Richard-Yves Sitoski’s Reading Recommendations:
Two things guide my reading habits: a desire to eschew the bestseller lists until a few years after the dust has settled, and the fact that I am an autodidact who has never formally studied contemporary literature. Thus, I feel free to chase any rabbit I please down any hole of my choosing. I don’t care if I’m late to the party, because with good art, the party is perpetual and sometimes gets better once the crowds have thinned out: you can really pick up what the house band is laying down.
Zadie Smith, White Teeth. Because of course! It’s all here. England, pink and sweating from its dead-end job, trips over its colonial traditions and faceplants on the sidewalk on its way to the curry house. This book is laugh out loud funny, like Keith Waterhouse with a latter-day social conscience. And how dare someone at the age of 25 write something so bloody wise!
Gary Barwin, For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New and Selected Poems. A big influence on my practice these days, as I’ve begun doing sound art projects and visual poetry. I’m in love with Barwin’s sense of history, and his understanding that play is deadly serious.
Wisława Szymborska, Miracle Fair. Speaking of history… Without sinking to the use of the term “national traits”, I have to admit that there is something quintessentially Polish about Szymborska’s wryness in the face of the 20th century’s monstrousness (an approach I recognize, though I’m only second generation). She is a poet who can bring a smile to your face while reminding you that your promotion to management has bumped you into a higher tax bracket.
Elizabeth Bishop, The Complete Poems 1927-1979. Huge, and as it is said in French, incontournable. Her use of epistrophe and anaphora are worthy of a dissertation. One of the supreme pleasures of this book are her translations from the Portuguese, especially of the tremendous Carlos Drummond de Andrade.
Brendan Constantine, Birthday Girl with Possum. These poems are the mirrors you catch a glimpse of yourself in when you go downstairs for a midnight snack and the lights are off and there’s nothing but you and your sudden comprehension that you share the same stardust as the birds, the flowers, Kim Jong-un and Tommy Wiseau. Constantine makes it look all so very, very easy. Don’t be fooled.
Caroline Bird, In These Days of Prohibition. Bird can do no wrong in my books. Everything she takes on, she pins to the mat, and her imagery can’t be bettered (“Last night, in bed, your arms / hurt like a jolted seatbelt”). If you don’t recognize yourself in these poems, you’re probably living in an alternate reality where your cat won’t eat you if you kick the bucket while bingeing on Viggo Mortensen movies.
Richard-Yves Sitoski is a songwriter, performance poet and the 2019-2022 Poet Laureate of Owen Sound, Ontario. His most recent book is the multimedia poetry collection, No Sleep ‘til Eden (Ginger Press, 2020), which features augmented reality. His poetry will be featured in the upcoming Autumn issue of The Fiddlehead.