Winter Poetry: Top Picks from October 2011 to February 2012

Back in April, I celebrated National Poetry Month by rounding up the best July through October 2011 poetry titles I could find. My goal for this roundup was to start with November titles, but small-press poetry publishers tend to work on a shorter schedule than big commerical houses, and I found a number of October titles that had not come to my attention last spring. So here’s an overlapping roundup with 56 titles from core to out-there.

Core Titles
We lost the multiple-award-winning Hayden Carruth in 2008, but at least we have his Last Poems (Copper Canyon. Jan. 2012. 120p. ISBN 9781556593819. pap. $16), a brave and elegiac volume that blends his final verses with the concluding poems from each of his previous works. Albert Goldbarth, the only poet to have won the National Book Critics Circle Award twice, returns with Everyday People (Graywolf. Jan. 2012. 178p. ISBN 9781555976033. pap. $18). Trust Goldbarth, with his recklessly rich, culturally acute writing, to capture everything from helicopter parents to Hercules. Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Strand offers a series of tight-knit, sometimes laugh-out-loud dramas masquerading as prose poems in Almost Invisible (Knopf. Jan. 2012. 64p. ISBN 9780307957313. $25).

Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award D.A. Powell tautens his typically sassy-tongued yet emotionally involving writing in Useless Landscape; or, A Guide for Boys (Graywolf. Feb. 2012. 80p. ISBN 9781555976057. $22), which explores the bars, bathhouses, and backstage spaces where passion flares. Picking up where the National Book Award‚ winning Splay Anthem left off, Nathaniel Mackey’s Nod House (New Directions, dist. by Norton. Nov. 2011. 144p. ISBN 9780811219464. pap. $15.95) marches a group of travelers through a mythic Africa while showing us how deeply poetry is identified with music.

In ErranCities (Coffee House, dist. by Consortium. Feb. 2012. 140p. ISBN 9781566892766. pap. $16), whose very title echoes the French word errance (wandering), Quincy Troupe wanders from ancient Yoruba to Harlem and Guadeloupe as he captures a charged and ever-changing world that finally encompasses the lives (and deaths) of Michael Jackson and Miles Davis. The knotty and tough-minded Alice Notley reinvents the stories of Dido and Medea while investigating genocides past and present in Songs and Stories of the Ghouls (Wesleyan Univ. Nov. 2011. 208p. ISBN 9780819569561. $24.95).

Kingsley Tufts/Los Angeles Book award winner Alan Shapiro invests familiar, sometimes grubby places like shoe stores and racetracks with an almost surreal stillness in Night of the Republic (Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2012. 80p. ISBN 9780547329703. $21.). In poems like Dick Cheney Speaks to Me in a Dream, Campbell McGrath’s In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys (Ecco: HarperCollins. Feb. 2012. 128p. ISBN 9780062110909. pap. $14.99) investigates American society. Focusing on the urban and particularly working-class environment, award-winning translator W.S. Di Piero invests his poems with street smarts and throbbing vitality in Nitro Nights (Copper Canyon. Nov. 2011. 96p. ISBN 9781556593802. pap. $15).

At once elegy and retrospective, Laughter Before Sleep (Univ. of Chicago. Oct. 2012. 160p. ISBN 9780226644196. pap. $18) is the latest from Robert Pack, Abernethy Professor of Literature and Creative Writing Emeritus at Middlebury College and former director of the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Toi Derricotte, a Paterson Poetry prize winner and Cave Canem cofounder, again uses distilled, forthright language to explore the dark underpinnings of our psyches in The Undertaker’s Daughter (Univ. of Pittsburgh. Oct. 80p. ISBN 9780822962007. $15.95). In Hawks on Wires: Poems, 2005-2010 (Louisiana State Univ. Nov. 2011. 112p. ISBN 9780807142301. $55; pap. 9780807142318. $18.95), Dave Smith, former editor of the Southern Review and now Elliott Coleman Professor of Poetry and chair of the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University, looks back at 60 years of Southern living.

Finally, grab these titles from two world masters. Vladimir Nabokov’s Selected Poems (Knopf. Feb. 2012. 208p. ISBN 9780307593351. $30) ranges over his career from 1914 to 1974. And Czeslaw Milosz’s Selected and Last Poems: 1931-2004 (Ecco: HarperCollins. Nov. 2011. 352p. ISBN 9780062095886. pap. $16.99) includes 40 late gems, introduced by Seamus Heaney and translated by the Nobel prize winner’s son.

More Award-Winning Authors To Watch
Senior editor of Poetry magazine and a multiple award winner for his translations of Miguel Hernandez, Don Share steps out with his third collection Wishbone (Black Sparrow. Dec. 2011. 80p. ISBN 9781574232196. $17.95), a collection of clearly rendered poems exploring American culture. In Blood Prism (Ohio State Univ. Dec. 2011. ISBN 9780814251812. 88p. $14.95), winner of the Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry, Edward Haworth Hoeppner reflects on a long life and career (I’m 60) in three sections titled Memory, Politics, and Age. Rona Jaffe Award winner Heidi Steidlmayer’s Fowling Piece (Triquarterly: Northwestern Univ. Feb. 2012. 80p. ISBN 9780810152229. pap. $16.95) neatly explores the intersection of natural science, medicine, and faith.

Winner of the 2005 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for Brother Salvage, which explored painful historical moments and the impulse to guard the sacred, Rick Hilles returns with Boundary Waters (Univ. of Pittsburgh. Feb. 2012. 80p. ISBN 9780822961826. pap. $15.95). Paisley Rekdal, who will be taking advantage of the 2011‚ 12 Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship come September, has a fourth collection in Animal Eye (Univ. of Pittsburgh. Feb. 2012. 96p. ISBN 9780822961796. pap. $15.95). Of mixed Norwegian and Chinese heritage, Rekdal typically explores issues of cultural and racial identity. Brittingham prize winner Judith Vollmer, whose most recent collection was a National Book Critics Circle award nominee, returns with The Water Books (Autumn House. Jan. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9781932870541. $NA.)

Bearing Witness
Using Hagar (pronounced with a soft g), the legitimate wife of Ibrahim and a crucial presence in Islam, Amal al-Jubouri delivers an acute sense of contemporary Iraq in Hagar Before the Occupation/Hagar After the Occupation (Alice James. Nov. 2011. tr. by Rebecca Gayle Howell & Husam Qaisi. 160p. ISBN 9781882295890. pap. $17.95). Using Nina Simone, the proclaimed high priestess of soul and an astonishing influence on American music, Monica Hand delivers an acute sense of isolation and healing in me and Nina (Alice James. Jan. 2012. 80p. ISBN 9781882295906. pap. $15.95).

In his debut collection, Gust (Triquarterly: Northwestern. Oct. 2012. 136p. ISBN 9780810152212. pap. $16.95), Greg Alan Browndenville explores the Delta and Pentecostal cultures of his Arkansas upbringing, where the preacher hunted the devil, a rural sheriff waxed lyric, and Italians were exploited in the cotton fields. Ron Rash, author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner finalist Serena, among other acclaimed novels, vivifies the South’s dry counties, hot tobacco fields, and numerous hardy little churches in his fourth collection, Waking (Hub City. Oct. 2011. 88p. ISBN 9781891885846. $21.95; pap. ISBN 9781891885822. $14.95).

Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan’s Bear, Diamonds and Crane (Four Way. Oct. 2011. 104p. ISBN 9781935536130. $15.95) uses anguished language and a variety of forms to recount her forebears’ internment in Manzanar, the California concentration camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. A cofounder of the Before Columbus Foundation, Victor Hernández Cruz thinks big in his most recent collection, In the Shadow of Al-Andalus (Coffee House, dist. by Consortium. Nov. 2011. 140p. ISBN 9781566892773. pap. $16), exploring Islam’s influence on Spain and then moving on to Puerto Rico, Morocco, and multiethnic New York.

Facing Grief
In Freedom Hill: A Poem (Triquarterly: Northwestern Univ. Oct. 2012. ISBN 9780810127081. pap. $15.95), L.S. Asekoff recounts visiting his dying father, wrestling with the conflict between art and commerce, and recovering from a cerebral hemorrhage. But this work is billed as a comic verse-novella, which explains both how Asekoff deals with grief and why the subtitle is A Poem. In contrast, Thomas Meyer offers sheer heartbreak (Once it was Love/ had me so distracted./ Now it’s Death) as he mourns the loss of his partner of nearly four decades in Kintsugi (Flood. Nov. 2011. NAp. ISBN 9780981952093. pap. $14.95).

Feeling Meditative
Debut author Jonathan Wells’s Train Dance (Four Way. Nov. 2011. 72p. ISBN 9781935536147. pap. $15.95) opens with the speaker driving the lamp side of the river to the station past the dog run, then moves meditatively through life’s many stations like a soprano leap[ing] through her arpeggios. In Wayne Miller’s The City, Our City (Milkweed. Oct. 2011. ISBN 9781571314451. pap. $16), a mythic city is excavated and then embraced in dramatic monologs (The City was the wall I lay on,// then the City/ was the voice I spoke into. John Peck’s Contradance (Phoenix: Univ. of Chicago. Oct. 2012. 88p. ISBN 9780226652924. pap. $18) offers a kaleidoscopic view of the world, ranging from 1618 Spain to postwar Berlin to Hammonassett, CT, and representing the likes of Keats, Wittgenstein, and Venice’s last treasurer.

Modeled on Ovid’s Amores, Jennifer Clarvoe’s Counter-Amores (Phoenix: Univ. of Chicago. Oct. 2012. 88p. ISBN 9780226109282. pap. $18) uses mostly formal verse to explore the dark side of love and the search for self. In Gaze (Milkweed. Feb. 2012. 96p. ISBN 9781571314369. pap. $16), Christopher Howell, the editor of Lynx House, moves from the inner world to the outer world to the ghostly, imagined world beyond. Genevieve Kaplan’s In the Ice House (Red Hen. Oct. 2011. 88p. ISBN 9781597094627. pap. $16.95), a Room of Her Own Foundation’s To the Lighthouse Publication Prize winner, cuts to the bone to describe a domestic everydayness that’s relentlessly undermined.

Proclaimed Australia’s preeminent nature poet, John Kinsella presents poems with titles like New Lichen! and Magpie Claimants in Jam Tree Gully (Norton. Nov. 2011. 128p. ISBN 9780393341409. pap. $16.95). T.R. Hummer daringly explores the edge, the end, the extinguishing point of things in Ephemeron (Louisiana State Univ. Nov. 2011. 88p. ISBN 9780807139875.pap. $17.95). In The Beds (Autumn House. Jan. 2012. 60p. ISBN 9781932870534. pap. $14.95), Four Way Books director Martha Rhodes uses her craft to master roiling emotion, demonstrating mastery of form (She climbed the stairs/ wanting to find them, and she did./ She climbed the stairs). Todd Boss’s Pitch (Norton. Feb. 2012. 80p. ISBN 9780393081039. $24.95) offers a series of variations on an overturned piano (really), exploring love, loss, and the music inherent in our lives.

Two Good Works for Extroverts
A multi-threat, award-winning author of fiction, memoir, and criticism as well as poetry, Lynne Sharon Schwartz skips over genre rules in See You in the Dark (Curbstone: Northwestern Univ. Jan. 2012. 86p. ISBN 9780810127999. pap. $16.95) to investigate taking Ecstasy, making soup, and finding artistry in Craigslist while reflecting on individuals as disparate as Jenny Holzer and Jesse James. Alex Long’s Still Life, winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize (Nov. 2011. 96p. ISBN 9781935210290. pap. $16), offers punchy, energetic poems that hear America singing (to a rock beat) as he probes the complexities of modern life.

Two Interesting Formal Experiments
In Exhibit of Forking Paths (Coffee House, dist. by Consortium. Nov. 2011. ISBN 9781566892803. pap. $16), James Grinwis plugs electrical circuit diagrams into his prose poems to give us a different kind of picture about today’s scientific and intellectual worlds. Amy Newman’s Dear Editor (Persea. Dec. 2011. 64p. ISBN 9780892553877. pap. $15) takes a witty approach to the battle to get published, crafting her work as a passionate plea to an unnamed editor from a poet desperate to accept her poems about chess, sainthood, and her lonely childhood.

Poetry in Translation
Georg Trakl’s Song of the Departed: Selected Poems of Georg Trakl (Copper Canyon. Feb. 2012. tr. by Robert Firmage. 184p. ISBN 9781556593734. pap. $17) displays the work of a lyric poet who was born in Austria in 1887, served as a medical officer during World War I, and helped shape German expressionism. Notturno (Yale Univ. Jan. 2012. tr. by Stephen Sartarelli. 320p. ISBN 9780300155426. $28), a book-length prose poem by leading modernist Gabriele D’Annuzio (1863‚ 1938), appears in its first complete English translation.

Yves Bonnefoy, at 87 the grand old man of French poetry, shows his vigor with Second Simplicity: New Poetry and Prose, 1991‚ 2011 (Yale Univ. Jan. 2012. tr. by Hoyt Rogers. 288p. ISBN 9780300176254. $30), which also offers prose reflections and, interestingly, engages in description of the New England landscape. His compatriot, Bernard Noël, offers an acutely detailed visual tour of his surroundings in The Rest of the Voyage (Graywolf. Nov. 2011. tr. by Eléna Rivera. 208p. ISBN 9781555976002. pap. $16.), winner of the Robert Fables Translation Prize for Contemporary Poetry in Translation.

Cees Nooteboom & Max Neumann’s Self-Portrait of an Other (Seagull, dist. by Univ. of Chicago. Nov. 2011. tr. by David Colmer. 76p. ISBN 9780857420114. $25) represents acclaimed Dutch novelist Nooteboom’s poetic response to bold drawings (lots of red) of Berlin-based artist Neumann. Danish poet Carsten Nielsen, whose work has appeared in American publications like The Paris Review and Agni crafts dark and moody prose poems in House Inspections (BOA. Nov. 2011. tr. by David Keplinger. 92p. ISBN 9781934414569. pap. $16). Toma≈æ ≈†alamun’s The Blue Tower (Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2011. tr. by Michael Biggins. 96p. ISBN 9780547364766. $22) plunges us into Central Europe and the wider world of the poet’s imagination.

Jorge Carrera Andrade was born in Ecuador in 1903 but mostly lived abroad, first as a journalist and then as an ambassador. Micrograms (Wave. Nov. 2011. tr. by Alejandro de Acosta & Joshua Beckman. 96p. ISBN 9781933517551. pap. $16) was published in 1940 in Japan, an evident cultural influence in the often haiku-like poems (Flamingo: chalk pothook in a puddle,/ movable flower of froth/ atop a naked stem). Pura López Colomé won the Villaurrutia, a leading literary award in Mexico, for Watchword (Wesleyan Univ. Feb. 2012. tr. by Forrest Gander. 150p. ISBN 9780819571182. $24.95), a collection of gutsy poems from the edge.

H.E. Sayeh’s The Art of Stepping Through Time: Selected Poems of H.E. Sayeh (White Pine. tr. by Chad Sweeney & Mojdeh Marashi. Nov. 2011. 128p. ISBN 9781935210276. pap. $16) offers a sampling of the noted Iranian poet’s work, which delineates his country’s upheaval in the last half-century. Basil Bunting’s Bunting’s Persia (Flood. Jan. 2012. ISBN 9780983889304. pap. $15.95), edited by Don Share (whose third collection, Wishbone, is cited above), collects this British poet’s informed translations of Persian poetry by Rudaki, Ferdowsi, and others.

A Key Anthology
So much poetry, such little time. It’s always nice to have overviews, and this one is edited by Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate Rita Dove. The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (Penguin. Nov. 2011. 800p. ISBN 9780143106432. $40) ranges from Gertrude Stein to Terrance Hayes and includes headnotes that should be especially helpful to new readers.

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.


  1. Gail Storey says:

    Thank you for lighting the way to such excellent work–you indeed have us reading more poetry! Especially looking forward to Amy Newman’s Dear Editor, from Persea.


  1. […] Barbara Hoffert at Library Journal provides a nice preview of upcoming poetry publications here. […]