10 Best Reads of 2008

Looks like I was late — late last year — sending my list of best reads of the year to Steve Evans for his Attention Span list. So here it is. Rereading it, it seems way too limited to the best I had been reading most recently, so may eventually do another list — I can’t remember a year in which there were only ten books I thought of as the best of the year.


1: Jean Sénac |Oeuvres poétiques | Préface de René de Ceccatty | Actes Sud 1999.

800 pages that gather the complete poetry of the great Algerian writer Jean Sénac, born in Beni Saf in 1962, assassinated in the night of 29th to 30th August 1973 in Algiers. A major poet, nearly untranslated into English.

2: Stephen Rodefer | Call it Thought: Selected Poems |Carcanet, 2008.

Excellent to have this solid 272 page collection of poems by the Villon of Language poetry — much neglected in this country as he has made Europe his playground these last years.

3: Adonis | Sufism & Surrealism |translated from the Arabic by Judith Cumberbatch | Saqi, 2005.

A pleasure, as always, to read Adonis’ thoughtful and wide-ranging investigations. Interesting to note that my man, the Algerian poet Habib Tengour, wrote a fascinating essay on the Maghreb and Surrealism some years before the Adonis book, and suggested there that there were indeed strong connections between Surrealism and Sufism.

4: Nathaniel Tarn | The Embattled Lyric | Stanford University Press | Standford UP, 2007.

Tarn’s splendidly elegant gathering of essays and conversations considering the possibilities of lyric poetry today via studies of a range of 20th centrury poets (Neruda, Rilke, Breton, Celan, Artaud, etc.) and their connections to an ethnopoetics. Especially fascinating is the development of what he calls the “choral voice.” At 80, Tarn is one of our hidden treasures whose work should be way more discussed by and visible to the post-Langpo generations.

5: Jacques Berque | Opera Minora | (3 volumes) | Editions Bouchène, Paris, 2001.

Berque was no doubt the greatest commentator (as sociologist, anthropologist, traveler, translator of core Arab texts, littérateur extraordinaire) on matters rabic, and especially on the Maghreb, his birth place. These volumes gather all the essays that did not get inbto his books. An incredible trove of materials reaching from investigations of medieval Maghrebian jurisprudence via a “history and anthropology of the Maghreb” to sociological investigations of decolonization.

6: Clayton Eshleman | The Grindstone of Rapport |Black Widow Press 2008.

A excellently put together Clayton Eshleman Reader, giving accurate weight to the poetry, the essays and the translations. A must for anybody who doesn’t have a consequential selection of Eshleman books. As Robert Kelly writes on the back-cover blurb (well, it’s more like a little essay)”: “I know of no poet who has fed so richly from the thingliness of the world beneath his feet, none who so resists the glamour of beliefs. He is a shaman without a single superstition.”

7. Pierre Guyotat | Carnets de Bord – volume 1 (1962-1969) | Lignes Manifeste, 2005.

For the last forty years Guyotat has been the most experimental, breath-taking and explosive writer in France. This 640 page journal entries offer a totally fascinating look into the processes of his mind, body, and writing.

8. Jerome Rothenberg | Poetics & Polemics 1980-2005 | Alabama UP, 2008.

As I wrote on Nomadics blog when the book came: “Very happy & thrilled to announce this new collection of JR’s essays, just published in the University of Alabama Press’s Modern & Contemporary Poetics series — especially as the book contains a number of collaborative pieces (the intro to the Poems for the Millennium anthologies) and is dedicated to yours truly — humble thanks, Jerome!” And what a pleasure to reread JR’s spanking of Harold Bloom, from an early issue of Sulfur.

9. Friedrich Hölderlin | Selected Poems | translated by Maxine Chernoff & Paul Hoover| Omnidawn 2008.

My blurb for the book: “More than his famous contemporaries, Goethe and Schiller, it is Friedrich Hölderlin, the poet of incessant change and transformation, who today stands as the major poet of his age — and whose visionary work has remained a plum line that helps us fathom the complexities (the beauty and the terror, the ‘inside real and the outsidereal,’ as the poet Edward Dorn has phrased it) of our own age. In their elegant & fluid translations of this excellent and exhaustive selection of poems, Paul Hoover and Maxine Chernoff capture the work’s extreme contemporaneity, what they themselves have called ‘the drama of Hölderlin’s consciousness, the beauty of his lyrics, and the largeness of his vision.’”

10. Mahmood Darwish | Why did You Leave the Horse Alone? | Translated by Jeffrey Sacks | Archipelago Books 2006.

Been rereading this book slowly, deeply moved, since the news (in August) that Darwish had left us. Read some poems from it at the worldwide Darwish Celebration in October.
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  1. Anonymous says:

    the great Algerian writer Jean Sénac, born in Beni Saf in 1962, assassinated in the night of 29th to 30th August 1973 in Algiers.

    He was a great poet by the age of 11? That’s pretty hardcore! (Or was his best work posthumous?)

    Des von Bladet

  2. Pierre Joris says:

    oops, tkat was meant to be “1926.” Just read your comments over on languagehat. will get back to that as soon as I find a minute.

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