Celebrate National Poetry Month with 30 New Books That Will Help You Rediscover Poetry

Lullabies, skate punks, video games, black Southern roots. The fierce cat within, the fierce journey without. All-powerful queens and time-eating spiders. All in language brightly accessible scally2 Celebrate National Poetry Month with 30 New Books That Will Help You Rediscover Poetryor twistingly different. That’s what I found with colleague Annalisa Pesek when we went hunting for spring poetry publications, beyond what we are able to review in the magazine, that we believe really matter. Read these poets now, watch them for tomorrow.

Bar-Nadav, Hadara. Lullaby (with Exit Sign). Saturnalia. dist. by Univ. Pr. of New England. 2013. 89p. ISBN 9780983368663. pap. $15. POETRY
“What beauty, what bruise,” says Bar-Nadav in the title poem, summing up her gorgeous, tough-minded poetry. As does the title of another poem, “To Ache Is Human.” Bar-Nadav explores our physical being in the world and relationships with family and others in language that’s visceral without violence, frank without getting ugly. A Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize winner that will be a luscious find for many readers.—BH

Beatty, Jan. The Switching/Yard. Univ. of Pittsburgh. (Pitt Poetry). 2013. 80p. ISBN 9780822962410. pap. $15.95. POETRY
Pablo Neruda Prize winner Beatty’s persona wears her mother like a dress (“her neck a blue V/ for her blue vagina that birthed six babies”), tries to buy a gun off a man who has “hurt people,” and moodily declares that there is “nothing as lonely as/ a crane not working.” In short, she cannily captures a desolate American landscape, striking the pose of a skate punk kickflipping his board: “brilliantly indestructible.”—BH

Berssenbrugge, Mei-mei. Hello, the Roses. New Directions. dist. by Norton. Apr. 2013. 108p. ISBN 9780811220910. pap. $16.95.
PEN West Award winner Berssenbrugge opens her latest collection (after Lit Cloud, with artist Kiki Smith) by declaring, “I underestimate the power of my connection with other people, with animals and events that are coincident.” Then, in poems each offering pearl-necklace strings of disparate lines, she proceeds to build those connections through close observation, her language stunningly shaded but presented with the force of a philosophical argument.—BH

Best, B.J. But Our Princess Is in Another Castle. Rose Metal. 2013. 104p. ISBN 9780984616688. pap. $14.95. POETRY
Multiple Pushcart Prize nominee Best’s prose poems narrate his journey into adulthood by integrating classic video games such as Super Mario Bros., Tetris, and The Oregon Trail into the actions of his words, thus creating a parallel reality. “We went outside: gravel Wisconsin. ‘Look. The stars. Are changing colors,’…The cornfields green as Venus. The billboards lonely as omens. And me with my fingers for pistols, shooting the moon.” A sensory shaker, Best’s book will stand out on the shelf.—AP

Bolina, Jaswinder. Phantom Camera. New Issues: Western Michigan Univ. 2013. 73p. ISBN 9781936970131. pap. $15. POETRY
“I haven’t seen an ocean for years, but I know one’s out there,” states Bolina. In fact, it’s here in Bolina’s book, a veritable tidal wave of verse, lines spilling forth propulsively and carrying with them keen observation of the everyday, “the jamboree of a crosswalk.” This Green Rose Prize winner is sophisticated but eminently embraceable, a tip-off of what’s to come.—BH

Ceravolo, Joseph. Collected Poems. Wesleyan Univ. (Poetry). 2013. 596p. ed. by Rosemary Ceravolo & Parker Smathers. index. ISBN 9780819573414. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780819573421. POETRY
“The overlooked genius of American poetry,” as David Lehman states in the introduction, Ceravolo (1934–88) emerges from the opening poems of his first book, Fits of Dawn (1965), as speech churns sound and meaning goes ’round and ’round—“Mounting!/ O dive! song song restay fairness of/ dawn. That cry of/ booze that sparrow/ of soul ‘miradel’/ unique justly lotus/ nothingless char of sunday./ Vicious of moon for the actual./ Live digress.” His first-ever collected; essential.—AP

Coolidge, Clark. A Book Beginning What and Ending Away. Fence. 2013. 560p. ISBN 9781934200605. pap. $24.95. POETRY
A formidable book-length poem, this is possibly veteran experimental poet Coolidge’s major opus (if there is such a thing). The journey between what and away consists of a number of subjects dear to Coolidge—caves, Samuel Beckett, music, Robert Creeley, geology, Salvador Dalí, weather, Bernadette Mayer, movies, etc. And away we go! You can pull, Coolidge doesn’t break.—AP

Douglas, Mitchell L.H. \’blak\ \’al-fe bet\. Karen & Michael Braziller Bk: Persea, dist. by Norton. 2013. 80p. ISBN 9780892554218. pap. $15.95. POETRY
Firm yet lyrical, Cave Canem Fellow Douglas uses the death of matriarch Mamie Lee to frame the story of one Southern black family, “Selma bred/ & wilting in all its heat.” Here, the personal (“Consider yourself woven & see/ what your gut says”) blends seamlessly with the political (“Met America in an observation car/ long before I knew a history book”) to capture the entire African American experience.—BH

Doyle, R. Erica. Proxy. Belladonna. Apr. 2013. 88p. ISBN 9780982338797. pap. $15. POETRY
“This mouth, that mouth humming a stillborn melody. Bees fall from your lips.” Cave Canem Fellow Doyle’s prose poems blend the rawness of a natural storyteller with refined craftsmanship, and the result is little shocks to mind and body in the midst of New York City, the deserts of North Africa, and the mangroves of the Caribbean. Refuse the dull—and anticipate readers wanting more of Doyle’s conversations as “The call collapses. The year is birthed.”—AP

Foerster, Jennifer Elise. Leaving Tulsa. Univ. of Arizona. (Sun Tracks: An American Indian Literary Series). 2013. 88p. ISBN 9780816522361. pap. $15.95. POETRY
Surely the poet’s equivalent of a road novel (“It’s a long way there you tell me, the night/ extended before us—a highway/ of stars”), this debut from Stegner Fellow Foerster, a mellifluous poet of German, Dutch, and Muscogee descent, is also a journey to personal discovery (“Then look at your face in the water./ How the river breaks over it./ How the river returns/ the pot to itself”).—BH

Fox, Sarah. The First Flag. Coffee House, dist. by Consortium. Apr. 2013. 180p. ISBN 9781566893268. pap. $15.95. POETRY
An LJ “poet to watch,” Fox (Because Why) returns in a pastiche of form, intelligence, experience, and imagination with verse and essays of experimental design. “Dear Mama,/ The animal inside me is a cat/ with eyes like the big yellow moon/ and claws like the stars/ in the sky and fur like the dark/ sea and that is the animal inside me.” Fox has a gift for grit, and she’s not afraid to use it.—AP

Fried, Daisy. Women’s Poetry: Poems and Advice. Univ. of Pittsburgh. 2013. 88p. ISBN 9780822962380. pap. $15.95. POETRY
Whether she’s portraying college seniors (“fifteen responsible children…in attitudes of surrender”), Kissinger “befuddled by culpability,” an Iraq War protest in Rome (“naming ourselves/ Tourists Against the War”), the “poetess” as advice columnist, or her own pregnancy (“The worst discomforts… self-pity”), National Book Critics Circle Awards finalist Fried is devastatingly on target and funny in a way that can make you blanch.—BH

Hamilton, Alfred Starr. A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind: The Poems of Alfred Starr Hamilton. Song Cave. 2013. 201p. ed. by Ben Estes & Alan Felsenthal. ISBN 9780988464308. pap. $18.95. POETRY
It’s time to be welcomed back into the candlelit world of Hamilton’s everyday and to introduce a new generation to his poetry—the soul encountering life simply and then writing the story: “Why didn’t we take our golden chances?/ Why didn’t we liken ourselves to gold?/ And stay at the Indian sundial/ And count the wonderful chimes.” Hamilton (1914–2005) is for all audiences.—AP

Harvey, Yona. Hemming the Water. Four Way. Apr. 2013. 88p. ISBN 9781935536321. pap. $15.95. POETRY
“If I am a dove/ & you are the wind/ together we have some business,” says Cave Canem Fellow Harvey, defining her debut’s quest for identity. Referencing jazz great Mary Lou Williams while making her own distinctive music, Harvey finds herself as a woman and a daughter (“My mother’s concerns for me were body odor &/ virginity—how to smell like a flower without being plucked”), a sexual being and an artist.—BH

Hennen, Tom. Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected & New Poems. Copper Canyon. Apr. 2013. 175p. ISBN 9781556594045. pap. $18. POETRY
In his introduction, Jim Harrison tellingly likens Hennen’s work to that of former poet laureate Ted Kooser. Hennen writes simply and affectingly of rural life in the heartlands, where “Night doesn’t fall/ It rises out of low spots.” He’s been publishing since 1974 but is receiving national distribution only now; many readers will appreciate this evocation of a life not as commonly portrayed in contemporary verse.—BH

Hernandez, Tim Z. Natural Takeover of Small Things. Univ. of Arizona. (Camino del Sol: A Latina and Latino Literary Series). 2013. 68p. ISBN 9780816530120. pap. $15.95. POETRY
“Harp & ham hock/ sugar & succotash,” Hernandez (Skin Tax) calls the rural West by more than its name: “Fresno is the inexhaustible nerve/ in the twitching leg of a dog” and “San Gabriel;/ patron saint of discarded dreams, hear the cry of new voices suffering/ in methamphetamine fields.” With clean, purposeful lines he gestures to subtleties in landscape to depict the invincible personality of California.—AP

Hu, Tung-Hui. Greenhouses, Lighthouses. Copper Canyon. (Lannan Literary Selections). 2013. 67p. ISBN 9781556594069. pap. $16. POETRY
In this tightly crafted work, prose poems about the lighthouse’s desolation—in sections called “Invisible Green,” recalling water “so dark it is mistaken for black”—alternate with poems about being in the thick of things (“the days/ thick with the texture of cream or wax”). Sexual intimacy, unaccounted violence, grapes “souring/ to wine”—all vivify this third collection from Avery Hopwood/ Eisner Literary Award winner Hu.—BH

Irwin, Mark. Large White House Speaking. New Issues: Western Michigan Univ. 2013. 68p. ISBN 9781936970193. pap. $15. POETRY
To be human is to yearn (“I study the stars. I arrive and depart”). That’s everywhere evident in this latest from multi-award-winning poet Irwin, whether he’s playing horse for his ailing mother (“I nodded my mane/ until this is how we said goodbye”) or seeking spiritual affirmation (“Then it was hard to—yes—think of the distance from God”). In their measured flow, the lines themselves seem to be yearning.—BH

Jarnot, Lisa. Joie de Vivre: Selected Poems 1992–2012. City Lights, dist. by Consortium. (Spotlight Poetry Series, Vol. 9). May 2013. 112p. ISBN 9780872865983. pap. $14.95.POETRY
For 20 years, Jarnot has refused to limit her sense of the poetic to language and line. Her ideas meddle in the traditions of form, medium, sound, and arrangement to recall the modernism of Joyce and Stein: “in the spring, where on an uninhibited/ island I strangled all the shepherd girls and/ became a smallish book.” This selected highlights her inventivenss. Get to know Jarnot.—AP

Mackinnon, Margaret. The Invented Child. Silverfish Review. 2013. 88p. ISBN 9781878851628. pap. $16. POETRY
Winner of the 2011 Gerald Cable Book Award, Mackinnon’s debut collection imagines the inner lives of family members, poets, artists, musicians, and novelists. “For [Rilke], the blooms were the color/ of old notepaper, or a child’s faded/ summer dress. I think of them.” Broadly appealing, her poems evoke a world where “the soft breath of souls in trees paint their bodies in words.” For your reading daydreamers.—AP

Martin, Hugh. The Stick Soldiers. BOA, dist. by Consortium. (New Poets of America). Apr. 2013. 103p. ISBN 9781938160066. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781938160073.POETRY
A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize winner Martin debuts a collection about loyalty, country, and his return home to Ohio after completing an 11-month deployment in the Middle East. “The air is exhaust smoke, desert heat, the black/ sewage-streams that don’t dry.” War is unforgettable, and Martin comes out of the desert a soldier’s poet.—AP

Miller, Matt W. Club Icarus. Univ. of North Texas. 80p. ISBN 9781574415049. pap. $12.95. POETRY
Stegner Fellow Miller teaches English at Phillips Exeter Academy and also coaches football—evident not in sports references but in his sinewy, muscular, quietly just-a-guy tone. These poems, rooted in family, community, and the body’s bond to gravity (“Every barefoot walk cracks/ like branches”), will interest even those with poetry anxieties. A Vassar Miller Prize winner.—BH

Pippin, Stephanie. The Messenger. Univ. of Iowa. Apr. 2013. 56p. ISBN 9781609381646. pap. $18. POETRY
“After we clear/ the doe of her heart/ and lungs,” says Pippin, “…I find her hollow/ shape is the form I want/ to sink into/ pushing my limbs into hers, running for her/ life through the valley.” Clear-eyed and lyrically exact, this entire work replicates the exhilaration, standoff with death, and transformative sensibility captured by those lines. An Iowa Poetry Prize winner.—BH

Seay, Allison. To See the Queen. Karen & Michael Braziller Bk: Persea; dist. by Norton. Apr. 2013. 72p. ISBN 9780892554232. pap. $15.95. POETRY
Seay’s queen is the powerful, illusive Liliana, “an animal calmed” who presides over the narrator’s sorrowful interior world. Writing with an almost mythic feel, Seay portrays a soul aching to “keep the darkness/ in the near-distance.” Yet the poems are less gloomy than shiningly brave, and when the queen comes “my life for a while was forgotten/ and so repaired.” A Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize winner.—BH

Shumaker, Peggy. Toucan Nest: Poems of Costa Rica. Red Hen. 2013. ISBN 9781597092630. pap. $17.95. POETRY
You may be surprised to see the Alaska State Writer Laureate writing about Costa Rica, but this book grew from a eco-arts writing workshop there. More significantly, these sharp, darting poems reflect Shumaker’s abiding concerns with the natural world (“Love cry/ of the jaguar dyes/ crimson/ your deepest belly down”) and native culture (“what their ancestors/ …melted, molded, polished/ buried with their dead”).—BH

Sikelianos, Eleni. The Loving Detail of the Living & the Dead. Coffee House, dist. by Consortium. Apr. 2013. 124p. ISBN 9781566893244. pap. $15.95. POETRY
Electric as a lightning storm, wild as a first-growth forest, protean as fantasy’s shape-shifters—that’s Sikelianos’s poetry, a real pleasure to read. Sikelianos takes a tough stance—“my little bird-&-meat/…say hello to this time-eating spider”—and throughout there’s a sense of life lived on the edge. Go with her when she says, “A beautiful painful grammar walks through my brain.”—BH

Spaar, Lisa Russ. Vanitas, Rough. Karen & Michael Braziller Bk: Persea, dist. by Norton. 2013. 72p. ISBN 9780892554201. pap. $15.95. POETRY
“To touch its truth I punched my fist/ into the chopped molest// the boscage—withdrew my red sleeve.// Abstract that.” If Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize winner Spaar’s wordplay overwhelms, just relax and luxuriate in the language—rich, sensuous, dizzying, lustrous, baroque as “the palace’s candied gold”—as it delivers an ineffable sense of mood, of being indisputably in the world.—BH

White, Allison Benis. Small Porcelain Head. Four Way. Apr. 2013. 72p. ISBN 9781935536277. pap. $15.95. POETRY
A doll’s “small porcelain head” may seem like a frangible thing, but in White’s mysterious, moving collection, delicately envisioned but indestructibly wrought, dolls are solidly there—able to “dance violently/ without the threat of consummation or injury.” It’s humans who are breakable, tentative, and open to anguish, as evidenced by one haunting figure whose suicide note ends the collection. Winner of the Levis Prize in Poetry.—BH

Xu, Lynn. Debts & Lessons. Omnidawn, dist. by IPG. Apr. 2013. 96p. ISBN 9781890650803. pap. $17.95. POETRY
Drawing the title of her first book from the opening section of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, Canarium Books coeditor Xu offers an intensive meditation on life’s demands. Her method is fresh, startling imagery, bordering on the surreal; if “Language exists because nothing exists between those/ who express themselves,” then she has done her job breathtakingly. Readers will want to see what she does next.—BH

 

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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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