April is National Poetry Month. And, as we celebrate an art form that gives shape and language to our experience of the world, it should be noted that many readers still struggle to find the door, the gateway to poetry.
With that in mind, accept these 20 mostly fairly recent titles as an offer of peace and a place to start. Not all will resonate with all readers; but there should be something here for every mood and way to engage.
Jericho Brown, “The New Testament” (2014)Following in the footsteps of James Baldwin and others, Brown mixes spiritual and sexual desire, eros and agape, until the lines are virtually imperceptible. Brown’s 2019 title “The Tradition” won him a Pulitzer Prize, but don’t overlook the power of this earlier work. Brown will appear in conversation with Tracy K. Smith on April 23 as this year’s highlight event. Unbound Book Festival.
Scott Cairns, “Slow Pilgrim” (2015)Perhaps the quintessential poet of divine affection of his generation, the former University of Missouri professor holds wonderful company in this volume of collected works. Cairns shakes hands with mystics and martyrs, church fathers and mothers and those who travel daily, stumbling and groping for grace.
Natalie Diaz, “Postcolonial Love Poem” (2020)Much like Brown, there is a different, more sensual set of places of devotion to Diaz’s hips, her partner’s hips, the arch of a gunshot, the place where domestic and wild creatures settle together. but ecstasy is no less respectful or inspired.
Poems for this and every moment
Deborah Landau, “Soft Targets” (2019) The title of Landau’s miraculous text refers both to the state of human beings in the era of mass shootings and to the state of human beings at all times and in all places. To love and be loved, to enjoywhateveris to be vulnerable, say Landau’s poems. His works call us to experience a kind of gentle bravery, to recognize and negotiate with our own defenses.
Catherine Pierce, “Days of Danger” (2020)the MU graduate, now a professor at the state of Mississippi, looks at the end of the world as she knows it. And while Pierce’s poems blink more than once, bathed as they are in genuine humanity, they also challenge a number of upcoming apocalypses by finding and grabbing all that is left to love about it. ruined world.
Poems for the potholes of life
Anders Carlson-Wee, “Les basses passions” (2019)The dark secrets of the New Old West squint at the harsh light of Carlson-Wee’s handwriting. Dinghies, trash divers, railroad conductors and makeshift families populate his poems, making their lives both heartbreaking and appealing. Carlson-Wee’s work will both satisfy readers’ dark curiosities and point them towards the best angels of their nature.
Franz Wright, “Walking to Martha’s Vineyard” (2003)Few poets fight both angels and demons like the late Wright. This Pulitzer Prize winner is perhaps most representative of his ability to negotiate tough treaties, with mental illness, addiction, and self-doubt sitting to one side of the table in front of God, Grace and of love for other living creatures.
Poetry with a pop-culture bent
Hanif Abdurraqib, “The crown is not worth much” (2016)No contemporary poet combines personal and pop culture elements like Abdurraqib. Here he writes about Kanye West, punk rock, A Tribe Called Quest, Fall Out Boy, Chicago Bulls, Whitney Houston and many more that honor and transcend the subject. The titles of Abdurraqib’s poems are poems themselves: “The author explains the good-natured, MAAD town to his white friend while driving through Southeast Ohio”; “Guys, we didn’t bother getting those fake IDs so that jukebox didn’t have a Springsteen”; “None of the kids in my neighborhood are going to argue about the existence of God.”
Danny Caine, “El Dorado Freddy” (2020)Most of the poems in this collection are set in franchise restaurants (remember?) Like Caine, the owner of Lawrence, Kansas, The Raven Book Store and anti-amazon crusader examines menus and how they evoke concerns of fatherhood, nostalgia and consumer culture. Tara Wray’s photographs match Caine’s words step by step, ringing bells of humor and pathos.
The poetry of the place
Tyree Daye, “Cardinal” (2020)“Cardinal” is from and between several places. Beginning, in part, with a epigraph of the green book, Daye maps out where black Americans can safely settle, whether in this lifetime or the next.
Jake Skeets, “Dark Eyed Bottle with a Mouthful of Flowers” (2019) Skeets’ debut is a remarkable set of axis oriented poems set within and, spiritually, outside the confines of the Navajo reservations that strike me as both familiar and totally alien to me, originally from Arizona. Skeets works to challenge outside audiences in the perception of his people and, from within, overturns his community’s constructions of manhood and sexuality.
Hannah VanderHart, “What Pecan Light” (2021)The latest collection on this list, released April 20, finds the North Carolina-based poet makes sense of a cultural South that has folded a malformed history into an unshakeable legacy. Even as VanderHart grapples with what it means to tell the truth, these poems beautifully anchor readers to what can be cherished about this moment and the one that follows. (Disclosure: VanderHart has edited two freelance book reviews in the past year.)
Christian Wiman, “Survival is a Style” (2020)Released last February, barely a month or so, before the pandemic sent so many of us into survival mode, Wiman’s title seems prophetic. The poems in the book also see us, sifting through the phenomena of religious migration, fast food salvation and more.
Adam Zagajewski, “Asymmetry” (2018)The much-loved Polish poet died on March 21 at the age of 75. none resonate like “Mourning For a Lost Friend,” which is devastating in its accuracy, capturing the feeling of losing a companion not to death, but to politics. “My friend is hiding from me / He was gripped by a deep political wave / My friend now knows the answer to every question / And can trace the source of every answer,” writes the poet.
Poetry to read with children
Langston Hughes, “The Keeper of Dreams and Other Poems” (1996)The first poem I memorized was simply called “Poem”. In six lines, Hughes gave language to my grieving freshman class, helping us understand how to articulate the loss of a beloved friend who is gone. The poetry of life, death, love and hope is here for kids, articulated in a simple yet deeply profound way and accompanied by the rich, immersive illustrations by Brian Pinkney.
Miscellaneous, “Hip Hop Speaks to Children” (2008)Edited by the luminous Nikki Giovanni, this collection brings together rhythmic recitations that will speak to children. The words of everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. and Maya Angelou to Queen Latifah and A Tribe Called Quest come together here, touching on topics kids understand and helping them recognize the depth and breadth of hip culture. -hop.
Eve Ewing, “Electric Arches” (2017)Formally inventive and endlessly moving, Ewing’s work here is both a coming-of-age story and an entry into your own life. With a lively and astute accompaniment, the poet explores the spaces between genres and people in an unforgettable way.
Sarah Sloat, “Almighty Hotel” (2020)Sloat creates a masterpiece of “Misery”, using found and visual poetry techniques to recreate meaning from words on the pages of Stephen King’s famous novel. Crossing out, coloring and working around the text, Sloat brings some incredibly anxious and awe-inspiring poems to life and calls us to examine where the poetry might lurk near us.
Poetry for a better day
Mary Oliver, “Devotions” (2017) You can read this career anthology back and forth multiple times and I never tire of Oliver’s words. The dearly deceased poet taps into endless wells of curiosity, wonder, mercy and kindness as she explores the wilderness inside and outside of us.
Maggie Smith, “Good Bones” (2017) The title poem has spread as widely as a poem can these days, touching something deep inside readers who know what it means to live in a world with “good bones,” a habitat we aspire to make. a house. Smith’s poem is sobering, but leaves the door just cracked enough to hope to slip through.
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