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

Who am I?

I am drawn to what happens when writers skilled in one form of expression explore their ideas in another. Poets write with a sense of distillation. Prose allows for something different, the essay form bringing to the surface something more expansive, less concentrated. Clarity is constant, but it takes on a different rhythm, a spaciousness, a sense of one thing leading to another and another.

I wrote...

How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency

By Akiko Busch,

Book cover of How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency

What is my book about?

In our networked and image-saturated lives, the notion of disappearing has never been more alluring. Today we are relentlessly encouraged to reveal, share, and promote ourselves. The pressure to be public comes not just from our peers, but from vast and pervasive tech companies that want to profit from our patterns of behavior. It may be time, then, to re-evaluate the merits of the inconspicuous life and to reconsider the value of going unseen, undetected in this new world. Might invisibility be regarded not simply as a refuge, but as a condition with its own meaning and power?

The impulse to escape notice is not about complacent isolation or senseless conformity, but about maintaining identity, autonomy, and voice.

The books I picked & why

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My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

By Christian Wiman,

Book cover of 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.

The Ends of the Earth: Essays

By W.S. Merwin,

Book cover of 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.

Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

By Mary Ruefle,

Book cover of 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.

Upstream: Selected Essays

By Mary Oliver,

Book cover of 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.

The Collected Prose

By Elizabeth Bishop,

Book cover of 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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in poetry, 21st century, and Latin?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about poetry, 21st century, and Latin.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs, and Rhymes from the Wicked Nursery if you like this list.