The ways history, identity, and systematic violence shape the American experience continue to be primary themes in contemporary American poetry.
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
Terrance Hayes. Penguin, June 19
The ghosts of America’s past and future, its dreams and nightmares, haunt these 70 inventive, compassionate, hilarious, melancholy, and bewildered poems from the inimitable Hayes.
Kevin Young. Knopf, Apr. 17
The new New Yorker poetry editor reflects on how the individual and collective shape each other. Brownness serves as a window on history and informs Young’s engagements with time and place.
Cruel Futures: City Lights Spotlight No. 17
Carmen Giménez Smith. City Lights, Apr. 15
Latin-American feminist Giménez Smith energetically analyzes pop culture and explores the many social roles that women occupy.
If They Come for Us
Fatimah Asghar. One World, June 26
The co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls confronts her own understandings of identity, place, and belonging as a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America.
Tommy Pico. Tin House, May 8
With a nod to A.R. Ammons’s Garbage, Pico completes his Teebs trilogy with a book-length breakup poem that explores the experience of loss and erasure, both personal and cultural.
Daniel Borzutzky. Univ. of Pittsburgh, Mar. 12
Fresh off his National Book Award win, Borzutzky returns with a collection that responds to America’s long history of police abuse of African-Americans.
Hieu Minh Nguyen. Coffee House, Apr. 10
Nguyen, a queer Vietnamese-American, confronts whiteness, trauma, family, and nostalgia in poems that ache with loneliness, desire, and the giddy terrors of hoping for love.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Copper Canyon, Apr. 10
Nezhukumatathil writes with a reverence for life and unmatched sincerity, covering an encyclopedic range of subjects as she records the Earth’s wonderful and terrible magic.
Wade in the Water
Tracy K. Smith. Graywolf, Apr. 3
The U.S. poet laureate challenges the nature of citizenship, motherhood, and what it means to be an artist in a culture mediated by wealth, men, and violence.
We Play a Game
Duy Doan. Yale Univ., Mar. 20
Doan, the 112th recipient of the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, explores the ambiguities and tensions of history, love, and self, drawing on his experience as a Vietnamese-American.
New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tano), edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani (Apr. 10, box set, $32.95, ISBN 978-1-61775-623-8) continues the African Poetry Book Fund project to identify the best poetry by African poets working today and ensure their publication. This 12-piece, limited-edition box set features the work of 11 new poets.
Divida by Monica A. Hand (Apr. 1, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-938584-74-9). Hand ruminates on being black in modern America in her posthumous second collection. She explores injustices survived by using a dreamlike consciousness to take on multiple personas: DiVida, who wants to assimilate into the larger culture, and Sapphire, who refuses to follow at the expense of her self-actualization.
The English Boat by Donald Revell (May 1, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-938584-76-3) builds upon ancient Greek landscapes and Shakespearian tragedies, and mixes it with modern-age life to create a boisterous, magical world of reflection, passion, and imagination. Revell’s lively 15th collection explores human emotion along with the never-ending, dark mysteries of the mind.
Of Marriage by Nicole Cooley (June 5, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-938584-77-0). Cooley’s poems are sharp in all the places it can hurt and soft in ways that comfort an aching soul. No emotion is off-limits as these sensual yet valiant poems dig in their heels and hold on for dear life as winds of uncertainty threaten to overcome.
Cenzontle by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (Apr. 10, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-942683-53-7). In his lyrical, imagistic debut, Castillo charts the emotional fallout of immigration; the illusion of the American dream via the fallacy of the nuclear family; the latent anxieties of living in a queer, brown, undocumented body within a heterosexual marriage; and the ongoing search for belonging.
Rail by Kai Carlson-Wee (Apr. 24, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-942683-58-2). Set against a landscape of rail yards and skate parks, Carlson-Wee’s debut captures a spiritual journey of wanderlust, depression, brotherhood, and survival. Part cowboy poet, part prophet, Carlson-Wee finds beauty in the grit and kinship among strangers along the road.
The Second O of Sorrow by Sean Thomas Dougherty (Apr. 10, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-942683-55-1) celebrates the struggles, the dignity, and the joys of working-class life in the Rust Belt. These poems take pride in the people who survive despite all odds, who keep going without any concern for glory.
The Future by Neil Hilborn (Apr. 17, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-943735-31-0). Filled with nostalgia, love, heartbreak, and wry examinations of mental health, Hilborn’s second collection aims to describe what lives inside us, what we struggle to define. Written on the road over two years of touring, the work invites readers to find comfort in hard nights and better days.
A Love Song, a Death Rattle, a Battle Cry by Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre (Mar. 20, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-943735-33-4). Guante’s debut is the chorus to an anthem, the anthem to a movement covering justice, love, community action, and personal reflection. It’s a compilation of a decade’s worth of writing from the two-time National Poetry Slam champion.
Nothing Is Okay by Rachel Wiley (Feb. 20, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-943735-30-3). Wiley’s second collection deconstructs the lies that people are taught about their bodies and beings, and builds new ways of viewing the self. She delves into queerness, feminism, fatness, dating, and race as she challenges cultural norms.
Cruel Futures: City Lights Spotlight No. 17 by Carmen Giménez Smith (Apr. 15, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-0-87286-758-1) chronicles life on an endangered planet, in a country on the precipice of profound change compelled by manufactured media realities. Latin-American feminist Giménez Smith delivers an energetic analysis of pop culture and exploration of the many social roles that women occupy.
Lances All Alike by Suzanne Zelazo (Apr. 24, trade paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-55245-362-9) weaves lines of poetry by Modernist poet-painters Mina Loy and Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven into an imaginary conversation. Zelazo examines the way their work has been suppressed, stitched, spliced, and edited by male editors and arbiters of taste.
Night Becomes Years by Jason Stefanik (Apr. 24, trade paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-55245-363-6). In the tradition of the flâneur, Stefanik loafers his way over sacred geography and explores his own mixed heritage through the lexicon of Elizabethan canting language. The poems create a larger narrative on the possibilities of poetry today and the nature of mixed-blood identity.
The Body Ghost by Joseph Lease (June 5, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-56689-511-8) is a collection of broken nursery rhymes; a kind of elegy or extended plea to remember kinder, gentler times; and a critique of the broken and harmful policies of the political present. Lease’s language echoes as blocks of text give way to lines that trickle down the page.
Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed (May 8, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-56689-514-9) experiments with language to explore inequity and injustice, and to critique and lament white supremacy and the dominant social order. Reed weaponizes poetry to unmask the structures into which society sorts people.
Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen (Apr. 10, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-56689-509-5). Nguyen, a queer Vietnamese-American, confronts whiteness, trauma, family, and nostalgia in this big beating heart of a book. These poems ache with loneliness, desire, and the giddy terrors of hoping for love, while reveling in moments of connection.
A Distant Center by Ha Jin (Apr. 24, hardcover, $17, ISBN 978-1-55659-462-5) conjures scenes that encompass the personal, historical, romantic, and environmental, interrogating conceptions of foreignness and national identity as they appear and seep into everyday interactions and being. Jin confronts China’s fraught political history while paying tribute to its rich culture and landscape.
Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Apr. 10, trade paper, $17, ISBN 978-1-55659-526-4) registers the Earth’s wonderful and terrible magic. Nezhukumatathil writes with a reverence for life and unmatched sincerity, covering an encyclopedic range of subjects as she speaks to each reader as a member of the extraordinary neighborhood to which all people belong.
Terrible Blooms by Melissa Stein (Apr. 17, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-55659-529-5) subverts old tropes and trappings of femininity with intricate and sonically rich lyricism. Stein uses a gift for developing persona to invent a cast of speakers and probes each character’s connections to their families and lovers.
M Archive: After the End of the World by Alexis Pauline Gumbs (Mar. 9, trade paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8223-7084-0) follows Spill as the second book in a planned experimental triptych. Gumbs speculatively documents the work of a future researcher who uncovers evidence of the conditions of late capitalism, anti-blackness, and environmental crisis while probing possibilities of existence that transcend the human.
A Generous Latitude by Lenea Grace (Apr. 17, trade paper, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-77041-421-1). Juxtaposing the serious with the silly, the irreverent and the somber, Grace mixes poetry, pop culture, and Canadiana in her debut. Expect the unexpected: beer, bears, and Guy Lafleur.
How He Loved Them by Kevin Prufer (Mar. 6, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-945588-09-9). Bombs explode, fields burn, and armies advance in Prufer’s fraught, paradoxical world. His clear, compassionate poems seek the intimacy of fathers and sons, soldiers and civilians, the living and the (sometimes un)dead.
Rest by Margaree Little (Mar. 6, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-945588-10-5) examines the human cost of crossing the U.S.–Mexico border. Little’s experience on a humanitarian mission in Arizona leads to an elegiac series of poems that demonstrate a keen eye and unsparing self-reflection.
New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Heid E. Erdrich (July 10, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-55597-809-9), is the first anthology of Native poets published in the 21st century. Erdrich selected 21 poets whose first books were published after the year 2000, resulting in a volume of various aesthetics and approaches to poetry.
Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl by Diane Seuss (May 1, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-55597-806-8) explodes the idea of the still life in a collection that takes its title from Rembrandt’s painting. Seuss inventively and irreverently inverts traditional representations of gender, class, and luxury.
Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith (Apr. 3, hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-1-55597-813-6). The current U.S. poet laureate links modern America to the nation’s foundations, as well as to a notion of enduring spirit. These powerful poems challenge the nature of citizenship, motherhood, and what it means to be an artist in a culture mediated by wealth, men, and violence.
All Our Wild Wonder by Sarah Kay (Mar. 13, hardcover, $12, ISBN 978-0-316-38665-4) pays tribute to educators and offers a celebration of learning. Kay’s illustrated poem serves as a reminder of the beauty and significance of nurturing curiosity, creativity, and confidence in others.
Tropic of Squalor by Mary Karr (May 8, hardcover, $22.99, ISBN 978-0-06-269982-4) delves into the delicate topic of the role of religion in modern lives. Karr seeks the divine in the mundane and attempts to make the world of the spiritual open to believers and non-believers alike.
Girl with Death Mask by Jennifer Givhan (Mar. 7, trade paper, $10, ISBN 978-0-253-03279-9) charts the journey from girlhood to womanhood and all the trappings of that transformation: love, tequila, sex, first periods, late nights, abuse, and heartache. Givhan’s shifting forms expose both the trauma and magic of maturation.
Brown by Kevin Young (Apr. 17, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1-5247-3254-7). The new New Yorker poetry editor recalls his Kansas boyhood as he reflects on the ways culture shapes the personal and vice versa. For Young, brownness serves as a window on history and informs his engagements with time and place.
Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad Gita, with Commentary by Amit Majmudar (Mar. 20, hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-1-5247-3347-6). This new verse translation from the acclaimed poet renders the classic Hindu narrative both elegant and accessible for new readers. His feel for the text captures the full scope of the relationship between Krishna and Arjuna.
Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance by Fady Joudah (Mar. 13, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-57131-501-4) celebrates moments of delight and awe in love poems to the lovely and unlovely, the loved and unloved. Joudah translates with a polyglot’s sensibility between the heart and the mind, the flesh and the more-than-flesh, the word body and the world body.
Night unto Night by Martha Collins (Mar. 13, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-57131-489-5) finds common ground between such contradictions as beauty and horror, joy and mortality, the personal and the political. Collins suggests that dissonance is a permanent state, something to be occupied rather than solved.
Virgin by Analicia Sotelo (Feb. 13, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-57131-500-7) walks the line between autobiography and mythmaking in this vivid portrait of the artist as a young woman. Sotelo’s debut, winner of the inaugural Jake Adam York Prize, seduces with history, folklore, and sensory detail.
Be With by Forrest Gander (May 30, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-0-8112-2605-9). Gander draws on his skills as a translator, background in geology, and loss of his mother to Alzheimer’s as he offers a startling look through loss, grief, and regret into the nature of intimacy.
The Galloping Hour: French Poems by Alejandra Pizarnik, trans. by Patricio Ferrari and Forrest Gander (July 31, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-0-8112-2774-2). These poems, never before rendered in English and unpublished during Pizarnik’s tragically short life, explore many of her deepest obsessions: the limitation of language, silence, the body, night, sex, and the nature of intimacy.
The Shutters by Ahmed Bouanani, trans. by Emma Ramadan (June 26, trade paper, $18.95, ISBN 978-0-8112-2784-1). Mixing prose, prose poems, and verse, Bouanani maps Morocco’s cultural history while evoking the violence inflicted on his country. Appearing in English for the first time, these poems navigate antiquity, myth, and a fictional present.
Don’t Let Them See Me Like This by Jasmine Gibson (July 3, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-937658-83-0) explores myriad intersectional identities in relation to the state, disease, love, sex, failure, and triumph. Gibson’s visceral and incendiary debut ruptures the skin of political malaise and digs into the guts of history.
The Undressing by Li-Young Lee (Feb. 20, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-393-06543-5). Lee attempts to uncover things hidden since the dawn of the world in this new volume of mysterious and unsassuming poems about the violence of desire and the peace of love.
Wonderland by Matthew Dickman (Mar. 6, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-393-63406-8) journeys back into the dark edges of youth, violence, race, class, and masculinity. Dickman suffuses poems about his 1980s Portland, Ore., childhood with ghosts of longing, shame, and vulnerability.
Ghost of by Diana Khoi Nguyen (Apr. 3, trade paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-63243-052-6) wrestles with what remains in the wake of a death in the family. Nguyen’s work is neither an exorcism nor an unhaunting, but a mourning song that reaches across time, space, and distance toward loved ones, ancestors, and strangers.
Light Wind Light Light by Bin Ramke (Apr. 3, trade paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-63243-053-3). Engaging a childhood among rivers, Ramke takes steps into the riverlike world at large, and then turns to (or hopes for) metamorphosis. Ramke’s latest deals with memory as fluid, transitory, and illuminating.
If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar (June 26, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-0-525-50978-3) conveys the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America through both personal history and that of marginalized people. Asghar, co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls, confronts her own understandings of identity, place, and belonging.
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes (June 19, trade paper, $18, ISBN 978-0-14-313318-6). In these 70 identically titled sonnets, Hayes digs into the meanings of “American,” “assassin,” and “love.” The ghosts of America’s past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares, haunt these inventive, compassionate, hilarious, melancholy, and bewildered poems.
The Cold and the Rust by Emily Van Kley (Mar. 13, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-0-89255-488-1). Van Kley’s lyrical and resolute debut, winner of the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry, presents a tender portrait of a queer girlhood on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, as staggering beauty abuts postindustrial decay.
Dying in the Scarecrow’s Arms by Mitchell L.H. Douglas (Mar. 6, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-0-89255-487-4) depicts the assault on people of color in America’s heartland. Douglas investigates American pop culture, wondering whether it’s possible to withstand its most odious, self-destructive elements.
Brood by Kimiko Hahn (July 3, trade paper, $10, ISBN 978-1-946448-15-6) reveals the essence of commonplace items in concise and evocative language. Hahn stays true to the multiple meanings of brood in poems buttressed by a sense of loss, a mother’s death, and a longing for childhood.
Post Traumatic Hood Disorder by David Tomas Martinez (Mar. 13, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-946448-09-5) collages a self-portrait from the fractures of the past. Martinez slides between scholarly diction and slangy vernacular to showcase versatile language and wild energy that is thoughtful, vulnerable, and distinctly American.
Junk by Tommy Pico (May 8, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-941040-97-3). The third book in Pico’s Teebs trilogy takes its cue from A.R. Ammons’s Garbage. This book-length breakup poem, composed in couplets, explores the experience of loss and erasure, both personal and cultural, when the illusion of security has been stripped away.
The Möbius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone (Feb. 27, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-941040-85-0). With ferocious wit and deep sensitivity, Stone plays the role of Dante in this collection set in a burlesque purgatory. She investigates complicated family relationships as a means to break the endless cycle of grief.
Univ. of Nebraska
Stray by Bernard Farai Matambo (Mar. 1, trade paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-4962-0558-2). Winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, Zimbabwean writer Matambo captures the essence of identity while articulating the vulnerability and pain of displacement and migration of Africans who have left their native continent.
Univ. of Pittsburgh
Lake Michigan by Daniel Borzutzky (Mar. 12, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-0-8229-6522-0). Homan Square, a secret Chicago PD interrogation facility, informs the latest work from National Book Award winner Borzutzky. These poems directly respond to the long history of police abuse that predominantly targets African-Americans.
Extra Hidden Life, Among the Days by Brenda Hillman (Feb. 6, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8195-7805-1) alternates between the plain and the transcendent in poems that meditate on trees, bacteria, wasps, buildings, roots, stars, and more. Hillman’s poetry is a discipline of love and service to the world, as her lines shepherd readers through grief and into an ethics of resistance.
Inquisition by Kazim Ali (Mar. 1, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-0-8195-7762-7) mixes lyrics, narrative, fragments, prose poem, and spoken word to answer longstanding questions about the role of the poet or artist in times of political or social upheaval. Ali engages history, politics, and the human heart as a queer Muslim American.
We Play a Game by Duy Doan (Mar. 20, trade paper, $20, ISBN 978-0-300-23087-1). Doan, the 112th recipient of the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, explores the ambiguities and tensions of efforts to know history, love, and self. He draws on his experience as a Vietnamese-American and plays with the fluidity of identity, history, and language.