Books: Best poetry books of 2009 (SFC, D.Rader)

Article by: Dean Rader, Special to The Chronicle

The Selected Poems of Wallace Stevens, edited by John N. Serio (Knopf; 327 pages; $30). A gorgeous and generous selection from the most important American poet of the previous century. Stand in awe at the bling in Stevens' first book, "Harmonium," but linger longer on his final collection, "The Rock," especially gems like "The World as Meditation," "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour" and "The Planet on the Table." Amazing and enduring work.

Inseminating the Elephant, by Lucia Perillo (Copper Canyon; 93 pages; $22). Perillo's insightful work is less silly and more philosophical than Billy Collins', but just as funny. Imagine William Carlos Williams poems on roller skates, holding Roman candles in each hand, wearing a Viking costume, and racing down an abandoned waterslide, and you'll get an idea of what reading Perillo is like.

Face, by Sherman Alexie (Hanging Loose Press; 159 pages; $18). Alexie's poems are razors. Watch him lather up the faces of pop culture, Indian reservations, basketball and family. Then marvel at how his crazy sharp poems scrape them clean. This collection is Alexie's least angry and his most formal.

Archicembalo, by G.C. Waldrep (Tupelo Press; 64 pages; $16.95). Limning the line between verse and prose, this ingenious book takes the form of a 19th century "gamut," a kind of self-help primer that prefaced early American sheet music. The poems, forged in music's fire, instruct the reader not just about music and language but also about what we might call the internal symphony of the self.

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(C) Dean Rader, San Francisco Chronicle