What to Read When You Want to Celebrate Poetry
It’s no secret that at The Rumpus, we love us some poetry, which makes April one of our favorite months of the year! But, just in case sharing thirty thrilling new poems with you each day throughout the month isn’t quite enough (can there be such a thing as too much poetry?), we’ve asked our editors to share some of their favorite poetry collections. We’ve made an effort to highlight books here that we haven’t previously listed, and have also included a few upcoming Poetry Book Club selections.
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The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic edited by Jamila Woods, Mahogany L. Browne, and Idrissa Simmonds
Black Girl Magic continues and deepens the work of the first BreakBeat Poets anthology by focusing on some of the most exciting Black women writing today. This anthology breaks up the myth of hip-hop as a boys’ club, and asserts the truth that the cypher is a feminine form.
Blood, Sparrows, and Sparrows by Eugenia Leigh
“Everyone warns us off the rocks. / But what will keep us from the river?” Leigh asks in her debut collection, which pieces together a kind of mythology in which the surreal and celestial coexist with the realities of childhood abuse as an adult speaker grapples with its lasting emotional trauma. Rooted in a place of deep faith and bottomless compassion, Leigh’s speaker struggles to remember, and to remind us all, “that to worship is to survive is to be / wholly human.”
Virgin by Analicia Sotelo
At every step, Sotelo’s poems seduce with history, folklore, and sensory detail―grilled meat, golden habañeros, and burnt sugar―before delivering clear-eyed and eviscerating insights into power, deceit, relationships, and ourselves. Here is what it means to love someone without truly understanding them. Here is what it means to be cruel. And here is what it means to become an artist, of words and of the self.
Boneshepherds by Patrick Rosal
In his third collection of poems, Patrick Rosal continues his rhythmic march through a world in which violence and beauty mix all too often―a paradoxical world in which the music of Chopin gives way to a knifing, yet the funk of homelessness cannot stifle the urge for human connection.
Zion by TJ Jarrett
Zion is the poignant study of the resonating effects of the civil rights movement on one family. Jarrett lovingly explores the minutiae of mortality and race across three generations of “Dark Girls” who have come together one summer to grieve and to remember as one of them passes to the farther shore—a place beyond retribution, where there is only forgiveness. At once brutal and achingly tender, Jarrett’s volume itself is a vibrant and musical body, singing to all its parts.
This Connection of Everyone with Lungs by Juliana Spahr
Part planetary love poem, part 24/7 news flash, the hypnotic poems of This Connection of Everyone with Lungs wrap with equal, angular grace around lovers and battleships. These poems hear the tracer fire in a bird’s song and capture cell division and troop deployments in the same expansive thought. They move through concentric levels of association and embrace —from the space between the hands to the mesosphere and back again—touching everything in between. The book’s focus shifts between local and global, public and private, individual and social. Everything gets in: through all five senses, through windows, between your sheets, under your skin.
Fludde by Peter Mishler
Fludde draws on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience to critique and dismantle contemporary American values and conditioning: commodification, environmental negligence, corporate exploitation, toxic masculinity. At once surreal and satirical, vulnerable and nostalgic, Mishler channels the voices of disillusioned middle management alongside the freewheeling imaginative vision of children to disrupt the fixity of our received ideas. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
The Splinter Factory by Jeffrey McDaniel
Whether Jeffrey McDaniel’s denouncing insomnia (“4,000 A.M.”), exploring family tragedy (“Ghost Townhouse”), or celebrating love and lust (“The Biology of Numbers”), his writing is so profoundly original, so funny, twisted, and literary simultaneously, you won’t know whether to laugh or cry, but you’ll definitely keep reading.
Open Your Mouth Like a Bell by Mindy Nettifee
Open Your Mouth Like a Bell is ultimately a book of love poems to poetry itself, or rather, to the gift of language and its powerful mercury. Nettifee won’t banish the mystery, but does not leave us in the dark. By the end of the book we are led up and full circle, reinitiated into the bright, light-filled, mundane world. Only everything has changed. Here, in the surreal real and the strange and sacred ordinary, we must use our own voices to emotionally echolocate, to sense new landscapes both inside and out. We must tell the stories it is impossible to tell. We must speak until we feel the ring of truth.
Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral
Seamlessly braiding English and Spanish, Corral’s poems hurtle across literary and linguistic borders toward a lyricism that slows down experience. He employs a range of forms and phrasing, bringing the vivid particulars of his experiences as a Chicano and gay man to the page.
Rookery by Traci Brimhall
Fraught with madness, brutality, and ecstasy, Traci Brimhall’s Rookery delves into the darkest and most remote corners of the human experience. From the graveyards and battlefields of the Civil War to the ancient forests of Brazil, from desire to despair, landscapes both literal and emotional are traversed in this unforgettable collection of poems. These tender yet ruthless poems, brimming with danger and longing, lure readers to “a place where everyone is transformed by suffering.”
Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen
In his debut collection, Matt Rasmussen faces the tragedy of his brother’s suicide, refusing to focus on the expected pathos, blurring the edge between grief and humor. In “Outgoing,” the speaker erases his brother’s answering machine message to save his family from “the shame of dead you / answering calls.” In other poems, once-ordinary objects become dreamlike. A buried light bulb blooms downward, “a flower / of smoldering filaments.” A refrigerator holds an evening landscape, “a tinfoil lake,” “vegetables / dying in the crisper.” Destructive and redemptive, Black Aperture opens to the complicated entanglements of mourning: damage and healing, sorrow and laughter, and torment balanced with moments of relief.
semiautomatic by Evie Shockley
Art can’t shield our bodies or stabilize the earth’s climate, but Evie Shockley’s semiautomatic insists that it can feed the spirit and reawaken the imagination. The volume responds primarily to the twenty-first century’s inescapable evidence of the terms of black life—not so much new as newly visible. These poems trace a whole web of connections between the kinds of violence that affect people across the racial, ethnic, gender, class, sexual, national, and linguistic boundaries that do and do not divide us.
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
The award-winning poet reinvents a genre in a stunning work that is both a novel and a poem, both an unconventional re-creation of an ancient Greek myth and a wholly original coming-of-age story set in the present. By turns whimsical and haunting, erudite and accessible, richly layered and deceptively simple, Autobiography of Red is a profoundly moving portrait of an artist coming to terms with the fantastic accident of who he is.
House A by Jennifer S. Cheng
House A investigates the tones and textures of immigrant home-building by asking: How is the body inscribed with a cosmology of home, and vice versa? With evocative and intellectual precision, House A weaves personal, discursive, and lyrical textures to invoke the immersive-obscured experience of an immigrant home’s entanglement while mapping a new poetics of American Home, steeped in longing and rooted by displacement.
My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe
For Wallace Stevens, “Poetry is the scholar’s art.” Susan Howe―taking the poet-scholar-critics Charles Olson, H.D., and William Carlos Williams (among others) as her guides―embodies that art in her 1985 My Emily Dickinson. Howe shows ways in which earlier scholarship had shortened Dickinson’s intellectual reach by ignoring the use to which she put her wide reading.
American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes
In seventy poems bearing the same title, Terrance Hayes explores the meanings of American, of assassin, and of love in the sonnet form. Written during the first two hundred days of the Trump presidency, these poems are haunted by the country’s past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares. Inventive, compassionate, hilarious, melancholy, and bewildered—the wonders of this new collection are irreducible and stunning. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert
In Refusing Heaven, Gilbert writes compellingly about the commingled passion, loneliness, and sometimes surprising happiness of a life spent in luminous understanding of his own blessings and shortcomings. Time slows down in these poems, as Gilbert creates an aura of curiosity and wonder at the fact of existence itself. Despite powerful intermittent griefs, Gilbert’s choice in this volume is to “refuse heaven.” He prefers this life, with its struggle and alienation and delight, to any paradise.
Amulet by Jason Bayani
This book is a powerful examination of life in America for Filipino Americans and people of Asian descent. Bayani doesn’t preach, but he comes across as an energetic pastor—thoughtful, graceful, and ready. This arsenal of work he has been sitting on for the past decade is funny, political, well-crafted verses that shines a light on what it means to be an American, an artist, and a Filipino.
Cenzontle by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
In this highly lyrical, imagistic debut, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo creates a nuanced narrative of life before, during, and after crossing the US/Mexico border. These poems explore the emotional fallout of immigration, the illusion of the American dream via the fallacy of the nuclear family, the latent anxieties of living in a queer brown undocumented body within a heteronormative marriage, and the ongoing search for belonging. Finding solace in the resignation to sheer possibility, these poems challenge us to question the potential ways in which two people can interact, love, give birth, and mourn―sometimes all at once.
Racing Hummingbirds by Jeanann Verlee
Racing Hummingbirds examines, critiques, and at times delights in one woman’s navigation through the many worlds of manic depression and her struggle to maintain humanity in the process. Jeanann Verlee’s debut collection is a series of narratives, prayers, and conjurings which address gender, sex, race, poverty, heartbreak, and survival with such stark intimacy, you will find yourself living inside. These poems cannot possibly be about you, yet they are. They cross boundaries and reclaim hope. They are as the opening poem suggests, nothing short of communion.
Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump’s America edited by María Isabel Álvarez and Dante Di Stefano
The poets anthologized here bear witness to, rage against, and defy the misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and authoritarian impulses that have always surrounded us, but that are incarnated in the 45th president. At a time when large swaths of the nation, and of the world, have succumbed to a reality television ontology, the poems collected in this volume offer the terra firma of imaginative empathy only available to us through poetry. This anthology contains work from a variety of aesthetic stances, from poets whose personal backgrounds reflect the vibrant multiplicity of our democratic vistas at their most resplendent. These voices counter alternative facts and fake news with the earned communion and the restorative utterance of the lyric and of the narrative. Proceeds from this anthology will be donated to The National Immigration Law Center.
Incomplete Knowledge by Jeffrey Harrison
This collection consists at its core of a sequence of poems that speak to the loss of the writer’s brother to suicide. These poems stun us by their restraint and simplicity, and by their astonishment that this life, so important to so many, could be extinguished in such a manner. Harrison’s poems are impeccably crafted and move through narrative seamlessly—dry, naive, vulnerable, always accessible.
I Love Artists by Mei Mei Berssenbrugge
Drawing on four decades of work and including new poems published here for the first time, this selection of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge’s poetry displays the extraordinary luminosity characteristic of her style—its delicate, meticulous observation, great scenic imagination, and unusual degree of comfort with states of indetermination, contingency, and flux.
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude is a sustained meditation on that which goes away—loved ones, the seasons, the earth as we know it—that tries to find solace in the processes of the garden and the orchard. That is, this is a book that studies the wisdom of the garden and orchard, those places where all—death, sorrow, loss—is converted into what might, with patience, nourish us.
Mezzanines by Matthew Olzmann
There is no place Matthew Olzmann doesn’t visit in his poignant debut. From underwater to outer space, Mezzanines is a contained universe, constantly shifting through multiple perceptions of the surreal and the real. A lyrical conversation with mortality, Olzmann explores identity, faith, and our sense of place, with an acute awareness of our minute existence.
The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded by Molly McCully Brown
Haunted by the voices of those committed to the notorious Virginia State Colony, epicenter of the American eugenics movement in the first half of the twentieth century, this evocative debut marks the emergence of a poet of exceptional poise and compassion, who grew up in the shadow of the Colony itself.
If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar
Orphaned as a child, Fatimah Asghar grapples with coming of age and navigating questions of sexuality and race without the guidance of a mother or father. These poems at once bear anguish, joy, vulnerability, and compassion, while also exploring the many facets of violence: how it persists within us, how it is inherited across generations, and how it manifests itself in our relationships. In experimental forms and language both lyrical and raw, Asghar seamlessly braids together marginalized people’s histories with her own understanding of identity, place, and belonging. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Mad Honey Symposium by Sally Wen Mao
Mad Honey Symposium buzzes with lush sound and sharp imagery, creating a vivid natural world that’s constantly in flux. From Venus flytraps to mad honey eaters, badgers to empowered outsiders, Sally Wen Mao’s poems inhabit the precarious space between the vulnerable and the ferocious—how thin that line is, how breakable—with wonder and verve.
Please by Jericho Brown
Please explores the points in our lives at which love and violence intersect. Drunk on its own rhythms and full of imaginative and often frightening imagery, Please is the album playing in the background of the history and culture that surround African American/male identity and sexuality. Just as radio favorites like Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and Pink Floyd characterize loss, loneliness, addiction, and denial with their voices, these poems’ chorus of speakers transform moments of intimacy and humor into spontaneous music. In Please, Jericho Brown sings the influence soul culture has on American life with the accuracy of the blues.
Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl by Diane Seuss
Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl takes its title from Rembrandt’s painting, a dark emblem of femininity, violence, and the viewer’s own troubled gaze. In Diane Seuss’s new collection, the notion of the still life is shattered and Rembrandt’s painting is presented across the book in pieces―details that hide more than they reveal until they’re assembled into a whole. With invention and irreverence, these poems escape gilded frames and overturn traditional representations of gender, class, and luxury. Instead, Seuss invites in the alienated, the washed-up, the ugly, and the freakish. Rendered with precision and profound empathy, this extraordinary gallery of lives in shards shows us that “our memories are local, acute, and unrelenting.”
The California Poem by Eleni Sikelianos
California, hedonistically beautiful and increasingly endangered, is the star of this book-length poem that flies through time, memory, science, history, and imagination, mirroring the topography of the Golden State’s landscape and the history of its diverse cultures. Alternating between grand, Whitmanic tone and scope, Dickinsonian minute detail, Beat rhythms, New York School wit, and Objectivist sensibility, this epic poem engages traditional lyricism with a breathtaking contemporary style and graceful urgency.
In the Surgical Theatre by Dana Levin
A doctor contemplates Lenin’s embalmed body; two angels flank an open chest during a heart transplant; a father’s anger turns into a summer thunderstorm. Each of Levin’s poems is an astonishing investigation of human darkness, propelled by a sensuous syntax and a desire for healing.
the black maria by Aracelis Girmay
Taking its name from the moon’s dark plains, misidentified as seas by early astronomers, the black maria investigates African diasporic histories, the consequences of racism within American culture, and the question of human identity. Central to this project is a desire to recognize the lives of Eritrean refugees who have been made invisible by years of immigration crisis, refugee status, exile, and resulting statelessness. Girmay’s newest collection elegizes and celebrates life, while wrestling with the humanistic notion of seeing beyond: seeing violence, seeing grace, and seeing each other better.
dying in the scarecrow’s arms by Mitchell L. H. Douglas
In urgent new poems, Mitchell L. H. Douglas depicts the assault on people of color in America’s increasingly divided Heartland. A devotee of American popular culture, from rock ’n’ roll to Star Wars to Marvel comic books, Douglas now wonders whether we will withstand its most odious, self-destructive elements in this searing collection.
The Narrow Road to the Interior by Kimiko Hahn
Kimiko Hahn takes up the Japanese prose-poetry genre zuihitsu, literally “running brush,” which utilizes tactics such as juxtaposition, contradiction, and broad topical variety in exploring her various identities as mother and lover, wife and poet, daughter of varied traditions.
Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith
In minute-by-minute detail, Patricia Smith tracks Hurricane Katrina as it transforms into a full-blown mistress of destruction. From August 23, 2005, the day Tropical Depression Twelve developed, through August 28 when it became a Category Five storm with its “scarlet glare fixed on the trembling crescent,” to the heartbreaking aftermath, these poems evoke the horror that unfolded in New Orleans as America watched it on television. An unforgettable reminder that poetry can still be “news that stays news,” Blood Dazzler is a necessary step toward national healing.
Post Traumatic Hood Disorder by David Tomas Martinez
“Look at homie on the beach picking shells in dress shoes,” David Tomas Martinez writes in his raw, electrifying second collection. Martinez moves swiftly from Che to Sir Mix-A-Lot, from Versace to Icarus, from Mt. Sinai to the Eldjga volcano, from Pegasus to a pair of father and son bulls, protagonists of a dirty joke. “My hustle has been a stone/ breaking the bad luck of a lake,” he writes, and the poems maneuver anxiously between that bad luck lake and the writer he has become. This is the question, and the struggle, at the center of these poems: who am I now? Where does a study of Greek gods fit with the memory of watching porn with a group of men? How did machismo affect my mysteriously broken relations with women? Am I more kin to Montaigne than Kanye? These questions define our contemporary obsessions, and David Martinez adds to that conversation poems that dazzle, even as they move and enlighten us.
Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced by Catherine Barnett
The family response to the sudden deaths of the speaker’s two young nieces is at the center of Catherine Barnett’s first collection. This series of elegies records the transit of grief, observing with an unflinching eye how a singular traumatic event can permanently alter our understanding of time, danger, the material world, and family. Marked by clarity and restraint, these lyric poems narrate a suspenseful, wrenching story that explores the depths and limits of empathy.
Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez
In this stunning debut, José Olivarez explores the stories, contradictions, joys, and sorrows that embody life in the spaces between Mexico and America. He paints vivid portraits of good kids, bad kids, families clinging to hope, life after the steel mills, gentrifying barrios, and everything in between. Drawing on the rich traditions of Latinx and Chicago writers like Sandra Cisneros and Gwendolyn Brooks, Olivarez creates a home out of life in the in-between. Combining wry humor with potent emotional force, Olivarez takes on complex issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and immigration using an everyday language that invites the reader in. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Why God Is a Woman by Nin Andrews
Why God Is a Woman is a collection of poems written about a magical island where women rule and men are the second sex. It is also the story of a boy who, exiled from the island because he could not abide by its sexist laws, looks back with both nostalgia and bitterness and wonders: Why does God have to be a woman? Celebrated prose poet Nin Andrews creates a world both fantastic and familiar where all the myths, logic, and institutions support the dominance of women.
Trouble the Water by Derrick Austin
Rich in religious and artistic imagery, Trouble the Water is an intriguing exploration of race, sexuality, and identity, particularly where self-hood is in constant flux. These intimate, sensual poems interweave pop culture and history—moving from the Bible through several artistic eras—to interrogate what it means to be, as Austin says, fully human as a “queer, black body” in 21st century America.
ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness by CA Conrad
CAConrad’s ECODEVIANCE contains twenty-three new (Soma)tic writing exercises and their resulting poems, in which he pushes his political and ecological efforts even further. These exercises, unorthodox steps in the writing process, work to break the reader and writer out of the quotidian and into a more politically and physically aware present. In performing these rituals, CAConrad looks through a sharper lens and confirms the necessity of poetry and politics.
Hold Me Gorilla Monsoon by Colette Arrand
Hold Me Gorilla Monsoon collects poems and comic strips about sex and gender as viewed through the lens of professional wrestling. In poems written to or about wrestlers like Junkyard Dog, Roddy Piper, Ox Baker, The Ultimate Warrior, The Rock, and CM Punk, Colette Arrand teases out the homoerotic roots of wrestling and how its warped, cartoon masculinity plays itself out over the course of a fan’s life.
Viral by Suzanne Parker
Written in response to the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, Viral explores the complex issues of sexuality, shame, and masculinity. Grief and loss guide us as Suzanne Parker investigates the issues of privacy, voyeurism, and human contact, seeking to understand what it means to live in a world where technology can quickly turn a dark computer screen into an open window.
Among the Monarchs by Christine Garren
In poems of haunting lyricism, and in a voice wholly unlike any other American poet, Christine Garren’s second book of poetry explores common themes such as love, loss, and family with an uncommon sensibility. Among the Monarchs is filled with unforgettable metaphors, unconventional and unpredictable juxtapositions, turns and angles of perception, and seductive free verse rhythms. Through all of this, Garren captivates readers in a unique exploration of the nature of desire, the raptures and burdens of love and loss, the peculiarities of family life, and, perhaps most compelling, the power of poetic imagination to shape what we see and feel.