National Great Poetry Reading Day 2022

By Amanda Cooper, Marketing Intern, University Press Kentucky

April 28th is National Great Poetry Reading Day! To celebrate, here are a few titles from our poetry collection that we think you’ll love.

The Girl Singer: Poems by Marianne Worthington

“Lit up and melancholy, these poems inhabit and reanimate the old songs, the ballads and fiddle tunes of the original mountain music that has no beginning and shows no sign of ending soon. Murder ballads, roaming, and redemption are all here with pining refrain. But then the book opens like a dogwood blossom to capture the music of childhood and family, as if a life of learning and wonder, love and loss is bounded by song. And so it is. These poems hit the ear like rain on a tin roof and summon a world that’s heartfelt and true, because the things of that world, from the human music right down to the birds, belong to each other and to the wondrous world itself.” —Maurice Manning, author of Railsplitter and One Man’s Dark

The Girl Singer is a praise song, love song, rage song, ballad, recitative, and lament for early country music singers costumed, renamed, packaged, and sold; for the poet’s mother, who filmed a teenage Dolly Parton singing in a gas station parking lot; the poet’s father, caught in paralysis and a fading mind; for the musicians—country and soul—who were the soundtrack of her growing up; and for the glory of being in the audience at the Ryman when Bobby Bare kissed Marty Stuart. Worthington reclaims these beloveds, along with her “maternal people” and her grandmothers, with whom she is “encircled now, all / living together.” She restores her parents to their beginning—and hers—as we go with them to the Opry on their honeymoon. Through multiple forms—fixed and invented—she renders these moments. And by turns her singing words dazzle and cleave our hearts.” —George Ella Lyon, former Kentucky Poet Laureate (2015–2016) and author of Back to the Light

The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry, edited by Julia Johnson

“Poetry is obliged to prove again and again that beauty may arrive from moments that are not pretty, just as grief may lead us to discover profound love. These are truths I’ve always taken from Jane Gentry’s poetry, and now, in this final collection of her work, one sees her long effort has been one of discovery and candor, to push through ordinary loss and the stinging shortness of life, in order to find the moments that endure or flash-out trying to endure. Here, without decoration or fanfare, is a gorgeous body of work wholly integrated to tell it like it is, without—and this is the heart-rending grace note—complaint. As Jane Gentry observes in one of the Late Poems in this collection, ‘A poem is a bird that flies on many wings.’ She’s right about that, and here is a lovely book filled with many birds and their poignant flights. What a treasure this is.” —Maurice Manning, author of One Man’s Dark and The Common Man, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry

“Reading through her collected poems, I am again reminded that Jane Gentry was not only a master poet—but also a master teacher. The poems here, each sophisticated, precise, carefully composed, teach us how to be in the world, no matter if walking among Kentucky flowers or the fountains of Jardin du Luxembourg. In this collection, Jane continues to hold the lantern, leading us to dark well of the past, urging us to look down so that we may see our authentic lives shimmering on the water’s surface.” —Kathleen Driskell, author of Next Door to the Dead: Poems

A Girl’s Gun: Poems by Rachel Danielle Peterson

“Rachel Danielle Peterson’s collection, A Girl’s A Gun, reads as part tall tale, part bildungsroman, part geode. These are poems meant to be enclosed in a palm and pressed against the heart. Peterson’s strengths are in her cinematic depictions of women, her vibrant imagery, and the precision with which she code-switches into the tongue of the mountains. The heady combination leaves the reader a bit breathless and we plummet with her into a line that feels like proverb, such as in ‘Birthday,’ ‘The heart is cruel/an organ with no song.’ These poems do not balk at their own content, circling around love that is tough or risky or absent or misplaced. They press on, lead the way, suggest that there’s no way around but through.” —Bianca Lynne Spriggs, author of Call Her by Her Name: Poems and The Galaxy Is a Dance Floor and coeditor of Undead: Ghouls, Ghosts, and More and Black Bone: 25 Years of the Affrilachian Poets

“With a mouth full of sticky mountain laurel, Appalachian soul liquor, exclamatory verve, iconoclastic Biblical gospel, and tender purchase, Rachel Peterson’s A Girl’s A Gun cross-talks with a prodigious and prodigal personal and poetic tribe that includes family members, figures from mythology, Jeanne d’Arc, Apollinaire, and a host of hymns and rock ballads. ‘Home is in the vocal chords— / the sound,’ she writes in ‘Harlan County.’ By turns vernacular and soaring with lyricism, Peterson’s foray into the emotional violence, Eros, and beauty of the places that hold us, and that we hold inside, evokes another American innovator, Emily Dickinson, who not only felt her life to be a loaded gun but who also, like Peterson, puts language under such unique psychological pressure that it almost seems to be its own tongue.” —Lisa Russ Spaar, author of Vanitas, Rough and Orexia

When Winter Come: The Ascension of York by Frank X Walker

“When Winter Come is an astonishing collection of poems that ushers Frank X Walker into the company of other memorable poets like Roethke, Hugo, Clifton, and Dove but he also recollects the powerful narrative voice of Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter or Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Frank X Walker magically captures York, not the flat historical figure represented in Lewis & Clark’s journals—Walker has tapped into the true voice of York and conjured him on the page. This is not just a book of poems—this is a book of spirits and shimmering apparitions.”—Debra Magpie Earling, author of Perma Red

“Beginning with Buffalo Dance and continuing with the groundbreaking When Winter Come, Frank X Walker’s lyrical and stunning resurrection of York is an unparalleled creative discourse. The poet, in stanzas probing and revelatory, opens the slave’s life wide, not examining York as much as inhabiting him, laying bare the complications, frailties and triumphs that history dims and denies. There is much here that we do not know, and we are blessed that it is Walker who has taken on this chronicle of York’s ‘other life’—with the same unflinching passion, the same deft characterization and the same undeniable courage.”—Patricia Smith, author of Teahouse of the Almighty, winner of the National Poetry Series

Next Door to the Dead: Poems by Kathleen Driskell

“I’ve always loved Keats’s phrase “the mighty dead,” but I never understood it fully until I read Kathleen Driskell’s quietly explosive meditations on life and death. There’s a somber beauty to these poems; in them, the dead and living visit each other easily, singing of the rich mysteries on both sides of the divide.” —David Kirby

“With Next Door to the Dead, Kathleen Driskell has written her path to the Kentuckian sublime. And she has found her own access to the many ghosts of the south there, and has bodied those ghosts forth in poems that are heartbreaking, wary, and local in the best sense—she sees the world in the local, and communicates the world faithfully, one life at a time, giving a voice to everyone from a Egyptologist who has been abandoned in death by their soul, to Wanda, ‘who, were she still / living, might have said, / ‘if I hadn’t answered the call, / would I still be dead?'” —Shane McCrae, Spalding University and Oberlin College

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