What Else Is Hot?: Spring 2011 Poetry

You know it’s spring when the poetry books start booming; National Poetry Month now assures that we’ll get a flood of books in April, with lots of titles seeping into the surrounding months as well. Here’s a list of 33 forthcoming titles, by no means comprehensive (many key poetry publishers don’t yet have their lists in place) but a good starting point for planning your initial 2011 purchases.

Major Poets
Rae Armantrout, whose deeply distilled poetry finally got the attention it deserves when Versed won last year’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, returns with Money Shot (Wesleyan Univ. Feb. 2011. ISBN 9780819571304. $22.95), which considers how things are hidden and how they finally come to light (bad market decisions included). Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa, a scrappy old lion/ who’s wandered into a Christian square, offers a sumptuous and markedly intimate collection nevertheless grounded in historical conflict (The Chameleon Couch. Farrar. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9780374120382. $24). In Double Shadow (Farrar. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780374141578. $23), National Book Award finalist Carl Phillips examines life’s enduring dualities, as when the rain means/ April and an ongoingness like/that of a song.
Les A. Murray, who’s been awarded both the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Gold Medal of Poetry, handed over by Queen Elizabeth II herself, returns after five years with the scrappy and variegated Taller When Prone (Farrar. Mar. 2011. ISBN 9780374272371. $24). In Talking into the Ear of a Donkey (Norton. May 2011. ISBN 9780393080223. $24.95), National Book Award winner Robert Bly‚ author of more than 30 books of poetry‚ gives a retrospective feel of what’s swept him through decades of writing ( ‚ÄòOh, never mind/ About all that,’ the donkey/ Says. ‚ÄòJust take hold of my mane, so you/ Can lift your lips closer to my hairy ears.’ ) In The Trouble Ball (Norton. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780393080032. $24.95), Martín Espada continues his lyric exploration of the aesthetics of protest and particularly the Hispanic experience in this hemisphere (On my father’s island, there were hurricanes and tuberculosis, dissidents in jail/ and baseball).
In Horoscopes for the Dead (Random. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781400064922. $24), the popular Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate, NYPL Literary Lion, and winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Award for humor in poetry, gets really tongue in cheek (I can’t imagine you ever facing a new problem/ with a positive attitude, but you will definitely not/ be doing that or anything like that on this weekday in March). Lamont Poetry Prize winner Rosanna Warren considers the political through the lens of the personal in Ghost in a Red Hat (Norton. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780393080063. $24.95).

Important for Enthusiasts
With twin brother Matthew, Michael Dickman roared onto the poetry scene just a few years ago; The End of the West was his publisher’s best-selling debut ever, and Flies (Copper Canyon. May 2011. ISBN 9781556593772. pap. $16) has won the 2010 James Laughlin Award for best second book of poems in America (What you want to remember/ of the earth/ and what you end up/ remembering/ are often two/ different things). Readers will know Laura Kasischke from the novel The Life Before Her Eyes, made into a film starring Uma Thurman, but she’s a prolific poet, too. Next up: Space, In Chains (Copper Canyon. May 2011. ISBN 9781556593338. pap. $16), which offers a ghostly mythic quality in modern voice. In Core Samples from the World (New Directions. May 2011. ISBN 9780811218870. pap. $15.95), Whiting and Gertrude Stein Award winner Forrest Gander emphasizes his acute visual sense as a poet by mixing in photography from others. (Regarding the title, note that Gander has a B.S. in geology.)
In Army Cats (Graywolf. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781555975838. $15), 2008 Kingsley Tufts Award winner Tom Sleigh investigates war in all its ramifications, from the bomb that cuts short a wedding to those army cats, Over by the cemetery next to the CP/ …in wild catmint going crazy. Often associated with the Language Poets, Wallace Stevens Award winner Michael Palmer offers more packed and elusive poetry in Thread (New Directions. May. ISBN 9780811219211. $15.95). (I like it that he collaborates with artists and dancers as well.) Dean Young, a Pulitzer and Griffin finalist, remains witty and imaginative (I was satisfied with haiku until I met you) in Fall Higher (Copper Canyon. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781556593116. $22).
Offering his first collection in nearly a decade‚ he’s been publishing a clutch of well-received memoirs like Another Bullshit Night in Suck City‚ Nick Flynn blends reportage, memory, and snatched songs and conversations to create a tense and reverberant picture of contemporary life in The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands (Graywolf. Feb. 2011. ISBN 9781555975746. $22). Tracy K. Smith, whose two previous collections were both award winners (James Laughlin and Cave Canem), goes futuristic in Life on Mars (Graywolf. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781555975845. pap. $15).
The typically sharp-eyed Elaine Equi explores the impact of technology in Click and Clone (Coffee House. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781566892575. pap. $16), giving us Specs …/ dots …; bytes …/ atoms …/ scraps …/ snippets … tweets …// Some are whole as seeds contain a whole. Ron Padgett, a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, looks back dry-eyed on a long life in How Long (Coffee House. Apr. ISBN 9781566892568. pap. $16). BOA publisher Peter Conners, also the author of Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead) goes stark and uncompromising in The Crows Were Laughing in Their Trees (White Pine. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781935210207. pap. $16).

More Good Poets To Consider
Matthew Rohrer, whose first book, A Hummock in the Malookas, was selected for the National Poetry Series, returns with a fifth collection focusing on the stringencies of the everyday (Destroyer and Preserver. Wave. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781933517506. pap. $16). Kathleen Ossip, winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize for The Search Engine and poetry editor of Women’s Studies Quarterly, considers contemporary American culture in The Cold War (Sarabande. May 2011. ISBN 9781932511956. pap. $14.95). Another APR/Honickman winner, Dana Levin stares down death in her new work, Sky Burial (Copper Canyon. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781556593321. pap. $15), which offers poems she wrote after losing several family members.
In Becoming Weather (Coffee House. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781566892599. pap. $16), Hayden Carruth Award winner Chris Martin crafts a colorfully detailed picture of daily urban life. In This Strange Land (Alice James. Apr. ISBN 9781882295869. $19.95) Shara McCallum, 1998 winner of an Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, revisits her Jamaican childhood in vividly engaged verse (The mother’s body is the country/ of our earliest memory). Lesle Lewis, a 2002 Iowa Poetry Prize winner, cycles through grief and joy in lie down too (Alice James. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781882295852. $16.95). African American author/artist/pianist Will Alexander, who works in a surrealist vein, caps decades of work with another densely configured epic, Compression & Purity (City Lights. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780872865419. pap. $13.95).

Promising Debuts
Dance-trained Harmony Holiday, daughter of soul singer/songwriter Jimmy Holiday, won the Motherwell Prize for Negro League Baseball (Fence. May ISBN 9781934200421. $15.95. Another award winner: Deborah Brown, whose Walking the Dog’s Shadow (BOA. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9781934414477. pap. $16.) beat out nearly 800 submissions to win the A. Poulin Jr. New Poets of America. Katherine Larson’s Radial Symmetry (Yale Univ. Apr. 2011 ISBN 9780300169195. $35; pap. ISBN 9780300169201. $18) is coming in the career-making Yale Series of Younger Poets. Next in the Marie Alexander Poetry Series celebrating prose poetry, All of Us (White Pine. May 2011. ISBN 9781935210238. pap. $16) comes from Elisabeth Frost, author of The Feminist Avant-Garde in American Poetry.

In Translation
Here’s exciting news: Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations (Norton. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780393076356. $24.95) is getting a new translation by one of America’s best poets, John Ashbery. Following in a lot of footsteps, medievalist Sheila Fisher, associate academic dean at Trinity College, takes on Geoffrey Chaucer (The Selected Canterbury Tales: A New Verse Translation. Norton. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780393079456. $35) with the aim of being both accurate and lively. I’m curious to see how this one works. Finally, The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry (Farrar. Apr. 2011. ISBN 9780374100247. $40), a bilingual anthology, packs 84 authors from 13 countries into nearly 500 pages, with the English rendered by top-flight translators from Elizabeth Bishop to Rich Wilbur.

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, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.


  1. Barbara Hoffert says:

    Thanks for the tip. This is not my only spring poetry roundup, by any means. Barbara