American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
Terrance Hayes. Penguin, ISBN 978-0-14-313318-6
Hayes addresses this marvelous series of 70 free-verse sonnets, longlisted for this year’s National Book Award, to his potential assassin: a nameless, faceless embodiment of America’s penchant for racially motivated violence. Inventive as ever, Hayes confronts America’s myriad ills with unflinching candor, while leaving space for love, humor, and hope.
Baby, I Don’t Care
Chelsey Minnis. Wave, ISBN 978-1-940696-72-0
Minnis impishly taunts the senses in this scintillating vaudeville of vice, greed, and sexism. Through the sassy, vampy, diamond-adorned persona of a self-proclaimed “hungry tigress,” readers are subjected to a sardonic, melodramatic monologue that was “inspired by classic movies” and often feels like a lucid dream. With an unparalleled sense of absurdist whimsy, Minnis runs through a litany of debauched and obsessive behaviors while engendering empathy, curiosity, and self-reckoning.
Extra Hidden Life, Among the Days
Brenda Hillman. Wesleyan Univ., ISBN 978-0-8195-7805-1
Hillman, winner of the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize, continues her sustained attention to the natural elements in her 10th and most lavish collection. Having written four previous books, each addressing one of the four traditional elements of nature, here she considers wood as a fifth element. The book includes gorgeous long-form elegies, poems of witness and social activism, and odes to the national forest and seashore.
If They Come for Us
Fatimah Asghar. One World, ISBN 978-0-525-50978-3
In this awe-inspiring debut, Asghar, writer of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls, explores the painful, sometimes psychologically debilitating journey of establishing her identity as a queer brown woman within the confines of white America. Honest, personal, and intimate without being insular or myopic, Asghar’s collection reveals a sense of strength and hope found in identity and cultural history.
Tommy Pico. Tin House, ISBN 978-1-941040-97-3
Pico concludes his stellar Teebs trilogy in this frenetic book-length poem, a visceral exorcism of personal and collective demons. He draws formal inspiration from A.R. Ammons’s Garbage, but “Junk isn’t/ garbage It’s not outlived its purpose.” The poem is a therapeutic process for poet and reader alike; Pico demonstrates that a person’s many selves, traumas, anxieties, hookups, and breakups can become a marker of courage and survival.
Natasha Trethewey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-1-328-50784-6
The first retrospective from a two-term U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner layers joy and urgent defiance. Longlisted for this year’s National Book Award, the collection draws together verse that delineates the stories of working-class African-American women, a mixed-race prostitute, one of the first black Civil War regiments, mestizo and mulatto figures in casta paintings, and Gulf coast victims of Katrina.
New Poets of Native Nations
Edited by Heid E. Erdrich. Graywolf, ISBN 978-1- 55597-809-9
Erdrich, an Ojibwe writer and scholar, mitigates a noticeable dearth of anthologies of contemporary Native poets with this essential volume for which she selected 21 writers of varying backgrounds and statures who published their first collections in the 21st century. Erdrich offers readers a path into a “brilliantly lit dimension” that has long been obscured by colonialism in the worlds of academia and cultural production.
Hieu Minh Nguyen. Coffee House, ISBN 978-1-56689-509-5
Nguyen attempts a courageous exorcism of shame in his brilliant and disquieting second collection, exposing the baggage of living as a queer person of color in a white-supremacist, classist, heteronormative society. He illuminates how one can find a home inside self-hate, and communicates with stunning clarity the ambivalence of shame—how it can commandeer one’s life and become almost a comfort.
Wade in the Water
Tracy K. Smith. Graywolf, ISBN 978-1-55597-813-6
Whether presenting a sardonic erasure of the Declaration of Independence or dramatizing the correspondence between black Civil War soldiers and their wives, Pulitzer Prize–winner Smith nimbly balances lyricism and direct speech. Some poems inhabit a more boldly theological space than does pervious work, but a wry playfulness leavens her weightier concerns. She remains a master whose technical skill enhances her emotional facilities.