Books

The 19 Best Poetry Books to Read in the New Year

In 2017, over a million volumes of poetry sold, making it a record-breaking year. 2018 is looking like another banner year, and here at Signature, we’ve taken a look at some forthcoming volumes in order to survey the lay of the land. The state of the world has inspired many of these poets to write about how politics runs their lives, although none of them have lost the appreciation of beauty, the quest for self-knowledge, and the desire to show other lands to readers. Here are some volumes we are looking forward to, and some that have recently been published.

  • The cover of the book Not Here

    Not Here

    Listen, trying to forget is not the same
    as leaving—sometimes we must
    forget to allow forgiveness
    to comb the knots from our hair.

    These are poems of love, forgetting, heartbreak, and desire. Some of them reflect on the difficult love between Nguyen and his mother, who scorns her gay son for his sexuality. In sharply crafted lines, Nguyen explores the fault lines between the giddy joys of love and the cold shroud of parental disapproval.

     
  • The cover of the book Wade in the Water

    Wade in the Water

    History is in a hurry. It moves like a woman
    Corralling her children onto a crowded bus.

    Smith, the nation’s poet laureate, weaves together testimony from “ordinary folks” with her poetry to tell the stories of American history. Some of these include letters written to President Abraham Lincoln from the wives of African American soldiers serving in the Civil War. In other sections are erasure poems that imagine the blanks of silenced people, and poems based on found objects. Smith’s poems themselves become found objects of beauty.

     
  • The cover of the book Poems of Rome

    Poems of Rome

    Those dying here, the lonely
    forgotten by the world,
    our tongue becomes for them
    the language of an ancient planet.
    Until, when all is legend
    and many years have passed,
    on a new Campo dei Fiori
    rage will kindle at a poet’s word.

    Rome is known as the Eternal City. Little wonder then that an entire collection of poems has been written about it. Ovid and Horace wrote about the city, Horace with his satiric sense. And of course, Virgil gave readers the story of the city’s founding in the Aeneid. But the city was a favorite of the Romantic poets—Keats, Shelley, Byron—and that draw has continued into our time, with poets such as May Sarton and David St. John. And for each of the landmarks that bring Rome’s tourists, there’s a poem, making this the perfect book to take on a virtual or real-life tour.

     
  • The cover of the book yesterday i was the moon

    yesterday i was the moon

    you are
    the peace after wars
    the calm after storms
    and everything
    insanely beautiful
    that shapes after
    a tragedy

    Noor Unnahar has been writing poems on Instagram for a while; this is her first published collection. Unnahar speaks to an audience of young men and women who look to poetry to offer solace in a world they perceive as hostile to their happiness. Her poems make beautiful patterns.

     
  • The cover of the book Empty Set

    Empty Set

    It’s at the boundaries—on the edges—where things tend to blur.

    Bicecci is a visual artist who, in 2013, was awarded the Italian “Aura Estrada Prize” for literature, a testament to her dual talents. In Empty Set, she imagines a world where one can put the overlap in a Venn Diagram into words; words, which in this collection, she also uses to create prose poems, poems, micro-essays, and the occasional drawing to accompany them. An intriguing way of interrogating language.

     

     
  • The cover of the book The Möbius Strip Club of Grief

    The Möbius Strip Club of Grief

    I’m here, watching the dead spinning.
    The dead are twerking and jiggling in my face.
    The dead are goddesses, walking around the room
     of wasted imbecilic dudes from Wall Street: the Living.

    Perhaps the most intriguing of the upcoming releases, Stone has created a feminist land of dead souls. In her Limbo, she is the living poet (similar to Dante’s position writing The Divine Comedy) who writes down that which she observes among the women in charge and those souls both newly arrived and those seeking to get out. The Möbius strip is easy to construct but for those who enter such a space, escape is impossible—a situation readers may find themselves in when they start reading these stellar poems.

     
  • The cover of the book Take Me With You

    Take Me With You

    I shovel my blood from
    the white snow. I wipe
    my frantic breath from
    the window, and bind
    my breasts so that
    something will hold
    my breath so tight not
    even the air in my lungs
    could be identified as
    woman.

    Andrea Gibson is a genderqueer artist who has become a huge hit on the spoken word circuit. Her poems speak about love, gender, and being. Split into three sections— Love, the World, and Becoming—her verses play with language in provocative ways. Some of the poems are as short as a single line while others have the heft of a closed fist.

     
  • The cover of the book House of Fact, House of Ruin

    House of Fact, House of Ruin

    Is this what our love requires—to be embarrassed
    but not embarrassed by how unlovely
    or needy or gauche our bodies are?

    Tom Sleigh has translated Herakles from the Greek, and previously published nine volumes of poetry. In House of Fact, House of Ruin, Sleigh devotes the first section to American experiences in the Middle East during the decade-plus of American-involved war. Whether interpreting the words of the officer who wonders the cost of participating in enhanced interrogation, or the voice of a soldier waiting to go into battle, Sleigh carries readers into the thick of it. In an adjoining section, Sleigh vilifies the lives of those countries’ inhabitants, the militia member who remembers the smoking cigarettes of lost comrades. Later poems find subjects in Long Island, in shopping malls, and in shanty towns in east Africa.

     

  • 18 Best Poetry Books to Read Right Now


     

  • The cover of the book Night School

    Night School

    Know yourself, says the oracle at Delphi,
    Confirming my doubts about oracles,
    Their assumption the self is a book
    Waiting for someone like me to read it,
    Not a coat I stitch together each day
    From dreams and wishes, habits and moods.

    While some poets write about the self from a personal perspective; in Night School, the thirteenth book by Carl Dennis, he writes about understanding the self by imagining the perspectives of others. Thus he imagines what goes through the mind of an actor performing the same play night after night, or what fresh ideas a visitor from far away might have about what he sees. Dennis has written a reminder that poetry can be a way of making the quotidian into something strange, but also sitting with the stranger to find the familiar.

     
  • The cover of the book If They Come for Us

    If They Come for Us

    Poems

    what does it mean, to partition earth?
                     to cut the ocean? all the fish 

    wear flags on their fins.
                   the flies pledge allegiance 

    to which bodies, rotting
                    in the street, are theirs to nibble.

    The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 is a line that runs through this marvelous and moving collection of Asghar’s poetry. Whether she is talking about the historical forces behind the Partition, or the impact that it had upon her parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, the Partition appears like a scar on the pages. In addition, poems about growing up in America make clear just how political her personal experiences were. And Asghar plays with form; for example,  poem is in the shape of a Bingo card, while another is a crossword puzzle.

     
  • The cover of the book Eye Level

    Eye Level

    Yet I know we can hold more in us than we do
    because the body is without core

    and when I can no longer keep dividing
    the odds are in my favor to strike it out alone.

     

    Awarded the 2017 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, this is Xie’s first collection. Xie interrogates the sense of connection between the self and the world, searching cities such as Phnom Penh, and islands like Corfu, for signs of such intersections. Included in her journeys are stories of naturalization, of physical pain (a headache that causes her to “pull apart the evening with a fork”), the black dog of depression, and the pull of isolation. A first book that shows a major talent’s entry onto the scene.

     
  • The cover of the book The Dark Interval

    The Dark Interval

    Letters on Loss, Grief, and Transformation

    Does the person who passes away not leave all the things he had begun in hundreds of ways to be continued by those who outlive him, if they had shared any kind of inner bond at all?

    I re-read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet every year or so, the advice he offered to a young writer a philosophical and emotional exploration of depression and creativity. Here, letters on “loss, grief, and transformation” have been collected, and they are translated by Ulrich Baer. In a letter to a friend whose brother had committed suicide, Rilke reminded her that all relationships must exist both before and after death. To another friend, he counseled riding out the bad feelings she was currently experiencing in hopes that she would get to the bottom of what was causing her to feel such pain, and, in recognizing it, to heal it. Many wrote to Rilke for his advice on coping with loss; his responses offer much to those experiencing it now.

     
  • The cover of the book The Cataracts

    The Cataracts

    How cavalier the dead are, to have left
    So so many items without impressing upon the living the importance of
    Each each. The face impresses itself upon the shroud, but when the dead man
    Beneath beneath it spoke he said, noli me tangere (touch me not).

    The cataracts referenced by McDaniel cloud the vision, and he questions humans’ ways of seeing. At the same time, cataracts are waterfalls; sentences take on the form of rushing water. Allusions to Camus, to the sayings of the Buddha, and other writers pepper the poems, adding further complexity to the work, a reminder that what we see on the surface is rarely the whole story.

     
  • The cover of the book Registers of Illuminated Villages

    Registers of Illuminated Villages

    It is like this. The night is lonely
    until it isn’t. You bite your tongue
    after eating orange rubbed with chili
    before wishing for a kiss
    from the man whose questions
    unearth the softness in you.

    There exists a “register of eliminated villages,” a list kept of the nearly 400 Kurdish villages that have been eliminated in northern Iraq. Faizullah‘s poems touch on illuminated texts, including the register, a horrific document. One poem resembles a staircase; it is a self-portrait as Slinky. In another self-portrait, Faizullah is Artemis, evoking the luminescent creatures that shine in the dark. This collection glows.

     
  • The cover of the book Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God

    Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God

    We have
    Everything everything we need,
    don’t know what the
    hell it is, don’t want it, won’t
    remind each other, refuse
    to listen.

    Hoagland’s poems are ripe with emotion. Some are sharpened to such a fine point that the reader won’t feel the dagger of humor with which they’ve been stabbed. He interrogates the excuses people make for one another’s behavior, and in such poems as “Good People,” those excuses sound oh so familiar. This is the poetry of resistance, resistance as unstoppable force.

     
  • The cover of the book Blue Rose

    Blue Rose

    Pale ash falls from
    the sky. On the lanai,
    a child finger paints

    a big red sun, twin to
    the one that burns
    above: mirror on fire.

    What is the poetry of desire? How does wanting translate into language? Muske-Dukes maps out a geography of desire in this collection, which not only examines her own longings, but those of famous personages and anonymous strangers. At the outer edge of many of these poems lies loss, not thwarted desire, but the loss of something once attained. I can’t imagine not wanting to read this book.

     
  • The cover of the book Still Life with two dead Peacocks and a Girl

    Still Life with two dead Peacocks and a Girl

    There are stories we refuse to tell. To tell them would be to set them
    loose upon the world. Like the girl (not innocent, no one’s innocent)
    whose body was swooped down upon by a larger, meaner, murkier
    story like an enormous granite pestle that crushed her own winsome,
    soft, unconscious, run-of-the-mill story into something like cornmeal
    mush.

    The term “still life” in art is shown to be a misnomer in Seuss’s work. She reflects on what she observes in paintings and animates the objects contained within them. In another section, her poems become self-portraits as they might have been painted. And Seuss isn’t always reverent when addressing the work of the “masters.” Her poem on the quotidian contains phrases like koans: “the quotidian’s only weapon/is stillness. Yet, everything caves to it.”

     
  • The cover of the book Neruda: The Poet's Calling

    Neruda: The Poet's Calling

    Pablo Neruda left behind a hefty body of work, not only the love sonnets that lovers use to woo one another, but also political poetry, nature poetry, and philosophical questions asked in verse. In Mark Eisner’s biography, Neruda’s belief in a poetic obligation to “use poetry for social good,” is just part of the story of his life. Eisner braids together the disparate elements in Neruda’s life to present readers with the complete man. In addition to the fifteen years of research Eisner conducted in order to gather the biographical information presented, chapters also contain analyses of some of Neruda’s best-known works.

     
  • The cover of the book The BreakBeat Poets, Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic

    The BreakBeat Poets, Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic

    my hair was in a zoo.  my hair escaped from the zoo and took out three
    officers of the law before they shot my hair up with a bunch of tranquilizers.
    tranquilizers only because my hair is too valuable to die
     my hair is a speakeasy. It’s it’s not that no one gets in—it’s just that you
    don’t know the password.

     A gem of an anthology of black and women poets challenges assumptions that hip-hop belongs to men only. Contained in this treasure trove are poems celebrating multiple phases and aspects of a black woman’s life, from girlhood to wise old woman. Poetry can be sharp like an oyster knife, or plush like the breast that nurtures a child. Poets include an incredible breadth of artists; among them are rising stars Morgan Parker, Eve L. Ewing, and Aja Monet.