Best Books 2011: Poetry

ljx111201webBBpoetry Best Books 2011: Poetry

al-Jubouri, Amal. Hagar Before the Occupation/Hagar After the Occupation. Alice James. ISBN 9781882295890. pap. $17.50.
An honored presence in the Islamic tradition, Hagar (pronounced with a soft g) serves as the focal point for this spare, vivid, achingly heartfelt collection from Iraqi-born al-Jubouri, who captures a millennia-old country traversing a momentous event. (LJ 9/15/11)

Flynn, Nick. The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555975746. $22.
Poet/memoirist Flynn (Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) accomplishes the near-impossible by writing politically informed poems that do not spill over into polemic, instead offering a stunning investigation of human violence and particularly of torture (read: Abu Ghraib). (LJ 2/1/11)

Foulds, Adam. The Broken Word: An Epic Poem of British Empire in Kenya, and the Mau Mau Uprising Against It. Penguin. ISBN 9780143118091. pap. $16.
Something unexpected these days: an epic poem, and one that succeeds viscerally. Costa (Whitbread) award winner Foulds uses the personal‚ a young man’s return to the family farm in 1950s Kenya‚ to tell the significant story of rebellion against colonial rule. (LJ 4/15/11)

Kageyama-Ramakrishnan, Claire. Bear, Diamonds and Crane. Four Way Bks. ISBN 9781935536130. pap. $15.95.
The author explores family, love, and loss, particularly among several generations of Japanese Americans, in beautifully distilled little gems that explore the very limits of poetry‚ and of life: Maybe you’ll agree that when you filter,/ you translate. You filter and you lose. (LJ 11/15/11)

Kakischke, Laura. Space, in Chains. Copper Canyon. ISBN 9781556593338. pap. $16.
Luminous, fluid, yet indisputably disciplined, the poems in this eighth collection represent a high point for Elmer Holmes Bobst Award winner Kakischke, who offers a breathtaking exploration of the familiar. (LJ 1/11)

Levin, Dana. Sky Burial. Copper Canyon. ISBN 9781556593321. pap. $15.
NEA/Rona Jaffe Foundation/Whiting/Guggenheim honoree Levin references everything from Tibetan Buddhist burial practices to Aztec sacrifice to explore death in pure, often fractured, yet relentlessly musical lines. (“Current Poetry,” Prepub Alert, 4/7/11)

Shockley, Evie. The new black. Wesleyan. ISBN 9780819571403. $22.95.
In urgent, energized poetry that escapes across the page, Shockley manages grand, in-your-face emotion without ostentation, exploring the African American experience finally to arrive at an understanding of the new black‚ both personal and poetic. (LJ 4/15/11)

Smith, Bruce. Devotions. Phoenix: Univ. of Chicago.ISBN 9780226764351. pap. $18.
Pulitzer Prize finalist Smith’s devotions aren’t sweet, haloed moments but rigorous contemplations ranging from the offbeat (Thirst Reduction) to the iconic (High School) to the profound (the child Tchaikovsky screaming This music./ It’s here in my head. Save me from it). (“Current Poetry,” Prepub Alert, 4/7/11)

Smith, Tracy K. Life on Mars. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555975845. pap. $15.
Art, science, religion, enfolded in an understanding of the interior life: what else can good poetry be about? Smith, a Cave Canem Poetry Prize winner, delivers another stunner that partly elegizes her father, a scientist who worked on the development of the Hubble Space Telescope. (LJ 5/15/11)

Trinidad, David. Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems. Turtle Point, dist. by Consortium. ISBN 9781933527475. pap. $19.
Whether he’s summing up Peyton Place in haiku, glancing deadpan at Diane Arbus’s photographs of blockbuster writer Jacqueline Susann, or mourning those dead from AIDS, Trinidad offers bold, colloquial, and decidedly different poetry. A great introductory collection‚ and a quarter of the poems are new.

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president of the National Book Critics Circle, to which she has just been reelected.

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