalapino, Objects in the terrifying tense longing from taking place
For taking a risk buying something that I have a low chance of understanding; because the text mentions “reality”

Michael Palmer, Thread
Because I really like Michael Palmer; because the poems seemed readable; because I want to emulate them?

Lisa Jarnot, Night Scenes
To keep up with Lisa; for the lovely starry end papers; because I enjoy the poems; for “o library o lawn o carousel”

Will Alexander, Compression and Purity
Because of the review in SPD catalog mentioning automatic writing, surrealism, and “disavowal of the autobiographical process.”

Robert Creeley, On Earth
For sentimental reasons?; to read poems of aging.

David Meltzer, When I was a Poet
For sentimental reasons?; because of the Beats, because I’m a sucker for small formats

Jack Collom, Cold Instant
For the giddiness of the workplay, the drawing, and the Colorado connection (might send this one along to my son)

Ben Lerner, Angle of Yaw
For the HTMLGiant review; because I might learn something? (see Scalapino)

Rejected – mostly because one can only buy so many books of poetry from the new shelf:
Nelly Sachs
Joan Houlihan, The Us
Jack Spicer, My Vocabulary Did This to Me

Books that made me happy:
Any poetry book with drawing or painting on the pages, especially rough and unaccomplished-looking – one especially tall large book (Berrigan-related?), can’t find the title, didn’t write it down oh well

Aftermath – overwhelmed:
Train ride home with no air conditioning, exhausted by the effort, felt weakened and sick and haunted by poets all night

Still wondering:
Am I really interested in poetry?

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