Sometimes I separate the books I intend, one day, to read, into two groups: the Bookcase of Desire, and the Bookcase of Guilt. Desire is made up of anticipated pleasures, the books I haven’t yet read only because time is cruel and limited: Bernard Malamud’s novels, for example, and Jude the Obscure, and Alice Munro’s most recent collection. Guilt, on the other hand, is crammed with the books I know I ought to read. Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, for example. Gibbon and Boethius. Then there’s book after book of poetry–predominantly poetry written after, say, Elizabeth Bishop. I want to read more contemporary poetry, I ought to read more contemporary poetry, and yet, which is partly why poet-critic Adam Kirsch’s book, The Modern Element: Essays on Contemporary Poetry, comes as a revelation and a delight. Its essays discuss poets from Geoffrey Hill to Czeslaw Milosz so lucidly, so thoughtfully, that it’s as much of a joy to be guided into a greater understanding of a poet as to find myself arguing with a critical interpretation. Itself a profound pleasure to read, The Modern Element does more than illuminate: it transfers books from the Bookcase of Guilt to the Bookcase of Desire.