richard siken Tag

This fall I’ll be teaching a class on first collections of poems. We’ll be talking about theme and shapeliness, the individual poems themselves as well as the way they come together to make a collection. I’m interested in first collections because I just published my own first book of poems two years ago, Beautiful in the Mouth, and I’m at work now on a second collection. Working on the second collection has made me reflect on the first book in ways that I hadn’t expected: I question the first book, and try to come up with the reasons for the way I put it together though those reasons have dissolved over time. And thinking about that first book has made me do what I probably should have done before I published it—it’s made me read lots and lots of other poets’ first books, looking in particular for the reasons that they are shaped the way they are. It’s been a wonderful journey, discovering books I hadn’t read before, and revisiting books that I had read and loved without realizing that they were a poet’s first effort. And along the way I think I’ve discovered a thing or two about first books: though they are not always the poet’s best work (and sometimes they are, which is obviously pretty sad in the long run), they are generally the poet’s most raw work, and that hunger and greed and ferocious devouring of language and emotion that happens in those first poems is a pleasure to encounter every time. First books aren’t perfect books, but they are wild ones that don’t hold back. So I’ve been spending the last few days pouring over my books of poetry, looking for first collections that I love, and there are quite a lot to choose from. In fact, I’m having trouble taking my list of thirty books and paring it down to a very reasonable ten (I’m sure that many of us would love to spend our days reading poetry, but my undergraduate students might stop coming to class if I made them read thirty books). However, I’ve got three books that I know will make the final cut, and I’d like to share a poem from each with you today.

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