A Monitor guide to The Bestsellers

1. What do we know

by Mary Oliver

Da Capo Press, $22

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Nature's many small lives and deaths, freedoms and restrictions, stir in Oliver's latest offering. She paints the clearest picture of life's progress through gratitude. The "remembrance of the gorgeous and the powerful and the improbable" breathe deeply throughout. The sharp joys in observation and experience known only to those in later years ring smartly in this celebration of life in all its forms. (88 pp.) By Tonya Miller

2. Blue Hour

by Carolyn Forché

HarperCollins, $24.95

These poems exist in the in between, the "neither here nor there" of the book's title. Forché's notes explain the French concept of the "blue hour" as "not a light apprehended through the senses, but ... the radiance of mind's true nature." Her longest work, "On Earth," cycles disjointedly through fragments of any given life. Readers who enjoy the places in between language will sink into this book, but those who desire more fleshing out will be unlikely to wade through. (96 pp.) By Tonya Miller

3. Open House

by Beth Ann Fennelly

Zoo Press, $14.95

Fennelly approaches language with playfulness and reverence, heady with possibilities, wary of dilution. She takes on personas such as Milton's daughter or a survivor of the siege of Paris in dramatic narratives that one could forget are verse. Nearly half the book is a journal of the poetic mind in process, guarded by the internal critic, Mr. Daylater. For all that, "Open House" is surprisingly readable, ending with a handful of graceful love poems. (76 pp.) By Tim Rauschenberger

4. The unswept room

by Sharon Olds

Knopf, $15

Olds's seventh collection is as honest, raw, and accessible as ever. Her free verse and sprung rhythms range from sensual to angry, achy longing to tranquil joy. Her topics are familiar: memories of an alcoholic father; the terrain of sexuality; notes on getting older; reflections on her children growing up; and fraught, tender glimpses of "that old nymph," her aging mother. She is, by turns, wistful, rapt, and political, delving into memory with marvel, quiet fury, and penetrating grace. (122 pp.) By Christina McCarroll

5. Source

by Mark Doty

HarperCollins, $22

In his sixth book, Doty explores the question: Are we boundless beings or trapped within our own limitations? This he answers by looking to the particulars of a given moment - whether visiting a tattoo parlor, a cafe, or the home of Walt Whitman. In his best poems, Doty first captures the loveliness of what he sees and how its surface shimmers. Then he uses that imagery, with great compassion and insight, to convey the essence of things, an essence that many never see. (96 pp.) By Elizabeth Lund

6. Nine Horses

by Billy Collins

Random House, $21.95

In his newest volume of verse, Collins imagines a mouse accidentally setting a match ablaze: "the sudden flare, and the creature/ for one bright, shining moment/ suddenly thrust ahead of his time." So are his poems, at their best, luminous and familiar. Though a more uneven collection than the US poet laureate's last, "Nine Horses" still has moments that leave readers, like the illuminated mouse's fellows, lit up amidst the wall insulation with "tiny looks of wonderment on the[ir] faces." (120 pp.) By Mary Wiltenburg

7. Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way

by Charles Bukowski

Ecco, $27.50

Conversations with actors, smoke-filled bars, betting windows, broken relationships, rain on the LA freeways - these are the hooks Bukowski uses to claw you in to his world of hard-boiled poetry. This volume is a collection of works selected by the author before his death in 1994. Bukowski is stubbornly self-centered and patriarchal, but his poetry flings urgent life down the page in neat, narrow columns. (397 pp.) By J. Johnson

8. Sleeping with the Dictionary

by Harryette Mullen

University of Calif., $14.95

In this inventive collection, Mullen takes the dictionary as a playful accomplice. For instance, "We Are Not Responsible" parodies airport safety instructions: "In order to facilitate our procedures, please limit your carrying on. Before taking off, please extinguish all smoldering resentments." Mullen writes with an intensity that might as well be called ardor, like a big-mouthed lexicographer broken into scat singing. (98 pp.) By Molly McQuade

9. Fox

by Adrienne Rich

W. W. Norton, $12

In this collection of new poems, Rich revisits themes she's explored for 50 years: the relationship between politics and art, the lessons of history, the purpose of poetry, the constraints of patriarchy. Her poems are not gentle. They're severe, challenging, and often esoteric. But her verse burns with emotion, and she exercises a fierce mastery of language. "Isn't this what it means to live -/ Pushing further the conditions in which we breathe?" She pushes those conditions here. (64 pp.) By Amanda Paulson

10. Red Suburb

by Greg Hewett

Coffee House Press, $14.95

Greg Hewett's fresh voice describes scenes as startling in their graphic eroticism as in their bold exploration of life and loss. By turns self-reflective, socially relevant, and humorous, his verse is unsentimental in its detail and intimate in its authenticity. As the readers follow a gay man on his journey from suburban artifice to a sadder, wider world, the book's rhythm crescendos from the gentle hum of a lawnmower to the pulsing beat of a Japanese nightclub. (93 pp.) By Marie Ewald

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