Our picks include books by new voices and longtime masters of the form, and anthologies that mix the two.
Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco) $26.99
Oates’s first poetry collection in 25 years addresses the political as well as the personal, showcasing her talent as a storyteller and her powers of observation. In urgent and unsettling verse, she wrestles with the universality of grief while interrogating American history and the national psyche. “When grief is translated into poetry, or the unspeakable into the speakable,” Oates told PW, “it brings some consolation.”
The Best American Poetry 2021
Guest editor Tracy K. Smith, series editor David Lehman (Scribner) $35
Work by Chen Chen, Louise Glück, Ada Limón, Kevin Young, and some 70 others highlight a breadth of American experiences. “The chorus of voices assembled here consoled and quickened me as I lived out my own version of 2020,” Smith writes in the introduction. “But they also remind me that every year is many years, each experienced uniquely by all the many people alive within its frame.”
Black Girl, Call Home
Jasmine Mans (Berkley) $15
Gorgeously precise in their diction, these poems span a range of forms, including lists, aphorisms, and found language, posing complex sociopolitical questions on race, gender, and sexuality through deceptively simple personal narratives. As a spoken word poet, Mans has opened for artists including Janelle Monáe; videos of her impassioned performances have amassed hundreds of thousands of views.
Buzz Words: Poems About Insects
Edited by Kimiko Hahn and Harold Schechter (Everyman’s Library) $15.95
This Pocket Poets installment celebrates crawlers, gliders, weavers, and workers, to name a few. Entries range across centuries and continents: Tang dynasty poet Tu Fu writes of “Watching Fireflies” while, 1,200 years later and 12,000 miles away, Chile’s Pablo Neruda explains why “Fleas interest me so much.”
Call Us What We Carry
Amanda Gorman (Viking) $24.99
Gorman captivated the nation when she read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration; a bound edition has sold more than 475,000 copies. Her first collection includes that poem and other works that, she told her 3.7 million Instagram followers, “explore hope, grief, and healing.”
Sonia Sanchez (Beacon) $29.95
This career-spanning collection invites readers to learn to live more fully, and to protest, rage, and love. Sanchez also allows room for playfulness, as in a poem for a two-year-old child: “if i cud ever write a poem as beautiful/ as u, little 2/ yr/ old/ brotha,/ poetry wud go out of bizness.”
The Essential June Jordan
June Jordan, edited by Jan Heller Levi and Christoph Keller (Copper Canyon) $18
When Jordan died in 2002, she left behind a body of work that stands as testament to her commitment to social justice. The rich, generous poems in this volume contemplate land, borders, race, and gender, suggesting that to hold and accept divisive truths is an act of love and solidarity.
Maggie Smith (One Signal) $20
Smith is among the rare poets who’ve become known to the general public: her poem “Good Bones” went viral in 2016, and 2020’s Keep Moving, a work of nonfiction, landed her on Today. With her fourth book of poetry, she continues to explore her major subjects—America, grief, and her role as a mother—with empathy, wisdom, and honesty.
Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry
Edited by Jo Harjo (Norton) $15
U.S. poet laureate Harjo, the first Native Amer-ican to hold the position, assembles work by an array of contemporary Indigenous North American poets including Ray Young Bear, Natalie Diaz, siblings Louise and Heid E. Erdrich, and Jake Skeets.
Such Color: New and Selected Poems
Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf) $26
Pulitzer winner and former U.S. poet laureate Smith returns with an incisive collection that includes work from her four previous books of poetry as well as 18 new poems informed by what she called, in an interview with PW, the “radical upheaval of 2020.” Together, they reproach ignorance and denial while championing a collective voice for women and the Black community.