In November, I chronicled some key poetry titles publishing in spring 2011. But I wasn’t finished. Here are more titles available in time for National Poetry Month in April and spilling over into May, as poetry titles are wont to do. This time, I’ve organized the 22 titles by category‚ a dangerous venture as the best poetry can’t easily be contained by labels. Joseph Harrington’s Things Come On: an amneoir (Storytelling) might just as easily be classed under Political Edge, for instance, given how it parallels the story of a death with the story of Watergate. And Harrington’s work could have as easily been classed with Alice Notley’s Culture of One and Tom Waits and Michael O’Brien’s Hard Ground in another category called Multimedia, given their blending of material beyond verse. No matter; these are all exciting titles, and I hope the organization will help you find the right ones for you.
Yes, poems do tell stories. And they often use small, personal stories to tell larger ones. Take Adam Foulds’s The Broken Word: An Epic Poem of the British Empire in Kenya, and the Mau Mau Uprising Against It (Penguin Poets. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780143118091. pap. $16), a Costa (Whitbread) Poetry Award recipient. Here, Foulds recapitulates the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule by focusing on a young man named Tom, who has returned to his family’s farm in 1950s Kenya. Culture of One (Penguin Poets. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780143118930. pap. $18) by Griffin Poetry Prize winner Alice Notley‚ author, remarkably, of 30 collections‚ profiles Marie, who lived at a dump near Notley’s hometown in the Southwest and is presented here as a visionary/poet.
In Things Come On: an amneoir (Wesleyan Univ. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780819571359. $22.95 eISBN 9780819571366. $11.99), Joseph Harrington blends poetry, prose, documentation, and images to narrate his mother’s death from breast cancer around the time of Watergate. Both the public and the private event involved denial and a struggle to get at the truth (hence amneoir, which combines memoir and amnesia). And, as you might guess from the title, dozens of stories pour out of National Book Award finalist David Kirby’s Talking About Movies with Jesus (Louisiana State Univ. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9780807137727. pap. $17.95.), which features cameos from Bo Diddley, Kirk Douglas, Gene Autry, and Gerald Stern and even goes Skinny-Dipping with Pat Nixon.
The Natural-Spiritual Connection
Founder of the New England Review and its editor until 1989, veteran poet Sydney Lea considers how the human and natural worlds connect and how that fires our imagination in Young of the Year (Four Way. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9781935536109. pap. $15.95). So do Alice Friman (Vinculum. Louisiana State Univ. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780807137871. pap. $17.95) and Melissa Kwasny (The Nine Senses. Milkweed. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9781571314376. pap. $15), with Kwasny rendering her thoughts in prose poems. Finally, C. Dale Young (Torn. Four Way. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9781935536062. pap. $15.95) seems admirably placed to consider the human being as both spiritual entity and physical process; he’s not only a Grolier Prize‚ winning poet‚ and poetry editor of the New England Review‚ but a practicing physician.
Young Award Winners
Carl Adamshick is starting out big: his crisply written Curses and Wishes (Louisiana State Univ. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780807137765. pap. $17.95) was chosen by Marvin Bell as winner of the Walt Whitman Award, a major first-book honor given by the Academy of American Poets that offers $5000 and a monthlong sojourn at the Vermont Studio Center. Other award-winning titles: Ryan Flaherty’s language-drunk What’s This, Bombardier? (Louisiana State Univ. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780807138793. pap. $16.95.), winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Series Award; Joni Wallace’s Blinking Ephemeral Valentine (Four Way. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9781935536093. pap. $15.95), a meditation on the revved-up lives we now lead, chosen by Mary Jo Bang for the Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry; and Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s Sightseer (Persea. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780892553686. pap. $15), a Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry that challenges our voyeuristic love of seeing, talking, and writing about faraway places.
Big news: singer-songwriter Tom Waits has joined with photographer Michael O’Brien to create Hard Ground (Univ. of Texas. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9780292726499. $40), a poems-and-images collection that documents homelessness in our time. Evie Shockley’s the new black (Wesleyan Univ. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9780819571403. $22.95) considers various concepts of blackness, past and present, while Elizabeth Willis’s Address (Wesleyan Univ. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9780819570982. $22.95. eISBN 9780819570994. $11.99) considers how civic structures shape the way we think. Finally, with In a Beautiful Country (Four Way. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9781935536116. pap. $15.95) Pleiades editor-at-large Kevin Prufer nails our sense of loss in a nation numbed by mall sprawl and horror movies, even as the military builds up and up.
Of course all the poets listed here are imaginative, but some seems especially luscious. What else can you say about a book like Gaylord Brewer’s Give Over, Graymalkin (Red Hen Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781597094931. pap. $19.95), which ranges from python hunting and Swami Keerti to horsemen, Harleys, and overrun gardens? The very title bespeaks wit. William Trowbridge’s Ship of Fool (Red Hen. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781597094467. pap. $18.95) examines the archetype of the fool, who shows up throughout history not only as oaf but often a victim of violence (think slapstick). And Jennifer Grotz’s long-awaited The Needle (Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9780547444123. $23)‚ she debuted in 2003 with Cusp, a Bakeless Prize winner‚ visits Ocracoke Island, Kraków’s town square, and even the clouds, which she compares to the gray fur [that] tints the last of the strawberries.
February Poets Not To Miss
A noted critic (his Orpheus in the Bronx was a National Book Critic Circle finalist) as well as a Pushcart Prize‚ winning poet, Reginald Shepherd died in 2008 but left Red Clay Weather (Univ. of Pittsburgh. Feb. 2011. ISBN 9780822961499. pap. $14.95) as a parting gift. It represents a life well lived‚ but cut off midflight. In World Tree (Univ. of Pittsburgh. Feb. 2011. ISBN 9780822961420. pap. $15.95), William Carlos Williams Book Award winner David Wojahn ranges from Sumerian times to the violent 21st century. Written over 20 years and epic in scope, National Book Award finalist Kevin Young’s Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels (Knopf. Feb. 2011. ISBN 9780307267641. $27.95) uses multiple voices to relate the mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad and its aftermath.