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IR Staff Tells All: Poetry Collections We’re Thankful For

IR is proud to be partnering again with IU Press to award our second annual Blue Light Books Prize, this time to an outstanding poetry collection! Submissions open December 1, 2016. Check out our guidelines for more details.

In preparation for Blue Light Books submissions, IR staff and MFA students in the Indiana University Creative Writing Program reflected on the poetry collections they’re most thankful for this holiday season. Think of these collections as our blue lights through clouded times.

Be sure to check out our Blue Light Books Prize tableau on our Instagram page.

Su Cho (Editor):

I’m thankful for Teeth by Aracelis Girmay—especially “For Estefani Lora, Third Grade, Who Made Me A Card.” I’m thankful that the first time I encountered this poem was by listening—when Leslie Aguilar, former IR Poetry Editor, read it in a masterclass. The poem explores “Loisfoeribari” and its different possible meanings and purposes to land on a beautiful refrain:

Lo is fo e ri bari

 Lo is fo eribari

love is body every body is love

is every love

for every love is love

for love everybody love love

love love for everybody


I am thankful for this poem and the ability to read it aloud—the pure pleasure of language—taking a mysterious word and creating something simply profound and beautiful as love is for everybody.

Tessa Yang (Associate Editor):

I encountered this book in high school, when I had already cultivated my love of fiction but retained popular misconceptions about poetry: It was too complicated, it was scary, it was for people who wanted to write Shakespearean sonnets! I credit Plath’s Crossing the Water with doing the important work of de-mystifying poetry while also opening me up to its beauty and mystery. The collection subsequently led me to more works by Plath, including Ariel, The Bell Jar, and Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, establishing her as a favorite writer I return to again and again.

Emily Corwin (Poetry Editor):  

Vievee Francis’s Forest Primeval left me haunted, excited, yearning to stay longer in this world of fairy tales, birds, mountains, fields, a lyric that is fearless and sensual. It is one of those rare collections where every piece both stands alone and works together—something I admire and long for in my own writing. I will be returning to this book for a long time to come—I was floored by it, thrilled by it. This is a collection that everyone should read.

Anna Cabe (Web Editor):  

I was lucky enough to hear Tarfia Faizullah read in March, when she came for our own 2016 Blue Light Reading. Immediately after her ferocious, electric performance, I bought Seam. In this collection of poems, compiled before and after she went to Bangladesh to interview women who survived rape during the 1971 liberation war with Pakistan, the birangonas, she explores shame, desire, love, memory, trauma, and the impact the violence had on the generations after:  “Once, / she will say, I was young, / like you. Once, you wanted / anyone to fill you with blue / noise. Once, you didn’t know your / own body’s worth.”

I’m thankful for this book, this howl into the night, this reckoning, this dirge, this love song for life and survival:  “It wasn’t enough light to see clearly by, but I still turned my face toward it.”

Hannah Thompson (Associate Poetry Editor):

One of my favorite things to do is search for poetry collections in the reference book sections at thrift stores. One evening in my senior year of high school, my friends and I went ice skating at the local rec center. The center closed before our rides came to drive us home, so we walked over to Goodwill. I spent the entire hour with my head tilted, squinting at book spines. While my friends tried on sweaters, I pulled a bronze paperback from the shelf. The book was Five Tang Poets translated by David Young. I recognized Li Po from an Ancient Chinese history class I took my sophomore year. I quickly flipped to his section—”I sing / and the moon rocks back and forth / I dance / and my shadow / weaves and tumbles with me.” The poems in this collection are both centered and expansive, and no matter where I read them, they pull me into their page-long worlds. I’m thankful for this collection because it has taught more about setting and resonant imagery than any class I’ve taken.

Cherae Clark (MFA in Fiction):  

The poetry collection I come back to most often is Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns by Andrea Gibson. This is partially a lie, because I actually go back to their spoken word album, When the Bough Breaks, but Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns has most of those poems. These poems remind me to fall in love even as I accept the way I have hurt people. They give me starlight to navigate the darkness within and without, and help me stay true to my way. In fact, I have a permanent reminder to look at on my forearm whenever I lose my way:

“Never go a second hushing the percussion of your heart.
Play loud.”
— “Say Yes”