Contemporary Voices: 11 New Books of Poetry to Read Now

When most of the time spent in a basic English class is spent studying old greats like William Shakespeare and John Keats – with good reason! – it can be hard to remember that contemporary poetry, well, you know, exists. There are plenty of authors out there still writing poetry, still organizing their ideas and words into verses, as evidenced by these eleven brand-new collections. They span topics from love to nature to the human body to death and everything in between. If you’re a poetry enthusiast or are somewhat cautiously exploring this world for the first time since high school, these books are perfect to ruminate on this fall.

Blue Horses by Mary Oliver
Most of Mary Oliver’s poetry is a reflection on nature, but after putting one her books down, it’s easy to see that it should be. As Oliver writes in her latest collection, “It must be a great disappointment/ to God if we are not dazzled at least ten/ times a day.” In Blue Horses, Oliver invites the reader to be dazzled, to be overcome with wonder at the spectacle of art and nature – often fusing the two as one.

100pxBitterSweetLoveBitter Sweet Love by Michael Faudet
Faudet writes prose, poems, and short stories, all of them about love. It might seem possible that the idea could be exhausted quickly, but Faudet keeps things interesting. He navigates among subjects like relationships, loss, and sex as deftly as possible, and the imagery he creates is stunning. Bitter Sweet Love is a followup to his first collection, Dirty Pretty Things, which also holds its own.

100pxFloatFloat by by Anne Carson
If you are bored with the traditional format of poetry books as bound sets of works meant to be read in the prescribed, paginated order, then Anne Carson has written a collection for you. Her newest experiment, Float, is a series of chapbooks that transcend time, voice, and genre and can be read in any order. This unique structure is bold – but it proves beautiful, as Carson combines poetry and prose to muse on the world at stages past, present, and future.

100pxTheLastShiftThe Last Shift by Philip Levine
Philip Levine’s latest, posthumous collection of poetry is a reflection on life, so perhaps it is appropriate that it goes on sale more than a year after the poet’s February 2015 death. In The Last Shift, Levine shifts between many things: New York and Detroit, dawn and dusk, nature and construction. In the very last poem of the collection, Levine can be seen making the true last shift, from life into death. These works are beautifully haunting, and they prove that Levine’s legacy will live on.

100pxTheWugTestThe Wug Test by Jennifer Kronovet
Good interfaces are to operate in such a way that they become invisible; the user hardly notices them anymore. Similarly, it can be easy to take language for granted when reading and discussing poetry. Obviously the poems are made of words – what more needs to be thought of than that? In her second collection of poetry, Jennifer Kronovet meditates on language and the ways people use it. It’s a refreshing and well-deserved call to attention on the building blocks of communication and writing itself.

100pxOdesOdes by by Sharon Olds
The content of Odes is exactly what the title suggests – a collection of odes to various elements of poet Sharon Olds’s life. However, past readers of Olds know that the expected is a rare commodity in her work; indeed, she pulls off crudeness with a certain grace. Odes focuses intensely on Olds’s aging body, and while it may at first glance be easy to accuse her of navel-gazing (literally), there is a deep and selfless vulnerability present in the act of a woman describing her own body so intimately and brilliantly.

100pxEnteringHistoryEntering History by Mary Stewart Hammond
For the days the poem and the story seem like they exist on two different planets, enter the narrative poem. Mary Stewart Hammond has written an entire collection of narratives in Entering History. Within, she tells the story of a longstanding marriage, detailing the mundane routines of the everyday with the same passion and dedication that she gives to life’s bigger, less ordinary moments. This book on her husband gives the reader a raw and intimate look at what married life is really like.

100pxForeverWordsForever Words by Johnny Cash
Many people know Johnny Cash the musician, but few know him as a poet. This is certainly not because his writing has not been prolific or good. In Forever Words, Cash’s poetry proves to be as musical and lyrical as his songwriting – even minus the accompaniment of his guitar. His verses touch upon themes similar to those in his music: love, loss, life, death, and fame. Even those who aren’t fans of Cash’s previous work might find themselves enthralled by this icon’s moving poetry.

100pxTheUniverseofUsThe Universe of Us by Lang Leav
Ah, yes, love poetry, leaving people rolling their eyes ever since the days Shakespeare penned his first sonnet. In this collection, however, Lang Leav has given the world a book of love poetry that will make even the harshest of cynics catch their breath in wonder. Delicate, straightforward, and heartbreaking, Leav tells love stories in verse like no other.

100pxTheRaininPortugalThe Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins
Perhaps the nicest thing about U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins’s work is how accessible it is. It exists without pretension, yet still carries with it a tremendous literary weight. In one of his poems, he writes: “The dogs of Minneapolis … have no idea they’re in Minneapolis,” which is not only a humorous truth, but also an invitation to unpack awareness of time and space and how it makes people specifically human. This beloved poet so consistently puts the vast and nebulous into readable terms, and his latest collection of poetry reflects exactly this.

100pxAttheFoundlingHospitalAt the Foundling Hospital by Robert Pinsky
The idea of the foundling – the child abandoned by his or her biological parents, then discovered and cared for by others – was the inspiration for Robert Pinsky’s latest collection of poetry. The book is a meditation on identity, what creates human beings, and how we condition ourselves to fit in to our various landscapes. He almost argues that we are all foundlings, separated from our roots and influenced to grow in our environments. Challenging but rewarding, Pinsky’s poetry forces the reader to think differently.