From Category: Poetry
By Danez Smith. This debut full-length collection is a furious love song to black men, whom he embraces as lovers and mourns as brothers slain by racist violence. An award-winning slam poet, Smith is superlatively skilled at translating the rhythms of spoken word to the page, with double-entendre line breaks that snap from comedy to tragedy, or back again, in the space of a single breath. These poems are inspired in the religious sense of the word, revealing the sacred in the body's earthiest moments, and sounding a prophetic call against injustice.
Edited by Safia Elhillo and Gbenga Adesina. Published as an online PDF anthology by Brittle Paper, this diverse and emotionally affecting anthology features emerging African and African-diaspora poets aged 20-35.
By Zeina Hashem Beck. Winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, this Lebanese poet in exile keeps her heritage alive through lyrical tributes to famous singers of the Arab world. These multi-lingual poems weave together phrases in English, French, Italian, Arabic, and the new hybrid language Arabizi, a creation of the younger generation to represent Arabic sounds in English-character text messages. These poems are hopeful elegies, political dance tunes, nostalgic manifestos.
Lush poems, at first heavy with the weight of memory and responsibility as the author nurses her dying parents, then laden with a sweeter burden of nature's ripeness and the enjoyment of her own body. A mature and trustworthy voice. This book was published by Cloudbank Books in their Northwest Poetry Series.
This winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize rediscovers the glorious art of invective in the title poem, comprising several pages of (footnoted) insults such as “your brain is the Peanut of Abomination” and “suing you would be like suing a squirrel”. This book is a uniquely uninhibited burst of creativity which reminds poets how much firepower we're not using.
By em jollie. This poetry collection is like a stained-glass cathedral window: even in scenes of suffering, the glorious colors give joy and uplift. Much of the book processes the aftermath of breaking up with a beloved woman, though at the end, the narrator seems to find a new beginning with another partner and a greater sense of herself as complete and sufficient. But this therapeutic summary can't do justice to the mystical meaning of her journey. The speaker bravely walks up to the edge of everything we consider permanent, looks into the clouds swirling above the bottomless gulf, and finds a way to praise their ever-changing shapes. These poems imply that the value of falling—in love, out of love, out of Eden into a world of loss—is in how it challenges us to keep our hearts open, to say Yes despite it all.
These quiet poems are charged with a sacred attention to healing the wounds sustained by our bodies and ecosystem. In the aftermath of war or illness, the human spirit finds wholeness by recovering our common bond with whales, dragonflies, and even worms. This chapbook was published in the New Women's Voices series from Finishing Line Press.
Turning Point Books published A Talent for Sadness in the fall of 2003, Jendi Reiter's first solo collection of poetry. This collection is a hard look at the demands and challenges of love, and has been praised by such noted poets as Jennifer Michael Hecht. “Jendi Reiter's poems are smart about nature and humanity. In one deft move wet leaves are said to hang heavily on their branches: 'the way a lazy hand hangs over the edge of the bed.' Reiter's poetry is full of such observations and are alive with curiosity about experience and ideas. There's a lot of trouble here too, a 'bound bride', a 'woman left on the ground', a diver who goes so far down he can breathe again. Human life is hard here, but the poems always find relief in the return to the natural world and to the world of thought.” Featured on Verse Daily, 11/4/03.
This masterful, heart-wrenching collection by Charlie Bondhus, winner of the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, brings the poetry of gay male love and the poetry of war together with unprecedented candor, but the story this book tells is more elegiac than celebratory of civil rights victories. The alternating narrators, a veteran of the Afghanistan war and his homefront lover, seem free from their forerunners' self-conscious anguish about sexual orientation. They can admit openly how sex between men is like martial arts grappling, how killing can be orgasmic and the camaraderie of soldiers more intimate than lovers. However, the unbridgeable rift of combat trauma still forces them apart.
In this prizewinning poetry chapbook from Flume Press, the author speaks on behalf of “Eve and Persephone and all/ those other wayward girls” who bravely danced through a dangerous world. Even painful anecdotes brim with a life force conveyed by Townsend's love of sensory details. Book design is above-average with glossy paper and French flaps.
Winner of the Gerald Cable Award reclaims the story of Abraham and Isaac as token of the fierce, ambivalent love of fathers for sons, and perhaps of God for man - a love that in one moment could devour its creation or die for it. Other poems take us from the American prairie to the permeable border between the worlds of the living and the dead. “This is how we came to/ love this life - / by wanting/ the next.”
By Gabrielle Calvocoressi. The jazzy, tough, delicious poems in this collection swing through highs and lows of sexual awakening, boxing, and religious devotion. Resilience sings through these anecdotes of bombed black churches and synagogues, down-and-out factory towns and risky love affairs, with characters who know that “all you gotta do is get up/one more time than the other guy thinks you can.”
Feminine archetypes get a modern reinterpretation in verses alternately playful and poignant, in this prizewinning collection whose guiding spirit is the mermaid. Winner of the 2005 Stevens Prize from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.
By R.T. Castleberry. This outstanding poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press sings the ballads of a wandering man, that uniquely American character who is by turns a prophet, a drifter, a lover, and a wounded warrior. Yet, although he may journey from Memphis to Santa Fe to Canberra with little more than a classic book and a brandy bottle, the speaker of these poems also carries the burden of wartime memories, the unwelcome knowledge of how we destroy ourselves. In a time when free verse has become weakened by talky informality, Castleberry restores the muscular rhythms of poetry informed by what T.S. Eliot called “the ghost of meter”. The poems' strong forward motion is balanced by a meditative attention to the landscape's sights and sounds.
Winner of the 2005 Cider Press Review Book Award, this first collection limns the wonders and losses of everyday life with clarity, compassion and a deceptive simplicity that is the distilled product of wisdom. Admirers of Douglas Goetsch and Wislawa Szymborska may find Colburn's poetic voice especially resonates with them.
Marrying surrealism to a childlike matter-of-factness, in a voice reminiscent of Gertrude Stein, these poems convey the delight and bafflement of having “your mind…whipped by the large whisk of God.”
In this unique offering from Fence Books, the author indulges her passion for the textures of language (and clothing), while poking fun at the pretensions of the academic poetry scene. Adopting the persona of a naughty little girl, the speaker of this book deflects criticism by flaunting her frivolity, yet at the same time secretly hopes to impress everyone with her cleverness. The pleasures of this book (particularly its 68 “prefaces”) compensate for some repetitive passages.
Jendi Reiter's second award-winning chapbook won the 2010 Cervena Barva Press Poetry Contest. Notable poet Afaa Michael Weaver calls this collection “poems of a life more real than any doll's, as they point up the grace of having confronted the problematic entanglements that attempt to derail a woman making her way through the puzzles of maturing in the last fifty years.” Experienced editor Lori Desrosiers calls it “an inventive re-imagining of the fairytale woman…replete with surprise and peppered with humor.”
Also known as the artist Tom Taylor, Spiel has written several books that provide material for this powerful collection of new and selected poems. With tough-guy bluntness, a wicked sense of humor, and a haiku-like economy of words, Spiel sketches characters so real you can smell their sweat: traumatized vets, greedy Americans, aging couples hanging on to love despite memory loss, one-night stands picked up in roughneck bars. This is queer poetry without aesthetic preciousness or airbrushed bodies.
Coherent, engaging first collection reads like a single long poem in the voices of fairy-tale ingenues and villainesses, B-movie femmes fatales, superheroines, and mythological women. Moving easily between colloquial humor and poignant lyricism, Gailey summons up a feminist pantheon. The recurring figure of Philomel, whom the gods turned into a nightingale after her brother-in-law raped her and cut her tongue out, epitomizes the mixed blessing of art that is brought into being by tragedy. Were women not silenced, this collection seems to say, we would not have the dazzling indirections of myth and fairy tale, the coded language of comic-book symbolism. “Everybody loves the dead girl after she's dead.”
This poetry book for young adults fleshes out the emotions and events narrated in the classic Holocaust memoir The Diary of Anne Frank. Read sample poems on her website.
By Pamela Uschuk. Uschuk is a shamanic poet, invoking the spirits of animals, mountains, and forests, to heal a world that humans have spoiled with war and greed. This poetry collection from Wings Press also gives a voice to her family's ghosts, starting with her Russian immigrant ancestors, and moving on to her late brother and first husband, who were permanently scarred by their service in Vietnam. Nature imagery is a great strength of Uschuk's writing. These are not stylized, sentimental birds and flowers. They are “cliff swallows taking needles of twilight/into their open beaks, stitching/sky's ripped hem.” They are the “red velvet vulva of roses” and “yellow ginkgo leaves/waxy as embalmed fans warm[ing] grave stones”. Their specificity helps the reader believe that these sparks of life are just as real as the scenes of atrocities that surround us in the news media. Their beauty pulls a bright thread through the darkest stories she tells.
By Douglas Kearney. Read these energetic, challenging poems once quickly for their frantic virtuosity of sound and rhythm, and again slowly to tease out the allusions in each compressed line. “Buck” was a racial slur in post-Civil War America for a black man who was sexually powerful and defiant of white authority. By juxtaposing it with “Studies”, Kearney mocks the pseudoscientific white gaze, and also demands a place for black subjectivity in the canon of high culture. This second theme emerges most strongly in the two poem cycles that bracket the collection. The first reworks the Labors of Hercules through the legend of 19th-century African-American pimp Stagger Lee (the subject of numerous murder ballads by artists as varied as Woody Guthrie, Duke Ellington, and The Clash). The second cycle replaces Jesus with Br'er Rabbit in the Stations of the Cross. As great satires do, these mash-ups make us ask serious questions: Who gets to go down in history as a hero instead of a thug? Would an oppressed people be better off worshipping a trickster escape artist, rather than a martyr?
By Francine Witte. In this tough-minded, bluesy poetry collection, the narrator cuts her no-account alcoholic ex-husband down to size—and curbs her lingering desire for him—by contextualizing their relationship within nature's larger creative and destructive patterns, from forest fires to mass extinctions. “Charley” is just another predator, and not an apex one, at that. Witte's portmanteau words give the poems a distinctive voice and an improvisational quality: bees are “sticky with flowersex”, and humans “go along futurestupid”, like any other species unable to predict the meteor strike with their number on it.
By Kaveh Akbar. This fierce, dazzling debut poetry collection describes the difficult path out of alcoholism and into the disciplined joy of being present in the moment. Simultaneously self-lacerating and grandiose, the speaker leaps from one aphoristic observation to another, through the ecstasies of Islamic mysticism, his devouring relationships with lovers both male and female, and self-annihilation as the ultimate extreme of pleasure. Yet he discovers that sobriety has its own nearly unbearable intensity, the rupture of his isolation by genuine connection with others.
Vital, innovative first collection of poems blazes with the agony and ecstasy of rebirth. “We stand in the fusillade,/refusing to camouflage ourselves./Every bullet swallowed turns to gold in our bowels.”
This chapbook from FutureCycle Press is named for a necropolis outside San Francisco, a city of cemeteries where the dead outnumber the living by 800 to 1. Yet Laue's poems are anything but morbid. Like the Biblical writer Ecclesiastes, this poet cannot erase his awareness of mortality by means of religious rituals or hopeful platitudes, but finally finds a precarious peace in appreciation of the present moment, and a substitute for immortality in the cycles of nature.
His ninth book of life absurd, and fascinating… “Two barn owls discuss Descartes as they/disembowel a field mouse without the help/of knife or fork. They are friends and/share even the tastiest bits. For instance,/each gets one lung. Sum, says one. Ergo/cogito, says the other. Then they chuckle./The night is cold; the fields are white….”
By Lynn Domina. This now widely published author's debut collection from Four Way Books enters into the mysteries of love, work, and death, through small but pivotal moments between parents and children, husbands and wives. Although it moves like a family history with flashbacks, the scenes have a timeless quality because the relationship of the characters from one poem to the next is left undefined. The woman speaking in first-person could be the author, the daughter of the farming couple with the strained marriage who appear in some of the other poems, or an invented character.
This poetry collection is enlivened by twin passions for social justice and the beauties of the Colorado landscape. In these poems, nature always provides a restorative place of peace and abundance when the wartime news becomes overwhelming. Uschuk is the editor-in-chief of the literary journal Cutthroat.
Politically urgent but never one-dimensional, in language that's always clear but never pedestrian, this groundbreaking book recounts how the author lost custody of her sons when she came out as a lesbian, then forged a beautifully honest relationship with them later in life. Connecting her loss to other forms of oppression and violence against women, she dares to dream of a world that “will not divide self from self, self from life.” This collection was originally published in 1989 by Firebrand Press and won the 1989 Lamont Poetry Prize, a second-book award from the Academy of American Poets. A Midsummer Night's Press, in conjunction with the lesbian literary journal Sinister Wisdom, reissued it in 2013 in an expanded edition with historical notes and an author essay.
Winner of the Juniper Prize. These poems radiate joy and spiritual insight.
The former US Poet Laureate needs no introduction, but this early collection (1970) deserves to be rediscovered. Other poets use images as metaphors; in “Darker”, the images are the raw sense data of a surreal, often sinister new universe. “My neighbor marches in his room,/ wearing the sleek/ mask of a hawk with a large beak.” Dare to enter the “phantasmagoria” (Howard Bloom's description) of the poet's mind.
A woman's life unfolds in this finely crafted book-length poem, composed of found texts, fragments of conversation, and images recollected with the context-free vividness of a dream. Blossom takes on weighty subjects like divorce and alcoholism at a slant, breaking them apart into sentences separated by daring associative leaps, like the scattered impressions that a child might gather but be unable to process.
Intense, sometimes cryptic verse explores the title's dual meanings of a witness statement and the removal of Christ from the cross. Ford's poetry occupies the territory between crucifixion and resurrection, a “dark night of the soul” that ruthlessly clears the ground for faith without making any cheery promises. Another must-read for poets working on spiritual themes.
This poetry collection explores the breaking apart and remaking of a woman's identity in the middle of her life, through a son's birth and a painful divorce. Subject matter that in a lesser poet's hands would be merely confessional here takes on a haiku-like precision and open-endedness, intimate yet unbounded by the confines of one person's experience. This feat is accomplished through White's use of the second-person voice and the way she narrates major events obliquely, through peripheral details described with quiet beauty.
By Charlie Bondhus. This third collection from an award-winning poet stakes its territory in the liminal spaces between male and female, fairy-tale and horror, the archetypal struggle in the psyche and the mundane (but no less dangerous) conflicts of domestic life. The presiding deity of this shadow realm is Baba Yaga, the child-eating forest witch of Eastern European folklore, who guides the narrator to embrace traits rejected by mainstream gay culture. Aging, emasculation, and the grotesque lose their stigma and become sources of transgressive power.
By Leah Umansky. Inspired by the hit TV drama “Mad Men”, this chapbook captures the show's lingering atmosphere of cigarette smoke, perfume, and unfulfilled dreams. Rather than recapping events from the series, the subject of these poems is the cultural ambience of the 1960s advertising agency and the America it created. Catchphrases, images, and snippets of dialogue are layered atop one another like the collage of peppy poster girls and noir silhouettes in the show’s opening credits. Umansky understands that “Mad Men” is fundamentally about how our identities are constructed by what we desire. And what we desire–such is the promise of advertising–links us to whom we desire.
By Danez Smith. “Every day is a funeral & a miracle” in this award-winning poet and performance artist's second collection, a defiant record of life as a black gay man under the twin shadows of police violence and HIV. The pervasive image of blood links these poems and the boys, alive and dead, for whom Smith speaks: blood as kinship, as bearer of the memory of dangerous intimacy, as evidence of murders that white America wants to wipe away. Smith's honors include a Lambda Literary Award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.
Dazzling imagination of a post-apocalyptic world. Here is experimental verse that never becomes detached from its foundation in raw personal emotion and political outrage.
The poems in this chapbook are spare yet filled with longing, like the empty rooms in an Edward Hopper painting. Their narrators reach for the unsentimental wisdom to be found on the far side of divorce, aging, and other losses. This collection won the 2009 Pecan Grove Press National Chapbook Competition. High-quality book design enhances the appeal.
Luminous poems depict the spiritual tragedy of warfare through the idealized figure of the dead child, who amazingly deigns to comfort us with her beauty even as she indicts the ways we fall short of true humanity. The title poem in this prizewinning collection from Elixir Press took first prize in the 2003 Winning Writers War Poetry Contest. The book cover and design are also first-rate.
Described by its author as “a value-neutral 'Paradise Lost'”, this distinctive poetry collection explores the free-floating shame that arises from our simultaneous desires for connection and self-protection. Objects acquire human faces and vulnerabilities, while human faces are deconstructed into schematics (“five security zones”). The book is comprised of paired poems with the same title, enacting the imperfect mirroring of the self in intimacy with another. Runner-up for the 2006 Fence Modern Poets Prize.
This poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press charms the senses with narrative poems that sing the particular music of locales ranging from Oxford to the Kansas prairie. One can hear the splash of the oars in the languid call-and-response of “Punt House, River Cherwell”, or the off-key enthusiasm of the Midwestern mother in “Roxie Margaret Mouths the Words”, who gives her children the gift she was denied, the belief that everyone deserves to find their voice. Alexander creates characters that will remain in readers' hearts.
Two centuries of advice for girls, from Victorian health texts to Internet chat rooms, get remixed and satirized in this playful poetry collection with an underlying serious question: how to secure a space of enjoyment and dignity when one's identity is continually subject to public judgment.
Heartfelt collection of interviews with military families who have become activists against the Iraq war. These brave parents, spouses and relatives of Iraq war veterans must contend with their loved ones' PTSD, injuries or death, while also facing accusations of being “unpatriotic” for speaking out against what they see as a senseless waste of life. Among those interviewed are the founders of Military Families Speak Out.
By Leah Horlick. This breathtaking lesbian-feminist poetry collection breaks the silence around intimate partner violence in same-sex relationships. Jewish tradition, nature spirituality, and archetypes from Tarot cards build a framework for healing. This book is valuable for its specificity about the dynamics of abusive lesbian partnerships, which may not fit our popular culture's image of domestic violence. Horlick shows how the closet and the invisibility of non-physical abuse make it difficult for these victims to name what is happening to them. The book's narrative arc is hopeful and empowering.
The poetic equivalent of a Chagall painting, this collection by a daughter of Holocaust survivors pays homage to the burdens and treasures of Jewish history. “I hoped to become one/ on whom nothing would be lost.”
This delightful first volume in Hobblebush Books' Granite State Poetry Series offers formal verse that is light-footed, elegant, and full of surprises. Many of Pratt's poems concern his work as an apple-grower in New Hampshire, describing the farming life with humor, wistfulness, and reverence. There are also poems of family life, European travel, meditations on aging and the mystery that lies beyond.
By Nancy Louise Lewis. The subjects of this visionary, God-haunted debut poetry collection could not be further from the innocent quotidian scene suggested by the title. In fact, the title itself is our first clue to the menace and mystery Lewis finds beneath the surface of daily life, as it refers to a child victim of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, the shadow of her last playful moments forever burned into the wall. Other poems draw inspiration from the author's Appalachian childhood, stories of father-daughter incest, and enigmatic encounters with a divinity whose presence we can neither completely discount nor rely on. Lewis is most at home in the liminal space between belief and doubt, like the constantly eroding and re-forming shoreline of the ocean that appears in many of these works.