Ten Essential Poetry Titles for Winter 2014

April may be National Poetry Month, but it’s not the only time great poetry appears in abundance. In fact, in the months leading up to the 2014 festivities a number of major poets are coming out with exciting new books. From Linda Bierds’s keenly insightful Roget’s Illusion to Alex Lemon’s electrified, pop-cultural The Wish Book, from boyhood reflections (Dan Chiasson’s Bicentennial) to wry wisdom of the ages (Charles Wright’s Caribou), these ten books are important titles for anyone seriously interested in contemporary poetry.

Baca, Jimmy Santiago. Singing at the Gates: Selected Poems. Grove. Jan. 2014. 176p. ISBN 9780802122100. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780802192905. POETRY
Direct, forthright, and passionate, Baca’s poetry seeks justice for the marginalized, as he himself once was. He ran away from an orphanage at age 13 and later served time in prison, where he taught himself to read and began writing poetry. This selection ranges from early prison poems to pieces drawn from his first chapbook to more recent work, all challenging oppression and celebrating the human bond. Baca is winner of a National Endowment of Poetry Award, among other honors.

Bierds, Linda. Roget’s Illusion. Marian Wood: Putnam. Mar. 2014. 112p. ISBN 9780399165467. $27.95. POETRY
Multiprize winner Bierds (e.g., MacArthur Fellowship, PEN West Poetry Prize), whose quietly articulate poems frequently explore science and art—that is, our ongoing negotiations with the world—examines an illusion that once puzzled filmmakers. After clarifying that Roget (of thesaurus fame) explained why a wheel rolling forward appears to be rolling backward on film, Bierds shows what his explanation might tell us about the use of language.

Chiasson, Dan. Bicentennial: Poems. Knopf. Mar. 2014. 96p. ISBN 9780385349819. $26.95. POETRY
Rising poet Chiasson, already honored by a Whiting Writers Award and an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, offers a fourth book that explores boyhood in late 20th-century America. Yes, it’s all about pizza, sports, girls, and high school cliques in a Vermont setting, but Chiasson also offers an elegy to his recently deceased father, whom he never knew. Chiasson has a nice taste for the vernacular within a larger social context.

Dennis, Carl. Another Reason. Penguin Poets. Mar. 2014. 112p. ISBN 9780143125228. pap. $18. POETRY
Pulitzer and Ruth Lilly Prize winner Dennis has a project here that might sound unexpected for poetry. He’s interested in how we reason with ourselves and with others to escape a purely personal, interior view. In fact, poetry is one of the best vehicles available for this sort of outreach, so reach out to this book.

Dunn, Stephen. Lines of Defense: Poems. Norton. Jan. 2014. 96p. ISBN 9780393240818. $24.95. POETRY
Remarkably, Pulitzer Prize winner Dunn here delivers his 17th collection of poetry, which aims to capture the little absurdities of modern life. Thus, the author reflects on small, telling events like the failure to be invited to a party and his hunt for a lost cat as he looks at “how to inhabit the middle ground/ between misery and joy.”

Lemon, Alex. The Wish Book. Milkweed. Feb. 2014. 88p. ISBN 9781571314505. pap. $16. POETRY
Some readers might know Lemon solely from his memoir, Happy, which would be a pity because he writes tough, visceral poetry with broad appeal. In this new collection, the author, winner of a literature fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, energetically examines the self in a pop-cultural world.

Shapiro, Alan. Reel to Reel. Univ. of Chicago. (Phoenix Poets). Mar. 2014. 88p. ISBN 9780226110639. POETRY
Winner of Kingsley Tufts, Los Angeles Book, and Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writers’ honors and a National Book Critics Circle finalist, Shapiro here asks the big questions about being, time, morality, and human consciousness in poetry that unfolds naturally from the intimate to the cosmic.

Walcott, Derek. The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948–2013. Farrar. Jan. 2014. 640p. ed. by Glyn Maxwell. ISBN 9780374125615. $40. POETRY
Spanning 65 years, this offering of essential works by Walcott ranges from the beauties of the nature world to postcolonial tribulation on his native Caribbean island of St. Lucia to the loss of memory and loved ones in old age. All brought to us by Maxwell, both an honored poet and poetry editor of The New Republic from 2001 to 2007.

Wright, Charles. Caribou: Poems. Farrar. Mar. 2014. 96p. ISBN 9780374119027. $23. POETRY
“This is an old man’s poetry,/ written by someone who’s spent his life/ Looking for one truth./ Sorry, pal, there isn’t one.” Those lines effectively capture Wright’s ongoing sense of quest and wise, snarky acceptance of what he can and can’t know. Expect lots from this winner of a Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Book Award, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and the 2013 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry.

Young, Kevin. Book of Hours: Poems. Knopf. Mar. 2014. ISBN 9780307272249. $26.95. POETRY
An astute cultural critic whose The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, Young is primarily the creator of luscious, jazzy, pointed poetry—it’s won him recognition as a National Book Award finalist. Here’s a touching meditation on the birth of his son and the death of his father.


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. Elizabeth Doran says:

    I find it most astonishing that, the among ten Essential books of poetry listed there is only one woman… This is a serious problem for me. I am outraged. The books mentioned all seem like great books but only 1 woman has written an essential book?? Seriously???