These four poets cross (and break across) all kinds of lines, joining personal and public history and traditional and experimental styles.

Poet: Tess Taylor

Book: In her debut, The Forage House (Red Hen Press, Aug.), Taylor explores a complex familial and personal history that traces her ancestry back to Founding Father Thomas Jefferson.

Representative lines:

You still wanted for them to explain

their America, their prodigal
half-remembered, always present pain.

Impossible to ask. Don’t speak of race.
The record’s scratched. I don’t recall. I never knew.

Anyone who’d tell you’s dead. And: No one would
tell you.

Behind the book:

“I began to know that I would need to write a version of this book in the late ’90s, when DNA tests confirmed that chromosomal patterns on the descendants of Sally Hemings matched the patterns on the chromosomes of descendants of Thomas Jefferson.

“It was a fierce wake-up call, because I am a white descendant of Thomas Jefferson. I hadn’t engaged with this history as a kid or sensed how it connected to me. I had blocked out considering my own connection to slavery. I felt the enormity of my ignorance. I needed to process this in some way, to articulate the grief and haunting and rediscovery I felt. I thought about writing nonfiction, but I realized that poetry, with its reliance on what is not said as much as what is, gave form to the feeling of loss and fragmentation I was experiencing.

“Fortunately, I received a fellowship from the International Center for Jefferson Studies and worked alongside archaeologists and historians at Monticello for a summer. I was there while they were doing important work that has helped reconstruct some of the historical record about practices of slavery.

“This material feels provocative to me because it straddles the private and the public. Jefferson is fascinating for me as a poet. He’s a founding father, but he’s my actual ancestor. We argue and struggle with him and inherit his legacy as a nation, but I also struggle with him personally.”

Poet: Jillian Weise

Book: In The Book of Goodbyes (BOA Editions, Sept.), Weise follows up her debut, The Amputee’s Guide to Sex, by wrestling with love that just won’t stay and just won’t go.

Representative lines:

The thing about him is

he keeps being the thing. You could never
count on him. I did. It never stopped raining
and I could, it was honest, tell.

Would you like to be in the same decade with me?
Would you like to be caught dead with me?

Behind the book:

“Most of the poems were written in the southernmost city in the world: Ushuaia. I spent months down there, watching the ships go out to Antarctica, smoking two packs a day, and listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival at the pub. (The bartender played CCR at midnight every night.) Yet my poems kept returning to a triangular relationship back in the States. I was reading a lot of Juan Ruiz, Alejandra Pizarnik, and Antonio Porchia. The locals kept saying, ‘Why are you still here? What are you doing?’ ”

Who is your ideal reader and why?

“Anyone who has said goodbye and not meant it. Anyone who has said, ‘Don’t you ever call me again,’ and then waited for the phone to ring. Also, my tribe: anyone with a prosthetic, anyone who plugs into the wall at night.”

Poet: Shane McCrae

Book: In Blood (Noemi Press, Apr.), a long poem in parts and the follow-up to the much-praised Mule, McCrae confronts the past and present of racial and familial injustice in America.

Representative lines:

Father was white I knew he wasn’t my / Father

Was white and only love us

Niggers with their bodies

Didn’t know / What love to give his child

Behind the book:

“It didn’t occur to me that this book was a single, long poem until after I was done writing it. However, it didn’t feel entirely honest to arrive at a long poem in that way—although, who knows? Maybe I was writing a long poem from the beginning, but had to tell myself I wasn’t in order to get it done. Its publication means I have another chance, that I can try again. But it’s hard—it’s frightening—to get going.”

Who is your ideal reader and why?

“My ideal reader is anyone who, after he or she has read something I wrote, doesn’t feel like he or she has been let down. Although I don’t want to impose even that qualification—it’s okay to feel let down by me! I just hope that what I write might be of some benefit to someone—that’s the ideal situation, and I suppose the reader in that situation would be my ideal reader.”

Poet: Nick Twemlow

Book: In Palm Trees (Green Lantern Press, Apr.), Twemlow’s long-awaited debut, the poet launches urgent, intimate, and quirky communications at whoever will listen.

Representative lines:

I’m thinking of a number
between one and the end
of this calling card
that burns through the conversation
I’ve worked out
ahead of time…

What does the publication of this book mean to you?

“This book, and I, experienced a lot of down times on the way to getting published. Lots of rejection, lots of this close. Which is not unusual, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. The publication means a great deal to me, of course. I spent a decade on the poems in this book—a decade writing, deleting, editing, destroying, arranging, forgetting. To see all of this coalesce into printed matter—and so beautifully produced by my lovely editors at Green Lantern—has lowered my blood pressure a bit!”

Who is your ideal reader and why?

“My siblings. I have four—three sisters and a brother—and many of my poems feature them in some way, sometimes in direct address, sometimes obliquely, perhaps as different tonal structures. So much of my thinking about tone, emotion, and the complexities of family dynamics is informed by my relationship to each of them, and my relationship to them as a whole. Many of my poems are letters of affection for them, and I hope they read them this way.”

These four poets cross (and break across) all kinds of lines, joining personal and public history and traditional and experimental styles.