There's a reason why he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2020! These poems are lovely and devastating. Beautiful and heartbreaking, of course, with titles like "Bullet Points" as a black man in America and lines like "I love a man I know I could die" as an openly gay, HIV-positive man. Read this if you want something solid and good.
I found myself writing down words and sentences on scraps of paper as I read Kaveh Akbar's debut collection of poetry. More an act of devotion than habit, I wanted to keep his words close. While addiction and recovery form the central thesis of Akbar's work, it's the manner in which he mines the unreliable taxonomies of desire, want, and need that took me over. The title of the collection comes from an exquisite line in one of the poems: "Thinking if it had a problem it might have a solution/ thinking if I called a wolf a wolf I might dull its fangs.” A paean to the ineffable, the elusive, the sometimes maddening limits of language and its infinite imperfections that can make your head hurt and your heart break.
Franny Choi's ideas are rooted in science fiction but stretch into fully human ideas of gender and identity. Cyborg and human speakers morph into each other as you progress through the poems, creating a new framework for understanding the self through technology. Eventually, these cyborgs sound more like humans, insecure and sheepish (try page 19 for "Turing Test_Emotional Response" if this interests you). I imagine this book would be even more fun to read if you were more well-versed in science fiction than I am; the poems are often laden with references. There's a lot going on in this book, but Choi finds balance: for every cleverly robotic turn of phrase, there's a heady sensory description.
The rage in Roisin's poetry collection slashes through to your heart, then the tenderness sews you back together again. This work explores accepting one's intersectional self and the weight of shame, ancestral trauma, and oppression. A book about survival, dedicated to survivors.
Forget all your other faves. Ariana Brown is the real deal! Her poems will cut you up and heal you all at the same time. Reading this was one of the most personal reading experiences I've had in a long time.
I go back to this book quite often. If I could underline the whole thing, I would. Carson reimagines an ancient Greek myth into a coming-of-age story told through verse, a combination of prose and poetry that lends itself perfectly to Carson's voice. Our main character, a red winged monster, deals with who to love, his brother and mother and the magnetic boy who takes him by the hand. A haunting and beautiful page-turner that at only 160 pages will make you pick it up again after you've just put it down.
Blanco was the first openly gay, Latino, immigrant, as well as the youngest person to be the US inaugural poet when he read for Obama's second term. He brings this energy with him in this collection, his beautiful language depicting such heartbreak toward America's tendency for gun violence, racism, and LGBTQ oppression. Throughout, you can see him struggling with the idea of nationhood, digging his way closer to the answer of how to truly love a country.
Nate Marshall gives so much of himself in these poems. Every line I read, I found myself taking a deep breath before continuing on to the next. So good!!
Cameron Awkward-Rich's second poetry collection covers a lot of ground, and does so with intensity and efficiency. As the title suggests, each poem is a compact delivery. Some feel like news briefs, as they speak to social issues of violence and racism, as well as a growing disappointment in the world. Others are glimpses into more personal and intimate moments. I recommend taking an extra moment to be still with "Meditations in an Emergency" (22), a poem that has come back to me with regularity since reading Dispatch several months ago.
The sheer beauty of the images Queen has conjured, coupled by the clarity with which she captures the human condition are a necessary, if welcome, slap in the face. This slim volume left me reeling.