I've recently been reading Amy Clampitt's Archaic Figure, which has one of the most phenomenal poems I've read in some time: "An Anatomy of Migraine." Unfortunately I can't find it anywhere online, but if you know me personally and you're interested in reading it, let me know and I'll get you my copy of the book. Clampitt's poems portray scenes, sometimes with people in them, sometimes with those people interacting, and sometimes they interact enough to be called narrative. But always the most striking element of her poetry is her astoundingly creative diction. She reminds me of James Merrill in all the ways I mentioned above.
I've also been reading Lucie Brock-Broido's Master Letters, a volume with the concept of being based on some letters Emily Dickinson wrote before dying which she addressed to "master." (I apologize if this isn't exactly right, I skimmed the preface then quickly got knee deep in incredible poetry, quickly forgetting, or having pushed out of mind, the exact concept of the book.) I believe this is the poet's second volume, written in the mid-90s; I bought it used at the Dayton Library. What. A. Find. Her poetry is flashy, kinetic, mindboggling, heart-wrenching. It's exactly the kind of poetry I love. And I know she still writes and writes well, because I bought the book recognizing her name from some volumes of Poetry I have sitting around. I also know a poem of hers from one year's Best American Poetry volume - she's even in the Best of the Best edited by Harold Bloom. I'd say on all three counts (that I count) - Rhetoric, Diction, Imagery - she succeeds impressively, especially in the rhetoric and diction departments. I highly recommend this poet.
One poet who has surprised me has been Claudia Emerson, because lately I've been reading her Late Wife, which I bought at Half Price Book Store when I saw the Pulitzer gold medallion on the front. I'm generally irked by anecdotal / epiphany poems, and I've seen so many elegiac volumes now that depict life after loss (off the top of my head I can think of Carol Muske-Dukes Sparrow and Mary Jo Bang's Elegy). Both Sparrow and Elegy were good books, as I recall (and a quick review of Elegy on Amazon demonstrates this incredible line: Look at her—It’s as if / The windows of night have been sewn to her eyes.), but now, after encountering it for at least a third time, it feels done to...you know. But she really does it well. The poems really do create something powerful out of what can seem somewhat ordinary. First of all the imagery is both evocative and striking, but then every few lines she'll do a bit of rhetorical magic, combine some words in a novel way, and the effect is a good deal of astonishment. And yes, often like a joke's punchline, the poems end on the most poetic line. Are they often epiphanies? Not really. I recommend this book to readers who are less interested in having their minds twisted, and more interested in a profound, moving / touching, linear and seemingly logical experience - I suppose one could call it narrative. And nothing she says is ever obvious, I suppose I'd say it's the sensation of time passing that is present in her work which I suspect narrative fans want but I could really care less about. (Unless I'm with an uninteresting person, in which case I want to sense time passing expeditiously!)
Last but not least, I FINALLY bought a book by Jean Valentine, whose Door in the Mountain (her selected poems) blew my mind when I first read it two or three years ago. I saw a small volume of hers, the one that followed her selected, at Barnes and Noble recently, titled Little Boat. This one really exploded my mind-grapes, a la Brock-Broido and Clampitt's An Anatomy of Migraine - I mean nearly every page (which can also be said, I think fairly, of Brock-Broido's book, to step back a moment). What sets Jean Valentine apart from the other poets is her frequently deployment of syntactical FRAGMENTS. One feels like they're revisiting Sappho while reading her. And the fragment has been a powerful device since Eliot's masterworks, and a young male poet using it right now to a near gratuitous level (but effectively!) is Ben Lerner (whom I recommend). I think in my own poetry, if I can digress a moment, I fragment time and place, fragment logic, fragment the ground for the reader to stand on, but I have yet to fully commit myself to fragmenting a sentence, aside from one poem from 2011 I decided not to include in my first book but have decided to put in my second. It's something I may toy with someday, but right now Lerner is doing it so well, I'd almost feel guilty. Perhaps if I do it sparingly... I'll think about this. But Jean Valentine's work I can't recommend enough. By far she creates the most mysterious figures with this poem, her language shrouded nearly as densely as Emily Dickinson's - I really mean that. I literally pumped my fist after one or two of her poems, I was so excited by what I read - it was like seeing my Wisconsin Badgers score a touchdown. (Poetic jock!)
I think that's all I have to say tonight - just read these poets when you get the chance. They are excellent in a satisfying variety of ways, all demonstrating the multiple methods with which one can use language to create something beautiful.