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As a poetry reader, I get asked by many of our customers how to get into it. There’s a fear of not understanding, of intimidation, of inaccessibility, of not knowing where to start. I think a lot of this uncertainty stems from how we were introduced to poetry by high school teachers and college professors, equally intimidated. I had the pleasure of corresponding with one of our regulars who reached out wanting to explore the possibilities of poetry but was plagued by similar fears. Over a couple of emails, he became excited at the prospect of taking on something brand new. I commend any reader willing to step outside their comfort genres; risk always pays off. Why deny ourselves a new experience? Poetry is just another way to hear language. That’s all it is: language in a new direction. I challenge our Interabang readers to give a book of poems a chance. I think I found a way to make navigating this territory easier. Below you will find eight pairings of poetry with novels and memoirs you may already love. If there’s a book you’ve recently finished and want my poetry pairing for that title, reach out: Tyler@interabangbooks.com. Let’s grow as readers together. 

Tap Out: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9781328518125
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mariner Books - March 5th, 2019

PAIR WITH: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Edgar Kunz’s debut collection TAP OUT explores an impoverished New England landscape in stunning lyrical portraits. His poems act as anecdotes of a down and out family, the speaker recalling a childhood poverty with blistering recollection. Consider how a  son describes his father’s hands after a night shift: “There’s no one left to see his hands lifting from the engine bay, dark and gnarled as roots dripping river mud, no one to see how his palms move in the fabricated light.” Kunz’s poems show  the vulnerability of a working class family with a tenderness only a skilled poet can render. 

13th Balloon Cover Image
ISBN: 9781556595776
Availability: NOT IN STOCK - Usually arrives in 7 - 14 business days
Published: Copper Canyon Press - February 11th, 2020

PAIR WITH: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

In his fourth book of poetry, Mark Bibbins documents the life of a close friend and their battle with AIDS during New York in the 1980’s and 90’s. Composed as one long poem, the work breaks in elegiac sequences, threaded with anecdotes both bleak and humorous. Bibbins references Mary Jo Bang’s prize-winning collection ELEGY as a foundation for his own: “Come on stage and be yourself, / The elegist says to the dead.” And we’re soon immersed in the self of Bibbin’s companion as lines unravel and sculpt a concrete grief. Consider the opening of the book, “As a house burns sparks / land on the roofs / of houses nearby / Some of them will also burn / Some of them will not.” It is with this precision and at times deceptive plainness that powers 13TH BALLOON forward. A book meant to be read in one sitting. 

Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers: Poems (National Poetry) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781571315205
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Milkweed Editions - September 10th, 2019

PAIR WITH: There There by Tommy Orange

In his debut collection, Jake Skeets writes of a fictional town in New Mexico and grapples with the harsh terrain of indigeneity both physically and emotionally. These poems uncover the search for identity against the backdrop of a forgotten land torched with alcoholism, poverty and desperation. Skeet’s poems are unflinching and only move forward with a voice uniquely theirs. The collection reads as an epic of masculinity and sexuality. With language obscured and pulled back, Skeets gives us a world in which beauty and ugliness might be the same thing. Don’t miss out on this new voice.

Life on Mars: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555975845
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - May 10th, 2011

PAIR WITH: The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer prize winning collection LIFE ON MARS juxtaposes God and science fiction. The book also plays as part elegy to her father who worked on the Hubble Telescope. Smith conjures images of cultural kitsch and the majestic to explore all things possible in worlds both far, far away and those most intimately human. Consider the opening lines of The Weather in Space: “Is God being or pure force? The wind or what commands it?” Her poems travel the sets of 1950’s movies, interpretations of possible futures, David Bowie yet always arrive at the heart of how we navigate the unknowable. 

Wheeling Motel: Poems Cover Image
Currently Unavailable
ISBN: 9780375711473
Availability: Special Order
Published: Knopf - August 16th, 2011

PAIR WITH: Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson

Franz Wright’s poems are sacred to me. I’ve never read anyone whose lines hit me like his. When he died a few years back, I was in disbelief. My hero was gone. I carried his books around like religious texts. His collection WHEELING MOTEL transcribes what those plagued with addiction and anxiety cannot describe; he does it better than anyone. He manages the spectrum of human emotions with language you’d never think to put together: “where the sunlight is a small, yellow icon of thorns.” In all his lyrical screams, Franz Wright always shows us grace, always shows us beauty and I wish he were still here. 

The Shadow of Sirius Cover Image
ISBN: 9781556593109
Availability: NOT IN STOCK - Usually arrives in 7 - 14 business days
Published: Copper Canyon Press - October 1st, 2009

PAIR WITH: The Overstory by Richard Powers

In W.S. Merwin’s Pulitzer winning collection THE SHADOW OF SIRIUS, there is a delicate urgency of living in a changing landscape. Memory and ecology mirror each other as Merwin takes the reader deeper into a psyche that longs for time: “Let me imagine that we will come again when we want to and it will be spring / we will be no older than we ever were.” Merwin was a poet who dedicated his life to his environment, spending much of his life restoring a farm in Hawaii. This collection is enmeshed with the natural world which can feel both mythic and granular: “how can it be so late all at once / somewhere the Perseids are falling / toward us already at a speed that would / burn us alive if we could believe it / but in the stillness after the rain ends / nothing is to be heard but the drops falling.” This is nature poetry with so much at stake. 

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The Glimmering Room (Stahlecker Selections) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781884800979
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Four Way Books - October 9th, 2012

PAIR WITH: In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Cynthia Cruz is one poet I always have on my radar. Anytime she publishes, I feel lucky. Her lines zig-zag down the page into what you can never expect. It’s pure sound with Cruz. You have to read her aloud. In her collection THE GLIMMERING ROOM, we’re shown image after image of a psychiatric ward and the patients struggling to reclaim whatever ounce of childhood they might have left. The poems weave in and out of each other through linked imagery of desserts, leotards and shaky hands. Through a couple poem series, Cruz builds a world of grit and girlhood: “Endless beauty pageants and daily ballet. The commonplace cruelties of imperfection. This is the story of how I burned it down.” The perfect collection for anyone wanting something sonically stimulating and edgy. 

Lucifer at the Starlite: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393335255
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - January 31st, 2011

PAIR WITH: My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh

I heard Kim Addonizio read the opening poem in LUCIFER AT THE STARLITE and laughed so hard until it was no longer funny. These poems are a black humor done with the devastating wit. The title alone, imagine Lucifer at some L.A. nightclub...and she does. These poems pull at our need to find love in a scorched world and Addonizio shows us ourselves in unlikely forms: “You were a town with one pay phone and someone else was using it. You were an outdated link and the server was down. You were the two insect parts per million allowed in peanut butter.” With pure imagination and unsparing metaphor, these poems strike without apology.