Poetry We Admire: Field Guides


There’s been rain, hail, and lightning in Oakland for the better part of the past two weeks. The strays we typically feed have vanished. The weather, made odd in the region this year for how characteristically it’s emulating the general idea of winter in most other states, is keeping the city inside, and me more than a little stir-crazy. 

It’s rain the state has desperately needed, so the weather hemming me in today is precisely what will make the field guides all the more essential tomorrow, when the mushrooms and native flora balloon up.

But that’s tomorrow, we’re inside, and internality needs its guides as well, as Supritha Rajan motions towards in her poem beginning this month’s selection.

In true field guide fashion, many of the poems collected here are full to the brim with natural imagery, lists, landscapes. None of them, however, have been chosen for this. 

Rather, the voices in these pieces are in harmony with one another because each gives to those who listen the capacity to more easily name a thing, to identify something by its essential qualities. Here are poems that don’t delineate between inner and outer worlds, that are porous and flexible, a joy to read, and a pleasure to learn from.

Happy reading, and happy new year.


Bird-space. Wingbeats
of October flight.

from "Landscape as Interior"

by Supritha Rajan in Post Road

Supritha Rajan’s Landscape as Interior provides a wonderful starting point into these collected pieces. It’s all to tempting for writers to assert themselves against the natural world, for selfhood to act in writing as a place barricaded away from all other life and phenomena in the universe. Rajan’s poem challenges this differencing wonderfully without providing easy answers.

It’s so easy 
to list off the origins of these

from "Something I Saw as a Problem Years Before"

by Adriana Rewald in Roanoke Review

I love how this poem re-contextualizes objects within the context of globalization, becoming a kind of field guide for the (now) everyday. Through doing so in this poem, Adriana Rewald reimbues the objects she lists off with the history they possess but cannot carry in a word alone; in this poem those stories are restored.

In the barbershop, I learned to close my eyes
when they washed my hair. Let it go, I hoped.

from "First Time to a Bathhouse"

by Weijia Pan in The Georgia Review

There’s an urge in so much poetry to focus on the nomenclature of solely material fields, to express experience in concise, clear images. I love how Weijia Pan’s poem at once leans into and yet eludes this; “First Time to a Bathhouse” is a poem that lives and operates in the material world, but also reverberates through time, naming the unnoticed, living in the unsaid.

I am the spring
and hate the spring—
but only sometimes now. 

from "Poem Apologizing to Gwendolyn Brooks"

by Marlin M. Jenkins in Memorious

“I try / to imagine myself a ripe fruit / only able to grow further when / plucked—displaced seed.” I love the movements in this poem, in its form, rhythms, and the balance it strikes between weight and levity. This is the kind of piece that makes me want to stay with it, even after I’ve finished reading.

"Blankness Was Beauty"

by Carolyn Guinzio in Chestnut Review

I’m in awe of Carolyn Guinzio’s ongoing LEAF sequence (of which this piece is one part), which examines the fraught relationship between language and the physical world language seeks to represent and stand for. The two depend upon, interact with, and inform one another, as the works reveal, in ways both good and harmful; the limits of one are reflected in the capacities of the other. This piece makes me think of a line I read about the lyrics of Bill Callahan a long time ago — “I wish I’d thought of that first.”

Benjamin Bartu