When I started choosing the first books I’d read this year, I quickly realized some of them would take a very long time – J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s The Food Lab, for example, which clocks in at 900-plus pages.
That’s a worthy inclusion, but no way could all 100 be that long because I have money to earn and other creatures in my life to acknowledge or they get cranky.
Around the same time I bought my first book of poetry in a long time, Neil Hilborn’s Our Numbered Days. He’s best known as the guy with the OCD poem on video, and I decided to buy his book. That put me on a mailing list for the publisher, Button Poetry. As publishers do, they hawked new products and offered specials.
Hey, I thought. Books of poetry tend to be short. I’ve hardly read any in years except for what my dear friend Karen Totten writes. I should get back to that. (And by “get back to,” I mean I wrote poetry for roughly a decade, even taking a few directed studies in college, before my last advisor inadvertently convinced me I had nothing to say. Maybe more on that another day.)
It was hard to tell much about the books, but among them I ended up choosing Blood Percussion by Nate Marshall. Turns out he earned his MFA from the University of Michigan, less than two hours down the road from me. But his previous world was nothing like that.
Marshall hails from Chicago’s South Side, specifically The Hundreds, a neighborhood label I’d never heard. The violence underlying much of his work is foreign to me. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like no matter how many poems and articles I read, no matter how many news clips and documentaries and movies I see. It’s not in my bones, and that’s a key difference.
His book gave me a window into his world. It’s a window from a high floor, not like being on a stoop. But his words are dramatic and uncluttered, cutting straight to the point without tossing aside his feelings. They’ll stay with me. I’ll share this book with others.
While poetry collections are brief – this one fewer than 30 pages – I don’t read them quickly. I read a poem or two, then lay the book aside. I want to absorb each message, not have them all wash together. If you choose to read poetry, I suggest the same approach.