Something curious has been happening in the world of books as of late: more and more people are reading poetry. There are a host of explanations as to why this might be happening, but among them is a kind of clarity. At a point in time when complex sociopolitical issues are omnipresent, the right poem might help the right reader come to a greater understanding of an issue, or discover an increased amount of empathy within themselves.
This isn’t the only time in history that this has happened – and these are far from the only books of poetry dealing with these issues right now – but the present moment has abounded with stunningly good poetry that address subjects from feminism to institutional racism, to gender and the devastation of the environment. Here’s a look at 11 collections of poetry that make impressive use of the form and offer readers an increased perspective on the contemporary world.
The stark poems in Fatimah Asghar’s collection If They Come For Us examine conflicts around the globe, from the repressive violence of the Taliban to the echoes of the Partition of India across the decades and the restrictive immigration policies enacted by the Trump administration. Asghar’s precise use of language and talent with imagery creates an unnerving contrast between the beauty of the form and the horrors these poems depict.
Formally inventive and frequently searing, the poems in Anne Waldman’s Trickster Feminism provide a striking and sometimes thrilling mirror to contemporary American politics. Waldman blends references to names recognizable from the news with classical allusions, creating a deeply relevant dialogue between the state of the world and the means by which writers have interpreted it for centuries.
This recently-reissued collection of poetry by Maggie Nelson, whose writings frequently bridge the sociopolitical with the deeply personal, offers a powerful distillation of her strengths as a poet. Here, she focuses on topics as disparate as the changing nature of city life and the difficulties that can accompany emotional intimacy, hearkening to some of her past and future work as well.
Through a series of wide-ranging poems, Jenny Xie uses her new book Eye Level to examine questions of identity, nationality and the process by which one considers the larger world. Xie’s poems memorably explore a series of interactions with the wider world, and offer a rich perspective on traversing the globe.
In his collection American Sonnets For My Past and Future Assassin, Terrance Hayes grapples with a host of issues deeply relevant to America in 2018, with a haunting sense of violence saturating the book. Hayes blends this with a deft use of wordplay, a comprehensive understanding of the form, and a handful of references to “Doctor Who.”
In Indictus, Natalie Eilbert writes powerfully (and harrowingly) about the aftereffects of violence, the damage wrought by institutional misogyny, and the psychological impact this can have. She does so with inventive use of language, with words that are memorable for their precision as well as their ability to convey frustration and anger.
In his collection Map to the Stars, Adrian Matejka impressively juxtaposes space-age imagery – from the gold record carried by the Voyager space probe to Sun Ra’s Afrofuturist jazz – with quotidian scenes that bring the narrative down to earth. The resulting contrast infuses the work with a memorable complexity.
Jos Charles’s collection Feeld makes a bold linguistic move: it’s written in an archaic version of English that hearkens back to the time of Chaucer. Her use of it, however, is with a narrative that explores questions of gender and identity – the utilization of language in these poems is frequently thrilling.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil encompasses the personal and the environmental in Oceanic, creating a selection of poems that address questions ranging from the nature of identity to the interconnectedness of ecosystems. By presenting this holistic view of the world, Nezhukumatathil turns the grandest of issues into something recognizably human-scale, to powerful effect.
Jennifer Maritza McCauley
In Scar On/Scar Off, Jennifer Maritza McCauley uses both poetry and prose to explore the effects of institutional sexism and racism, and to chart out her own perspective on a host of complex matters. The range of styles on display here provide a comprehensive look at the issues addressed, with a memorable use of language throughout.
Blending scientific theories with a powerful sense of bodies in space, Samiya Bashir’s collection Field Theories grapples with questions of identity, even as it abounds with a heady fondness for theory and a willingness to explore seemingly disparate schools of thought. The result is an impressively singular exploration of myriad issues related to modern society.