The best books of essays by poets

Akiko Busch Author Of How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency
By Akiko Busch

The Books I Picked & Why

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

By Christian Wiman

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

Why this book?

Wiman writes about human suffering, pain, poetry, and faith, subjects that do not often and ordinarily coalesce. He is familiar with and eloquent about the mutability of belief, about knowledge, and contingency. “Experience lives in the transitions,” he states. If there is a sense of urgency in his thinking here, there is also a sense of lightness, nuance, conjecture, and intimacy too, all of which are suited to the gravity of his subjects.


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The Ends of the Earth: Essays

By W. S. Merwin

The Ends of the Earth: Essays

Why this book?

W. S. Merwin writes about place with both a sense of rich material texture and evanescence. Science and history may be referred to as well. Somehow these assorted sensibilities, or views, create a genuine and full sense of place that reflects what is both visible and invisible. For some reason I don’t quite understand, I would rather encounter a monk on a tractor in a Merwin essay than in a Merwin poem.


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Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

By Mary Ruefle

Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

Why this book?

Provocative, unexpected, and revealing considerations on subjects ranging from Emily Dickinson’s dress to sentimentality to a list of concrete fears to poetry, the moon, and Neil Armstrong. And because her idea for a class is that “you just sit in the classroom and read aloud until everyone is smiling, and then you look around, and if someone is not smiling you ask them why and then you keep reading—it may take many different books—until they start smiling, too.


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Upstream: Selected Essays

By Mary Oliver

Upstream: Selected Essays

Why this book?

Because she says that humility is the prize of the leaf world. Because she tries to see the world “from the level of the grasses”. Because she looks “past reason, past the provable, in other directions”. Because she seems to observe and imagine in equal parts. And because her notations about landscape and our place in it matter at a time when our relations with the natural world have become so troubled.


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The Collected Prose

By Elizabeth Bishop

The Collected Prose

Why this book?

Because of the way she writes about the past and the way she writes about the present. Because she is at once straightforward and lyrical. Because she writes about places and people with the same acuity and insight. Because she writes with certainty about ambiguity.


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