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.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

Why did I love 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.

By Christian Wiman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Bright Abyss as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eight years ago, Christian Wiman, a well-known poet and the editor of Poetry magazine, wrote a now-famous essay about having faith in the face of death. My Bright Abyss, composed in the difficult years since and completed in the wake of a bone marrow transplant, is a moving meditation on what a viable contemporary faith―responsive not only to modern thought and science but also to religious tradition―might look like.
Joyful, sorrowful, and beautifully written, My Bright Abyss is destined to become a spiritual classic, useful not only to believers but to anyone whose experience of life and art seems at…

Book cover of The Ends of the Earth: Essays

Why did I love 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.

By W.S. Merwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ends of the Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

W. S. Merwin is widely acknowledged as one of the finest living poets in English. Less well known is the power and range of his work in prose. For his first new prose collection in more than ten years, The Ends of the Earth, Merwin has gathered eight essays that show the breadth of his imagination and sympathy. A memoir of George Kirstein, publisher of "The Nation," stands alongside one of Sydney Parkinson, explorer, naturalist and artist on Captain James Cook’s Endeavour. A wonderful portrait of the French explorer of Hawai’i, Jean-Francois Galaup de La Perouse is followed by a…

Book cover of Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

Why did I love 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.

By Mary Ruefle,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Madness, Rack, and Honey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is one of the wisest books I've read in years...--New York Times Book Review No writer I know of comes close to even trying to articulate the weird magic of poetry as Ruefle does. She acknowledges and celebrates in the odd mystery and mysticism of the act--the fact that poetry must both guard and reveal, hint at and pull back...Also, and maybe most crucially, Ruefle's work is never once stuffy or overdone: she writes this stuff with a level of seriousness-as-play that's vital and welcome, that doesn't make writing poetry sound anything but wild, strange, life-enlargening fun. -The Kenyon…

Book cover of Upstream: Selected Essays

Why did I love 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.

By Mary Oliver,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Upstream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of O, The Oprah Magazine's Ten Best Books of the Year

The New York Times bestselling collection of essays from beloved poet, Mary Oliver.

"There's hardly a page in my copy of Upstream that isn't folded down or underlined and scribbled on, so charged is Oliver's language . . ." -Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

"Uniting essays from Oliver's previous books and elsewhere, this gem of a collection offers a compelling synthesis of the poet's thoughts on the natural, spiritual and artistic worlds . . ." -The New York Times

"In the beginning I was so young and such…

The Collected Prose

By Elizabeth Bishop,

Book cover of The Collected Prose

Why did I love 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.

By Elizabeth Bishop,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Collected Prose as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Presented in two sections, "Memory: Persons and Places" and "Stories," this book offers the collected prose writings of Elizabeth Bishop (1911-79), one of America's most celebrated and admired poets. The selections are arranged not by date of compostion, but in biographical order, such that reading this volume greatly enriches one's understanding of Bishop's life--and thus her poetry as well. "Bishop's admirers will want to consult her Collected Prose for the light it sheds on her poetry," as David Lehman wrote in Newsweek. "They will discover, however, that it is more than just a handsome companion volume to [her] Complete Poems.…

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