Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the poet laureate of Kansas and teaches at Goddard College. Her work includes poetry collections, a memoir and a writing guide for teenagers. Her just-released debut novel is “The Divorce Girl.”
I love reading memoirs, fiction, poetry, nonfiction, collections of essays and also short stories. Mostly, I’m drawn to stories in which someone finds healing, transformation, community and magic, even and especially against the odds because I believe so much in the miracles unfolding around us all the time.
I tend to read a lot of books at once, a little bit of each at a time, so in the pile next to my bed is “A God in the House: Poets Talk About Faith” edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler, a great collection featuring poets exploring what they believe in. I’m also re-reading Harriet Lerner’s wonderful new book, “Marriage Rules,” and actually, my husband and I take this on date nights, and discuss a rule or two as it pertains to our lives.
I’m about to begin Ann Patchett’s novel “State of Wonder” and I’m re-reading Pema Chodron’s wonderful book, “The Places That Scare You,” about how we can cultivate great courage and clarity in our lives.
Since I’m usually reading a bunch of books at once, I might list off what I’m reading, or ask what they like to read. If people enjoy novels, I often mention the novels of Stephanie Kallos, who wrote “Broken for You” — she writes amazing and beautiful stories with lots of nuance and surprise. I always recommend Pema Chodron, who I can’t get enough of as well as poets William Stafford, Sharon Olds and Tess Gallagher. I especially love memoirs and usually mention whatever one I just finished.
I did just give someone a book I edited, “Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems,” because it’s a marvel of a book for people who love people, don’t love poetry but want to start reading it (or see if there’s a poem somewhere they might love) or people who just enjoy language about what’s so vital and amazing about Kansas. Poetry is like those tiny capsules you drop into water, and they turn into sponge animals, but you don’t know ahead of time which animal; you read a poem, it drops into your soul, and you see what unfurls.
If I had to just choose one, I might go with the collected poems of Emily Dickinson. There’s a universe in each poem, and there are over 1,500 poems. If I could choose a few more, I would say Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart,” any poetry collection by William Stafford, Wally Lamb’s stunning novel “She’s Come Undone,” and James McBride’s great memoir, “The Color of Water.”