From Category: Poetry
By Naima Yael Tokunow. Winner of the 2019 Frontier Poetry Digital Chapbook Contest, this powerful, image-rich collection is free to read online. Tokunow combines body horror, sensual pleasure, and political urgency in these poems that rebel against the violent erasure of black female bodies.
By Cyrée Jarelle Johnson. The title of this ambitious debut collection by a black genderqueer poet-activist refers to the bikini costume they wore as a strip-club dancer, but also calls to mind the legendary weapon that young David employed against the giant Goliath. Like the Biblical youth, the narrator of these poems fights back, with brilliant style and ferocity, against seemingly insurmountable forces like racism, transphobic violence, familial abuse, and the floods that Hurricane Sandy unleashed on New York City. The propulsive force and fragmented and recombined syntax of these poems command so much attention that only at the end will you reflect, "Damn, was that a crown of sonnets?" and read it all over again.
In his second full-length collection from Main Street Rag, Ferris interrogates America's concept of "the normal" and finds it wanting. His own disability is the lens through which this prophetic poet brings every other shade of inequality into focus, asking us to shed the burden of our ego so that differences between ourselves and others can simply coexist without comparison or judgment. Notwithstanding the spiritual weight they carry, these poems are playful, musical, satirical and passionate.
This award-winning Israeli poet's new collection pairs themes of high art and nature's simple beauty. By turns political, pastoral and erotic, Simon uses musical metaphors to evoke compassion and nostalgia for his homeland and its people.
Witty sonnets by an award-winning poet retell 100 fables from Aesop, including many lesser-known tales worth rediscovering. Lively watercolor illustrations for each tale are sure to delight both adults and children. A great read-aloud book. Sonnets from Aesop received an IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Award) as one of the ten "Outstanding Books of the Year" published by an independent press in 2005. Acclaimed formalist Annie Finch says, "What more could Aesop have wished than to address the 21st century in these dry, whimsical sonnets complemented by a series of soft, edgy watercolors. This beautifully produced book is a rare treat."
Plain-spoken and passionate narrative poetry in the tradition of Philip Levine seeks out moments of tenderness and joy amid the grit and grind of mass society. Co-winner of the 2009 Keystone Chapbook Prize from Seven Kitchens Press.
Plain-spoken poetry stands up for working-class America with humor, lucidity, and political outrage. Douglass is the publisher of the acclaimed small press Main Street Rag.
By Norbert Hirschhorn. These wise, good-humored poems explore Jewish legends and mysticism, the blessings and pains of approaching one's ninth decade, and the author's experiences as both physician and patient.
Accomplished collection of lively contemporary formal verse, ranging from a punning ode to the Nissan Stanza to a crown of sonnets that depicts the birth of feminism ("Notes from the Good-Girl Chronicles, 1963").
Winner of the 1992 Word Works Washington Prize, this debut collection was reissued in 2010. If this book could be summed up in one word, it would be the title of the opening poem, "Tongue", that place where language and sex meet. White delights in the body's unique shapes, textures, and tastes, inviting us to experience familiar features as strange and wonderful. The generous range of these poems also extends to Northeastern small-town life, the constraints of female roles, and a grown woman's empathetic insights into her parents' struggles.
This chapbook won the 2008 Flip Kelly Poetry Prize from Amsterdam Press. Award-winning poet Ellaraine Lockie says of this collection, "Jendi Reiter's poems are arrows that plunge dead center into the hearts of feminism, religion, death, the interior of mental health and psychotherapy. Her humor and satire here are as sharply honed as her indignation." Email the author for purchasing information.
By Catherine Sasanov. This exquisite, penitent chapbook unearths lives overlooked by official histories. Upon discovering that her Missouri forebears had owned slaves, the poet undertook the task of reconstructing the latter's stories from the scraps of information in local records. The incompleteness of the narrative stands as an indictment of white America's lack of care for black lives. Suburban development appears as the latest form of erasure of the graves on which civilization is built.
This poet's voice is eminently likeable, humble and wise. Whether he is finding spiritual wonder in nature's complexity, or working his way to reconciliation with aging parents, Estreich's gift for elegant and original phrases never seems like showing off. This book won the 2003 Rhea & Seymour Gorsline Poetry Competition from Cloudbank Books.
By Jamaal May. The award-winning poet's second collection from Alice James Books explores bereavement, masculinity, risk, tenderness, gun violence, and the unacknowledged vitality of his beloved Detroit, in verse that is both muscular and musical. Nominated for the 2017 NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry.
The mother goddess of female confessional poets, Sexton brings back the truths that lie on the other side of madness. The sonnet sequence "Angels of the Love Affair" presents a visceral depiction of psychosis that is almost unbearably real.
When the Big C meets the Big D, all you can do is laugh. At least, that's where poet Cindy Hochman's survival instinct takes her. Packed with more puns than a Snickers bar has peanuts, this chapbook from Thin Air Media Press brings energetic wit to bear on those modern monsters, breast cancer and divorce. To order a copy ($5.00), email Cindy at email@example.com.
The genially bewildered characters in this unique first collection of poetry try and fail to fit themselves into the American dream of personal satisfaction, but only because they are genuinely groping for a more substantial mode of existence that always remains just beyond the margins of thought and language. Pecqueur's wild associative leaps mirror his inability to find the coherent, contented self that the Enlightenment promised. This book won the 2005 Kinereth Gensler Award from Alice James Books.
By Cynthia Lowen. Elegant and unforgiving as equations, these poems hold us accountable for living in the nuclear age. Persona poems in the voice of J. Robert Oppenheimer, "the father of the atomic bomb", reveal self-serving rationalizations and belated remorse, while other poems give voice to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This collection is notable for exposing the emotional logic of scientific imperialism, rather than revisiting familiar scenes of the bomb's devastating effects. Winner of the National Poetry Series, selected by Nikky Finney.
The Cow is like putting Western Literature through a sausage-making machine. The Cow is about being a girl and also a person. Is it possible? "Alimenting the world perpetuates it. Duh. Plus 'the world' is itself a food." The integrated self equals sanity and civilization (whose machinery creates the slaughterhouse), yet the body is constantly disintegrating, eating and being eaten, being penetrated and giving birth. With manic humor and desperate honesty, Reines finds hope by facing the extremes of embodiment without judgment or disgust. Winner of the 2006 Alberta Prize from FENCE Books.
These carefully structured poems, tinged with classical allusions, honor the sick and dying with the poet's patient vigil and unflinching observation of the body's joys and failures. Winner of the 2001 Kingsley Tufts Award.
By Heather Christle. The haunted-looking one-eared rabbit on the cover is an apt mascot for these poems, whose randomness can be both sinister and humorous. The title carries echoes of "the funny farm", slang for an asylum, the place where persons deemed "difficult" are shut away, laughed at for the nonsense they speak. But is it nonsense? Christle's poems are held together by tone rather than logic. They have the cadence and momentum of building an argument, but are composed of non sequiturs. But the individual observations within that stream of consciousness often ring so true that you may find yourself nodding along. The speakers of these poems are eager for connection through talk, while recognizing that we mostly use language for social glue rather than sincere information exchange. So why not serve up a "radiant salad" of words?
The spirit of St. Francis of Assisi presides over these plain-spoken poems, written from the perspective of a mental hospital orderly. Blair's kind and understated voice is a refreshing contrast to the melodramatic tone of much poetry about mental illness.
A modern-day Jonah leads us from the belly of the whale into surreal cityscapes, sinister carnivals, and intersections with the world of Greek myths. Winner of the 2005 William Rockhill Nelson Award for best poetry book by a Missouri writer.
By John W. Evans. The Bible may say that love keeps no record of wrongs, but when love sours, every memory becomes an entry in a ledger of unpayable claims. This painfully honest chapbook depicts competing narratives and raw emotions in the wake of an unwanted divorce. When all the blame has been divided up, and everyone has switched sides as many times as possible, love's persistence and its failures are still both mysteries to be accepted rather than understood. Winner of the 2022 Rattle Chapbook Contest.
This Australian poet truly does see the universe in a grain of sand—as well as in a tram ticket, a Caesarian scar, the names of Australian military operations, a shabby bear in the Soviet zoo, a wren visiting a dead friend's garden, and myriad other small details of modern life that she turns into windows on the human condition, in verses both whimsical and profound.
Rich with local detail, these elegiac poems capture a working-class Polish-American boyhood in the 1960s, and pay tribute to neighborhood characters who are lovingly individuated yet acquire universal resonance from the way the poet brings their ordinary lives to light. The mood of aging and decline is leavened by a sense that love is as real as pain. This book won the 2006 Word Works Washington Prize.
A powerful contribution to the literature of disability, this autobiography in verse exposes a childhood spent at the mercy of medical "experts", who performed invasive and ultimately futile surgeries to correct his uneven legs. With dark humor and an insistence on facts over rhetoric, Ferris restores dignity to the bodies of those whom the establishment treats as problems to be fixed. This book won the 2004 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award.
By Karen Hayes. With stately cadence and tender attention to detail, this poetry chapbook imagines personal histories for a row of old houses in a Welsh seaside village, where a dwindling community depends on tourism to replace the fishing economy. The style and setting have the flavor of T.S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages", without the philosophical pomposity.
The brilliant idea behind this Tupelo Press anthology: ask 22 leading poets to invent an alter ego, "translate" one of his or her poems, and write a short bio and critical essay about the "author". From David Kirby inventing a lost Scandinavian language for his fisherman-poet "Kevnor", to Victoria Redel discussing the feminist implications of the poems "Tzadie Rackel" sewed into her dishrags, these deadpan critical essays play with the conventions of academic poetry and criticism, in the same way that Cindy Sherman's imaginary film stills trick us into "recognizing" characters and poses that are so archetypical that we think we've really seen the movie. If you've ever found the museum placards more interesting than the modern art they describe, this book will make you laugh and think.
The craftsmanship of these poems sneaks up on you, colloquial free verse initially disguising the deep intelligence of their observations about human nature. "You can know your building if you're interested/ in sadness," he writes of New York apartment life. How grateful we should be that he takes an interest.
Repeated images of old houses, vines, and being underwater give this poetry chapbook the blurry, yearning atmosphere of a recurring dream, where one searches for the lost or never-known phrase that would make sense of a cloud of memories. Even as Waite offers compelling glimpses of discovering a masculine self within a body born female, womanhood exerts its tidal pull through domestic scenes with a female lover who seems perpetually on the verge of vanishing. This collection won the Snowbound Series Chapbook Award from Tupelo Press.
By Justin Phillip Reed. This award-winning Black queer poet's sophomore collection gives a furious and brilliant voice to the shadow side of literary classics from Homer to Plath. The syntax of this poetry collection is thorny and twisted, and the word choice demands slow re-reading to discern the full meaning and appreciate the muscular rhythm. Reed is fond of using words that could be either nouns or verbs, placing them in such a way that you would mistake one for the other until the context becomes clear. One could see this style as a political choice in keeping with the book's passionate reclaiming of Blackness as an aesthetic. Reed is asserting that he deserves the reader's close attention. He is as important, and as intellectually accomplished, as the writers in the white literary canon that these poems deconstruct with wicked cleverness.
Vietnam veteran's searing, lyrical, dark-humored poems relate the surreal horrors and feverish pleasures of that war to a wider tradition of Western moral and literary struggles with our capacity for destruction. Anderson weaves a tapestry of connections between the Trojan War, Vietnam, and the drug-fueled violence of our streets. Winner of the 1994 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Don't miss his most recent collection, Blues for Unemployed Secret Police.
Like Socrates, the narrator of these engaging prose-poems asks innocent-seeming questions about our habitual ways of thinking, but the reader who takes up the challenge will find the territory shift suddenly from featherbrained whimsy to a profoundly unsettling realization of the emptiness of language and the ego, ending with a return to childlike humility that facilitates a spiritual awakening.
Winner of the Tupelo Press Judge's Prize in Poetry. Historian of science applies her rational and witty perspective to our dilemmas at the turn of the millennium.
By Patrick Ryan Frank. Blank verse and loosely structured sonnets eloquently explore the yearnings we express through TV and movie archetypes. Sincerity and contrivance are not opposites here. The comedian, the stunt man, the late-night movie monster, and the bad-news blonde take their turns revealing the existential paradox of film: how it underscores the passage of time by freezing it on the screen, a fixed point against which we measure our real lives racing past like "a car with its brake lines cut". Frank's blend of wry conversational tone and formal meter harks back to W.H. Auden, but his aesthetic lineage is more Disney than Brueghel: "About violence they were never wrong,/the old cartoons."
Lyrical imagery full of personal wisdom characterizes this winner of the May Swenson Poetry Award. Shearin can be bluntly honest about our flaws and disappointments without sounding cynical. "My mother once explained:/ we can't all be beautiful; even a gaunt field/ feels the cold kiss of morning."
By Jee Leong Koh. The design of this illustrated Japanese-English edition has a studied casualness that suits these subtle, charming poems. Koh writes of male-male eroticism without the gritty explicitness or florid imagery that often prevail in this genre. Everything is enjoyed in moderation yet savored to the fullest. Literary sketches of his native Singapore combine the sensory immediacy of childhood memories with an expatriate's wry detachment.
Juxtaposed concepts are startling yet so right. ("I feel like a cloud she says/ and i know this is true/ for i know the terrible things that go on inside of clouds.") Even if you have too many books, buy his.
Austere moments of beauty illuminate this collection whose theme is finding peace in the midst of suffering. Though battered by a lover's betrayal and the onset of multiple sclerosis, the speaker of these poems is renewed by the transcendent qualities of nature and her own courage in seeing clearly. Winner of the 2003 Levis Poetry Prize from Four Way Books.
Winner of the 2010 Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Competition, this collection of prose poems and flash fictions is indeed about the "realpolitik" of our sexuality as it collides with poverty and loss and makes a beautiful explosion. Dead fathers return as jaunty ghosts, budding teenagers remind mothers of the sexy stockings they renounced, tough girls find power in submission and abandonment. This is the honky-tonk woman as sacred prostitute, speaking in tongues as men "plowed away the weight of hard hurt lives" in union with her body but not, perhaps, her elusive soul. Small typeface makes the page look less inviting, but close reading will be rewarded.
By Reena Ribalow. This stately, melancholy collection of poems is steeped in sensual memories of bittersweet love, be it for a holy city or a forbidden affair. Her roots are planted in Jerusalem, sacred and war-torn, harsh and captivating. Her more personal poems show the same mix of pleasure and pain in romantic relationships. One way or another, history is inescapable.
By Rajiv Mohabir. Taxidermy is the organizing metaphor for this ambitious, passionate debut poetry collection: a stripped and reconstituted skin as shapeshifting for survival, as forbidden gay intimacy that always carries the hint of violence, and as inescapable and often misread ethnic identities in a dominant white Christian culture. (Mohabir descends from Indian indentured laborers who were transported to British Guyana's sugar plantations, and grew up in Florida.) The poet is willing to lay his own veins bare in order to create an artifice that is painfully and beautifully true to life. This book won the 2014 Four Way Books Intro Prize.
The profane becomes sacred under this poet's unflinching attention, in earthy poems about illness, sex, and prayer (and sometimes all three tangled up in bed together). The heart of this chapbook is a series of unforgettable narratives about homeless and mentally disabled clients of The Dining Room, a soup kitchen in Oregon where the author volunteered. This book was selected by Terry Wolverton for the Main Street Rag Author's Choice Chapbook Series.
Winner of the 2013 PEN Center USA Award in Poetry, this exquisite collection surveys the cultural history of New Orleans over three centuries, in poems that quiver and shake with music and surge with the violence of floods. End-notes provide background on the incidents that inspired each poem.
The wives of mythic figures get their say at last.
By Phillip B. Williams. This debut collection from Alice James Books is a formally innovative, visceral and intense collection of poems through which the American tradition of violence against gay and black male bodies runs like a blood-red thread. From concrete poetry collages to experimental sonnets, Williams makes us contemplate murder as a twisted outburst of intimacy across caste lines, and love as a battle cry. Winner of the 2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award.
Light verse from the Georgia Poetry Society's former vice president, featuring both original works and translations of French poems by La Fontaine, Baudelaire, Verlaine and Rimbaud.
By Ellaraine Lockie. Prolific poet Ellaraine Lockie has a gift for revealing the spirit of a place with a perfectly chosen character sketch or a quirky interaction that invites us to think twice about how we move through the world. In her work, travel produces enlightening friction between an unfamiliar environment and the unnoticed edges of ourselves. This collection, her 13th chapbook, takes us along on her tour of the American West, from her Montana birthplace to her native California and points between.
In this earthy, revelatory poetry collection from Main Street Rag Publishing, bodies eat, sweat, climax, and die. Some of them are stuffed. All are handled with reverence. Humorous or embarrassing moments open up suddenly into a vision of fellowship that levels social distinctions.