Best Books 2012: Poetry

Greenbaum, Jessica. The Two Yvonnes. Princeton Univ. (Series of Contemporary Poets). ISBN 9780691156620. $29.95; pap. ISBN 9780691156637. $12.95.
While Greenbaum finds it “odd that just one key/ let me in my front door/ and into my life every day,” her fluidly, even propulsively written second collection is itself a splendid key to everyday experience. (LJ 10/1/12)

Hong, Cathy Park. Engine Empire. Norton. ISBN 9780393082845. $24.95; eISBN 9780393239263.
Hong’s jazzy, jagged lines run through three different but surprisingly parallel worlds: a wittily rendered Wild West (“O boomtown’s got lots of sordor”), a contemporary Chinese city (“Shangdu, My Artful Boomtown!”), and a far-future megalopolis (“Recall the frontier inside us”). (LJ 4/1/12)

Powell, D.A. Useless Landscape; or, A Guide for Boys. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555976057. $22.
Powell’s assured fifth collection, centered on California’s agricultural Central Valley, effectively integrates social and historical reflection with an adolescent’s sexual awakening (“I had a man that pressed me down/ into the soil. I was that man. I was that town”).

Shaughnessy, Brenda. Our Andromeda. Copper Canyon. ISBN 9781556594106. pap. $16.
Shaughnessy lets rip fast, emotionally furious yet (as ever) supremely crafted poems that define harrowing aspects of her own motherhood while bringing us along as she reimagines the world: “We’ve only just ­arrived here,/ rightly, whirling and weeping,/ freely, breathing, brightly born.”

Vap, Sarah. Arco Iris. Saturnalia, dist. by Univ. Pr. of New England. ISBN 9780983368649. pap. $15.
Vap’s long-lined, liquid, pithily delivered poetry takes us on a real journey—“the continent spread apart then the continent condensed around us”—while reminding us that the past is always there (“We will never stop the ghosts wailed”). ­Astonishing.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @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, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.