Chera Hammons: Poet and Writer

"…a slow shutter on ambulation…"

My Annotated Bibliography

Readers, one of the requirements of Goddard’s program is to read at least 45 books, and then write three-page annotations over them. During the final semester, the student picks fifteen or twenty of the books that had the most impact on the student’s work or perception and completes an annotated bibliography (separate from the general bibliography, which contains all books the student has read during the program, but does not have any expansion or description). When I was working on mine, I Googled those of other students to find examples. I thought I’d add mine to the mix in case any future students do the same thing. You can also take anything on my annotated bibliography to be recommended reading. Enjoy!


Finney, Nikky. Head Off & Split: Poems. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2011.

Nikky Finney’s poetry contains socially-centered content that ranges from an examination of the treatment of Hurricane Katrina victims to a description of the speaker’s experience of eating fish that was chewed and then fed to her by her mother. This book showed me that poetry can be “activist” without being preachy. I also enjoyed seeing how one concept or word could be woven throughout a poem to sew it together, and I began experimenting along similar lines in my own work. Hearing Nikky describe her “paleontology” of poetry construction at the residency and then seeing her strategy actually applied in this book has been helpful in keeping me from “writing the same poem twice.”

Hillman, Brenda. Death Tractates. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 1992.

Hillman begins this book struggling to accept her friend’s absence. She eventually comes to believe that her friend can see into her world even if she cannot see into that of her friend, and thus they are not truly that separated. Her bright, clear writing style, hopeful in the darkest places and full of nuance, is something toward which I strive consciously in my manuscript, particularly in the nature poems. Hillman’s work makes clear the way that tone can be set through the connotations of words. She demonstrates the importance of specificity.

Hirsch, Edward. Wild Gratitude. New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2003.

Wild Gratitude is divided into four sections that tie together into a complete, comprehensive manuscript that follows a definite arc from despair to hope. Analyzing this arc, because it is so subtly crafted, allowed me to better refine the organization of my creative thesis after I had already organized it roughly along the lines of the Maginnes book I also annotated. It was also a good example for me of metaphor and subtext, and I understood that subtext has to work throughout an entire poem to be pleasing and authentic.

Hugo, Richard. Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo. New York: Norton, 1991.

Making Certain it Goes On moves from early, relatively general musings upon ocean landscapes and seabirds to Hugo’s experiences during the war and beyond, ultimately exploring his hometown, his actions, and his relationships intimately and honestly. Because my manuscript deals largely with where I’m from, I found his treatment of place to be especially helpful. It showed me how to deal with the subject of “home” in a way that is balanced, acknowledging the good and the bad.

Maginnes, Al. Inventing Constellations. Cincinnati, OH: Cherry Grove, 2012.

In Inventing Constellations, Al Maginnes takes the reader on a journey from the inexperience and beauty of youth to the irrevocability and resolution of death. Besides providing a good example of the narrative, conversational, personal, yet accessible style toward which I strive, I found the organization of this book to be a helpful example of how I am seeking to arrange my own thesis.

Neruda, Pablo, Ferris Cook, and Kenneth Krabbenhoft. Odes to Common Things. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994.

Neruda’s Odes to Common Things discovers and expresses the significance and human-like characteristics that everyday household objects possess, lending then beauty and importance. It showed me that nothing is wrong with describing ordinary items— from apples to spiders— in a way that emphasizes their significance and “personalities,” no matter how trivial they seem. Studying Neruda’s knack of personification without “cuteness” helped me see how to balance a whimsical idea with plain speech.

Olds, Sharon. The Wellspring. New York: Knopf, 1996.

Within The Wellspring, Sharon Olds discusses many of the most transformative phases of the life cycle—from birth, to adolescence, to adulthood and parenthood—with a deep, sometimes humorous, sometimes aching love. The honest, unafraid, and meaningful exploration of the closest human relationships caused me to consider how to treat my relationships in my work, particularly the family relationships.

Plath, Sylvia. Ariel. New York: Perennial Classics, 1999.

The work in Plath’s final manuscript has a raw, insistent quality that is nonetheless beautiful as it explores the darkness inherent even in relationships and familiar landscapes. Her fearlessness astounded me, and the intensity of her work is what I began to strive for early in my Goddard experience. Her use of archetypes also caused me to consider the archetypes appearing in my own poetry, and why I use them.

Plath, Sylvia. Crossing the Water. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

The book appropriately forms a bridge between the earlier, less personal work in Colossus and the sharper, more tragic poetry of Ariel. The poetry as such displays the strengthening use of Plath’s imagery and methodology, clearly showing her maturing style. Seeing the difference between this book and Ariel encouraged me to strive to crystallize my work to the same extent.

Rankine, Claudia. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Saint Paul, MN.: Graywolf Press, 2004.

Rankine’s book calls itself “an American lyric.” It is the author’s exploration of world events, politics, technology, sickness, and science. Her refreshingly unapologetic voice aptly describes modern life in the United States. I hadn’t been exposed to this sort of writing before and I found its expansiveness and use of visuals widened the room I had to explore in my poetry, so I felt my boundaries loosen, even though I did not use the format myself. I also started to consider the speaker in my work more closely, and how that speaker presents herself.

Rexroth, K., and L. Zhong. Women Poets of China: Orchid Boat. New York: W. W. Norton Limited, 1972.

Despite being written throughout a wide timeframe in many situations, the poetry in this book almost always regards love in some way. The speakers in the poems seem both strongly grounded with nature and exceptionally tied to the men in their lives. The quiet strength of the voices demonstrated to me that simplicity could sometimes be used to striking advantage. And that there is no shame in speaking unabashedly of one’s realities.

Spahr, Juliana. This Connection of Everyone with Lungs: Poems. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.

This book is Juliana Spahr’s response to the political and social situations which occurred after the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I had not realized something so controversial could be treated with such love. I realized that I could tie my poetry to specific events through which I had lived. This book also made me realize the importance of white space and line endings— how a poem’s structure has even a physical effect on the reader, influencing breath.

Szymborska, Wislawa, Stanislaw Baralczak, and Clare Cavanagh. View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems. New York: Harcourt Brace and Co, 1995.

The work of Wislawa Szymborska dances with wit, irony, and surprising conclusions that
somehow also manage to be relatable to readers from many backgrounds. I was exposed to this book early in my Goddard career and feel it may be the first contemporary poetry book I read in which the material was completely accessible but still wholly intelligent. This is another book which I hold up as a model for what I have hoped to achieve, particularly its sort of confidence and awareness.

Turner, Brian. Here, Bullet. Farmington, ME: Alice James Books, 2005.

The calmly stated details of what happens before, during, and after violent events make Turner’s poetry believable, despite sections that would likely seem heavy-handed if they came from another writer. This book showed me that sometimes maturity of style may be acceptably sacrificed for authenticity of voice— that sometimes rawness actually adds to a poem’s power, and can be used as a tool.

Young, Dean. Fall Higher. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2012.

Young’s work, while it often seems random in its imagery and conclusions, nonetheless possesses an energy and a confidence that come across as a sort of exaltation of existence, an embrace of the good, the bad, and the circumstantial. I strive to attain a similar vivacity in my manuscript— like Young, making the work sensory, with an artistic quality akin to that in paintings, to add to its impact on my reader.

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