From Category: Poetry
Sensual, joyous and profound poems make Christian ideas and images fresh again. Required reading for all poets seeking a modern idiom for the language of faith.
Recently returned from the Iraq war, this former infantry team leader depicts the agony and adrenalin rush of combat, as well as the moments of unexpected stillness and beauty in a soldier's precarious life in a foreign land. This striking debut collection won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books.
By Valerie Wallace. Winner of the Four Way Books Intro Prize, this poetry collection inspired by British fashion designer Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) captures the meticulousness and melancholy of his oeuvre, though lacking the messiness and horror that gave his work its raw energy. The standout quality of this book is Wallace's innovative use of erasure and recombination of found texts to produce beautifully coherent new poems, some of them in demanding forms like the sonnet sequence. Her collage aesthetic references McQueen's penchant for constructing clothes out of unlikely materials such as seashells, microscope slides, and dried flowers.
By Charlie Bondhus. Finding one's identity is just the beginning of the struggle, in this updated and expanded version of an award-winning gay poet's debut collection. With lyricism and an empathetic imagination, Bondhus claims a place for himself within multiple traditions, daring to juxtapose a comic tryst with a resurrected Walt Whitman, a disciple's erotic memories of Jesus, and the lament of a post-Edenic Adam. New work in this edition includes the poem suite "Diane Rehm Hosts Jesus Christ on NPR", narrated by a very human messiah who "would speak about what God shares with humanity...I mean loneliness".
By Harry Bauld. With mordant wit and erudition, the poems in this chapbook dissect artistic masterpieces from Rembrandt to Basquiat, to analyze the nature of fame, genius, and mortality. Several pieces are from the perspective of cogs in the commercial art machine—docents, consumers, or anonymous assistants to the famous painter (who are actually doing most of the work). Others remix words from news stories, textbooks, and artists' monographs, as if to warn that no body of work is immune to being decomposed.
Winner of the 2012 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books, this electric debut collection embodies the vitality and struggle of becoming a man. The word "elegy" is not entirely right for such energetic, muscular poems, but there is mourning here for May's native Detroit and the men of his family who were scarred by addiction, war, and racism. The speaker of these poems fights back with beauty, noticing the shine of the handcuffs while enduring police harassment, or the inspiring message on the plastic bag that holds his relative's ashes "in a Chinese takeout box". In the age of e-readers, AJB's elegant book design makes a case for the pleasures of print. Poems titled after various phobias are interspersed through the book on black paper with white type, creating moments of visual "hush" amid the "hum" of text.
By Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. This poet's first full-length book transforms the raw material of emotions into visionary language without losing their sincerity and immediacy. The untitled short poems can be read as sections of a single long work, as journal entries, or as miniature worlds in their own right, composed of clouds and hormones and rain on the freeway and blood and mirrors. Each represents the daily choice to feel everything, though pain coexists with joy. Espinoza writes with honesty and wit about her life as a transgender woman who manages anxiety and depression.
By Carmine Dandrea. This noteworthy chapbook from Finishing Line Press is a unified 17-poem cycle voiced by a solitary older man inside a house in Michigan in deep winter. As the "prime suspect" of his own examinations, he reflects on mortality and time wasted. Women from his past reappear as nameless sirens and ghosts, arousing both desire and regret that he did not value their intimacy enough. Despite the assaults of unforgiving weather and the temptation to succumb to darkness, he also finds moments of sensual joy and radiance in the ordinary furnishings of his monastic cell. The recurring image of the garden comes to represent not only the literal promise of spring but the "seeds of love" and "sureness of life" that he wants another chance to cultivate in his soul.
Artistically designed limited-edition chapbook pairs poetic reflections with intricate abstract pen-and-ink drawings and collages suggesting forms from nature. Schulman keeps alive the tradition of books as art objects, creating an "illuminated manuscript" with a decisively modern feel.
Prizewinning first collection of poetry depicts the farming life unsentimentally yet with wonder at the mysteries of birth, death and transcendence. The language of these poems can be as stark and rugged as a Massachusetts winter, then blossom forth with the joy and terror of encountering the sacred in the cycles of nature. This book won the 2004 New England/New York Award from Alice James Books and the 2005 L.L. Winship award from PEN/New England.
By Joseph Osmundson. This daring flash memoir, which can also be classified as a prose-poem collection, looks from multiple angles at the arc of an emotionally abusive relationship between the white author and his African-American ex-lover. Like a mosaic of broken mirror fragments, each sliver of memory reflects larger themes of exclusion, power exchange, personal and collective trauma, and the nature of intimacy, raising as many questions as it answers.
This engaging and accessible anthology features the winners and numerous runners-up from the first year of this contest, sponsored by a small press in Connecticut whose motto is "Delight, entertain and educate". Well-known contributors include Ed Frankel, Diane De Pisa, and A.D. Winans, alongside a number of writers who are just beginning their literary careers. A concluding section is devoted to the rediscovery of lesser-known authors including Jon Norman, Richard Harteis (partner of the late William Meredith), and Vernice Quebodeaux. The authors' bios are often as colorful as the poems themselves.
By Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire. This collaborative collection by two British poets creates a people's history of London spanning five centuries, through persona poems in the voices of women from diverse backgrounds. Notable athletes, activists, and literary figures share these pages with imagined characters who represent factory workers, strikers, and working-class girls enjoying a hard-earned holiday. This book would be a good resource for junior high and high school history classrooms.
By Bracha Nechama Bomze. This debut poetry book from 3Ring Press is simultaneously a book-length love poem, a family memoir, and an epic of social change. The title's multiple meanings encompass generations of Jewish labor activism, winning the right to marry her lesbian partner, and the heartbreak of a closed adoption system that stigmatized her birthmother. Through all these personal and political traumas, the poet continues to praise the natural world that feeds her soul, and the life partnership that comes as a fairy-tale happy ending to a lonely childhood. The book is an inspiration and a delight.
Fierce, tragicomic poetry chapbook voices the struggles and desires of a lesbian whose masculine appearance leads her (not always voluntarily) to adopt alternate identities in response to others' preconceptions. This writer's fertile imagination was formed by a hostile world in which one best expresses one's true self by wearing a mask. "Who will believe us that deception is only/ a matter of cutting through the red tape?"
Offbeat offerings in this winner of the Slope Editions Book Prize include "Hair Club for Corpses" and a sestina in which every line ends with "Bob". Winter can switch from serious to humorous and back again in a blink: "Everyone's losing at something./ It just matters more to some people, for example, Orpheus/ or Ty Cobb."
No modern poet captured the essence of a place as well as 20th-century master Richard Hugo, whose tightly paced free verse reveals the dignity of America's forgotten towns.
By Daniel Khalastchi. Winner of the Tupelo Press/Crazyhorse First Book Prize, this collection is a memorable addition to the literature of horror poetry, as well as the poetry of political witness. The narrator of these poems obediently submits to an endless sequence of bizarre procedures that are part surgical invasion, part public spectacle of punishment. Like someone brainwashed or anesthetized, he is quite clear about what is physically happening but has numbed out the normal reactions of fear, anger, or confusion. There is no narrative movement toward freedom or enlightenment, but a strange kind of beauty arises from the speaker's attention to detail.
By Frannie Lindsay. Winner of the 2009 Word Works Washington Prize, this spare and radiant poetry collection centers on acceptance of loss. Its key figures are a beloved sister who died of cancer, and their late father, a perpetrator of incest.
Miller, Reiter & Robbins were all discovered by Hanging Loose magazine. "Distinctive voices even in their earliest efforts." Order from Amazon or directly from Jendi Reiter for $9.
Raw, sensual, touched with bittersweet humor, Glatt's poems take an unflinching look at women's bodies experiencing love and death.
By Margaret Atwood. This mature poetry collection considers history and warfare from women's perspectives. A father's death prompts a more personal turn to poems exploring memory and loss. The style is straightforward, declarative, assured. Yet the multi-layered meanings of these poems complicate our conventional wisdom and lead us into mysteries that can only be experienced, not mastered, through language.
By Lisa Dordal. A Christian girl wondering where her emerging lesbian-feminist consciousness fits into her faith. A woman grappling with the legacy of her alcoholic, possibly closeted mother. In her debut collection from Black Lawrence Press, Dordal makes these "confessional" themes fresh and strange again by centering her poems on a tangential detail which, after careful rereading, telescopes out into a larger narrative. The technique is reminiscent of those close-up photo puzzles in science magazines, where you must guess the whole animal from an abstract shimmer of scales or feathers.
By Gillian Cummings. This collection of sensual prose-poems is an imagined autobiography of the model Fernande, the subject of French photographer Jean Agélou's erotic postcards in the early 20th century. Slipping gracefully between English and French, her wordplay is as elusive as a woman desired by all, understood by none.
The enticing title says it all: this author embraces all the joys and sorrows of the body, flamboyant as a rock musician yet wryly wise as a philosopher. Unusual juxtapositions abound, but her words always discover that they enjoy each other's company.
Translated by Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen, illustrated by Tracy Gallup. This artistically designed, bilingual picture book features 20 poems by Japanese haiku masters such as Issa and Basho. Each poem has breathing room in its own two-page spread featuring the original Japanese verse (in script and Romaji), Ramirez-Christensen's translation, a dreamy painting reminiscent of Magritte's surreal images, and a prompt for imaginative reflection on the pairing of art and text.
By Laura Sims. The author's third collection from Fence Books is a haunting collage of fragments from writing by and about serial killers, juxtaposed with lyric passages and stark abstract visual elements such as square frames and all-black pages. There are no gruesome details here. Sims is interested in the philosophy of self-expression through crime, an exploration that is no less chilling for being primarily cerebral. The mind-field we enter in this book is fragmented, grandiose, and claustrophobic.
By Douglas Goetsch (now Diana Goetsch). Like a Garrison Keillor monologue at the end of an evening, humorous riffs and tender anecdotes prove only partially effective at warding off a deep melancholy in this poet's third full-length collection. You can laugh at light verse such as "Pee on Your Foot", and a few pages later, be slain by the self-lacerating loneliness of "Forgiveness Poem". Sometimes the shift stuns you with surprise in the same poem, as when a tongue-in-cheek tribute to 1989's morning radio mix ends with the questioning of a worker's hopeless endurance, reminiscent of Philip Levine. In their unpretentious way, these narratives hope to heal the deepest wound of ordinary life: that of never really knowing the people close to us, or being known. Both this theme and the title seem to take on an additional significance from Goetsch's post-publication gender transition. The book closes with a delightful, multi-part fantasy about names and whether they determine our destiny, the poem itself a gift for a boy who is named at the end.
A sacred quiet permeates this debut poetry collection, winner of the 2009 FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize. Abandoned barns are Cone's churches; the steady rhythms of farm work, his liturgy. The birth of a daughter is both miracle and memento mori, a sweet paradox held together in an extended lyric poem that envisions poetry as a transmission of love across generations.
The briny tastes and stormy weathers of the Pacific Northwest permeate this first poetry collection, voiced by a woman whose appetites for food and love are more than the world allows. These poems speak honestly of loneliness and pleasure. Winner of the 2006 Autumn House Press Poetry Contest.
This award-winning author's autobiography in verse is narrated in a likeable voice that will resonate with a wide audience. Themes include feminism, aging, the complexity of mother-daughter relationships, and nostalgia for Jewish culture along with a critique of its patriarchal and warlike aspects. Along the way, Newman offers such delights as an ode to the now-shuttered Second Avenue Deli, and a playfully erotic exploration of middle-aged love.
Clear-sighted, modest and wise, the narrator of these poems takes us to London, China, Japan, and post-Katrina New Orleans, always with an eye for the moments of common humanity that open up intimacy between strangers.
By Gail Thomas. This elegantly crafted, life-affirming chapbook won the 2016 Charlotte Muse Prize from Headmistress Press, a lesbian-feminist poetry publisher. Thomas' verse knits together several generations of women, from her once prim and proper suburban mother descending into Alzheimer's, to her young granddaughter surrounded by gender-bending friends and same-sex couples. She grounds their history in earthy details like the taste of asparagus, locks of hair from the dead, and old newspaper clippings of buildings raised and gardens planted by blue-collar forebears. The centerpiece of the collection, "The Little Mommy Sonnets", poignantly depicts a sort of reconciliation at the end of a thorny relationship, where differences in ideals of womanhood fall away, and what's left is the primal comfort of touching and feeding a loved one.
Second collection by well-regarded poet and critic is intellectual without being pretentious, full of witty surprises and self-mocking cultural observations. "Many are called and sleep through the ringing."
Orison Books publishes spiritually-engaged poetry, fiction, and nonfiction of exceptional literary merit. Editors say, "In our view, spiritual writing has little to do with subject matter. Rather, the kind of work we seek to publish has a transcendent aesthetic effect on the reader, and reading it can itself be a spiritual experience. We seek to be broad, inclusive, and open to perspectives spanning the spectrums of spiritual and religious thought, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation." Anthology proposals and fiction and nonfiction manuscripts are accepted year-round. There is an open reading period for poetry manuscripts in the spring and a contest in the winter with a large cash prize and prestigious judges. See website for online submission guidelines.
Reviews important contemporary poets and makes it easy to order their books.
By Andrea Lawlor. This chapbook of prose-poems is a playful and uplifting manifesto for a future society where resources are shared and identities and property are held lightly. Published by Factory Hollow Press in 2016 and now out of print, it is free to download as a PDF from their website.
By Stuart Kestenbaum. This affable, Buddhist-inflected poetry collection invites gratitude for the daily rhythms of life. As if through the imaginative, unbiased eyes of a child, Kestenbaum's poems find wonder in ordinary things like clotheslines, oil slicks, and even a plastic trash bag left in the woods.
This debut poetry collection effervesces with teen-girl sexuality, its narrator unapologetic in her desire to inhabit this body, this stage of life, this cultural moment, without weighing it down with analysis. Feminism makes a token appearance as a source of self-criticism that she's thrown aside like a bikini top at the beach. Her self may be socially constructed out of crusty panties and My Little Pony hair, but unlike the Gurlesque poets to whom she's been compared, Murphy doesn't seem angry or anxious about the impossibility of some Modernist "authenticity"; for her characters, girlhood holds thrills but no serious dangers. Read it for her fantastic language and perceptiveness about the emotions of this time of life.
Edited by Jericho Brown, this essential anthology brings together a new generation of black gay poets: Darrel Alejandro Holnes, Saeed Jones, Rickey Laurentiis, Phillip B. Williams, and L. Lamar Wilson. The book begins with a selection of poems from each author, after which they interview one another about poetic mentoring, influences, and identities. Publisher Sibling Rivalry Press is known for supporting LGBT literature.
Intricate lyrics from the poet's eight collections marry austere classicism to sensual passion. Eros, for Phillips, is always shadowed by loss, yet for that very reason also points to a radiant, barely describable landscape beyond death, as the speaker of these poems renounces all illusions about the cost of his devotion to another man.
Lesbian poet's first collection moves easily between the erotic and the elegiac in a voice that is fresh and wide-open as her Cape Cod landscape. Braverman invites the reader into a community of friends and lovers who embrace life despite the risk of loss. Elegantly designed by Perugia Press, this book won their 2002 contest as well as the Publishing Triangle Audre Lorde Poetry Prize.
By Patrick T. Reardon. Plain-spoken and poignant, this memoir in verse pays tribute to a brother who committed suicide, and ponders the unanswerable question of why some survive a loveless upbringing and others succumb. Pat and David were the eldest of 14 children born in the 1950s-60s to an Irish-Catholic family in Chicago. Immersion in the church trained the author to search for sacred beauty in times of suffering and mystery, yet the weight of parental and religious judgments overwhelmed his brother. The collection is illustrated with archival family photos that prompt the poet's hindsight search for clues to their fate.
By Sam Sax. In this innovative, sensual chapbook about a possibly-neurodivergent queer boy's coming of age, the central metaphor of "the boy detective" expresses the protagonist's separateness from, and scandalous curiosity about, human bodies and the social world they inhabit. Phenomena that everyone around him take for granted are a fascinating mystery to him. The sadness comes from the paradox that as he tries to get under the world's skin and see what it's made of, he pushes it farther away, because his probing has violated social conventions. Winner of the Spring 2014 Black River Chapbook Competition from Black Lawrence Press.
By Caroline Cabrera. Winner of the Hudson Prize from Black Lawrence Press, this poetry collection creatively explores the traumas and strengths of emerging womanhood by "answering" questions from a science textbook in ambiguous and offbeat ways. Later poems about religion shed light on the initially cryptic title, positioning the book as a kind of talkback to the catechism format. The mystery of "X" is an experience to savor, not an equation to solve.
Like a modern St. Francis, this poet is a sister to all the beasts and plants that grace her southwestern landscape, and unfailingly finds the perfectly textured and surprising words to bring them to life for the reader. Uschuk is a prophet of the wilderness that we are fast destroying; few poems pass without a reminder of the human warfare and greed that lurk at Eden's edge. She invites us to feel the "velvet shoulders" of the bat rays in the aquarium's touch pool, then to question our right to have "these benign inmates confined to concrete/ entertaining us with their lives." Totemic illustrations by James G. Davis enhance this volume from Wings Press, Texas' oldest small press.
Plain-spoken, meditative poems bring to life the culture and terrain of rural Maine, and demonstrate the spiritual rewards of love and attention to one's native landscape.
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.