Starting off our series of “Best of 2019″ lists curated by the entire Entropy community, we present some of our favorite selections as nominated by the diverse staff and team here at Entropy, as well as nominations from our readers.
This list brings together some of our favorite poetry books & collections published in 2019.
In no particular order…
1. Time by Etel Adnan, Translated by Sarah Riggs (Nightboat Books)
Adnan’s Time is a book that crosses continents, encounters wars and heartbreaks, and looks brazenly at one’s own mortality. And these poems do exactly what Adnan states, “I would like to reflect like a / buoy, thrown out from the depths / to the luminous mortal surface / of the sea.” –Jennifer Firestone, Tarpaulin Sky
2. A Sand Book by Ariana Reines (Tin House)
A Sand Book is a poetry collection in twelve parts, a travel guide that migrates from wildfires to hurricanes, tweety bird to the president, lust to aridity, desertification to prophecy, and mother to daughter. It explores the negative space of what is happening to language and to consciousness in our strange and desperate times. From Hurricane Sandy to the murder of Sandra Bland to the massacre at Sandy Hook, from the sand in the gizzards of birds to the desertified mountains of Haiti, from Attar’s “Conference of the Birds” to Chaucer’s “Parliament of Fowls” to Twitter, A Sand Book is about change and quantification, the relationship between catastrophe and cultural transmission. It moves among houses of worship and grocery stores, flitters between geological upheaval and the weird weather of the Internet. In her long-awaited follow-up to Mercury, Reines has written her most ambitious work to date, but also her most visceral and satisfying.
3. Our Weather Our Sea by Samuel Ace (Black Radish Books)
Sam Ace’s fourth collection reads, brilliantly, as a new and selected–even though these poems are fresh and just-here. This is because the book travels through so much of what we love about Ace’s work: an intergenerational and sexually fluid map fashioned by a transgressive tenderness that seems to always-be-heading-somewhere. In this way, these poems are culminations towards a queer futurity. ‘I beg you to stay unformed,’ Ace writes, with what is now his classic voice, both a determined command and compassioned plea. For Ace, whose work and presence now spans decades of activism, lives and genders, this collection honors them all as a site of inquiry, community and, ultimately, celebration in the face of uncertainty. Bravo, maestro. Thank you, brother. –Ocean Vuong
4. Soft Science by Franny Choi (Alice James Books)
Wearing a crown of sonnets like a dime store tiara, Franny Choi’s cyborg cephalopod is a creature of unending amazements, unfurling tendril after tendril – some surgical, some sensual, some weaponized, some rubberized—brandishing hypodermics, vibrators, cigarettes, smartphones, or simply snapping in time to the beat. With uncanny tonal and technical dexterity, she can play upon your emotions, tickle your sweet spot, then press all of your buttons at once. At once raw and radiant, these brilliant poems are at their most human when they assert their alienness, at their most ferocious when they dare to be vulnerable. —Monica Youn
5. Careen by Grace Shuyi Liew (Noemi Press)
Careen is a battlefield of conflicting desires, a place where words are dragged from the liminal engine of Grace’s ‘kinetically charged’ soul into the broad daylight of racial politics. A place where it’s impossible to dodge the inevitable bullets aimed at whiteness and its whitened landscape. Her work swells with infinite breast songs shaped to evoke and choke all exit doors towards a place where poetry doesn’t exist as an aftermath. Her poetry is designed to stay current, to enrapture, and also a place to “reveal [her] private galaxy of bruises.” Are her words bruises? Grace’s Careen will drape a white sheet over you. – Vi Khi Nao
6. A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib (Tin House)
In his much-anticipated follow-up to The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, poet, essayist, biographer, and music critic Hanif Abdurraqib has written a book of poems about how one rebuilds oneself after a heartbreak, the kind that renders them a different version of themselves than the one they knew. It’s a book about a mother’s death, and admitting that Michael Jordan pushed off, about forgiveness, and how none of the author’s black friends wanted to listen to “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It’s about wrestling with histories, personal and shared. Abdurraqib uses touchstones from the world outside—from Marvin Gaye to Nikola Tesla to his neighbor’s dogs—to create a mirror, inside of which every angle presents a new possibility.
7. Grief Sequence by Prageeta Sharma (Wave Books)
How does a poet memorialize her beloved without erasing his complexity? Sharma writes candidly of the elegized’s personality — ‘your death was as sudden as your rage’ — and of her unanswered anxieties: ‘Did he tell the doctor he didn’t love me anymore and that’s why I wasn’t allowed into those conversations?’ In doing so, Sharma complicates her narrative away from sentimentality and into reality-fracturing emotionality. —The New York Times
8. Advantages of Being Evergreen by Oliver Baez Bendorf (Cleveland State University Poetry Center)
Written from and with death, the poems in Advantages of Being Evergreen offer elegies; they utter prayers that ask our dead to stay; they come as breath constrained and animated by a form that narrates an excess of natures, an excess of rivers that interrupt this book as the poet ponders the impossible question of what it means to be home. Here the body is a shared condition. The body is language. It changes. It resists. It mourns. It reincarnates with the “teeth of our dead around our neck. —Daniel Borzutzky
9. Near, At by Jennifer Soong (Futurepoem Books)
Near, At follows the inherent strangeness of one’s consciousness as it observes and comes into contact with the physical world. A sustained exploration of language, capitalism, gender, and nature, Near, At traverses and measures the movement of silence against the movement of thought and its pauses. Divided into five parts, each with its own form, and followed by a series of ongoing love poems called MY CHRISTOPHER POEMS, this debut collection is slow to assume but quick to adjust. Rooted in both the traditional and the experimental, it asks just how little of ourselves we can be.
10. Syncope by Asiya Wadud (Ugly Duckling Presse)
Syncope is poet Asiya Wadud’s profound, wrenching, and clarifying new book of poetry about the 2011 tragedy in which a boat filled with African migrants and refugees bound from Libya to Lampedusa, Italy was literally “left-to-die” in the Mediterranean. An act of recovery, of countermemory, of memorial, of resistance, Syncope represents one of poetry’s powers: to write the unwriteable, to bring voices, history, and lives forth from the depths. – John Keene
11. Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky (Graywolf Press)
These poems bestow the power of sacred drama on a secular martyrology. . . . Kaminsky is wonderfully attentive to . . . repeating patterns of details, contributing to the impression that his book is a through-composed whole, rather than simply a sequence of individual poems. . . . By situating these poems in a country at war, Kaminsky forces the reader to consider both the ways in which we define our social belonging and the loyalties according to which we operate. . . . A visit to this republic will not leave the reader unchanged. —The New York Times Book Review
12. Magical Negro by Morgan Parker (Tin House)
Morgan Parker continues to fearlessly explore what it means to be a black woman in the United States today. . . . Bold and edgy, the writing spotlights the strength and tenacity that enable the speaker to survive grief and inequity. It also gives voice to her disappointments and delights as she claims—and proclaims—agency over her body and her life. – The Washington Post
13. Invasive Species by Marwa Helal (Nightboat Books)
Marwa Helal voyages across borders of genre, form, and faith to deliver us beyond simple citizenship and into a higher understanding of our leaving note dreams. These poems are travelin’ papers—inventive, hard fought, sweat swollen passports into an America that bristles with hope through the same mouth that curses it’s home-grown. This is the arrival of a poet whose work huddles you in like a small and human shelter, squares you by the shoulder, looks you in the eye until you find yourself saying it with her—i’ve grown tired of keeping a safe distance. – Tyehimba Jess
14. Meet Me There: Normal Sex & Home in three days. Don’t wash. by Samuel Ace & Linda Smukler (Belladonna*)
Samuel Ace’s / Linda Smukler’s Meet Me There is the third volume in Belladonna*’s Germinal Texts series—works that trace feminist avant-garde histories and the poetic lineages they produce. Meet Me There is a paired republication of Normal Sex (Firebrand Books, 1994) and Home in three days. Don’t wash. (Hard Press, 1996). In the present edition, the texts are accompanied by a new introduction and poem by Samuel Ace, and by a collection of short essays and reflections on Ace and Smukler’s poetics by Cameron Awkward-Rich, Ari Banias, Kay Gabriel, Andrea Lawlor, Eileen Myles, Joan Nestle, Pamela Sneed, TC Tolbert, and Yanyi. Meet Me There brings together Ace / Smukler’s remarkable explorations of the interplay of language, desire, sex, and identity, and repositions this work, 25 years later, in the midst of burgeoning contemporary conversations about gender, sexuality, sociality, language, politics, and poetics.
15. Dunce by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books)
In Dunce Mary Ruefle returns to the poetic practice that has always been at her core. With her startlingly fresh sensibility, she enraptures us in poem after poem by the intensity of her attention, with the imaginative flourishes of her being-in-the-world, always deep with mysteries, unexpected appearances, and abiding yearning.
16. The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press)
The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown’s poetic concerns are both broad and intimate, and at their very core a distillation of the incredibly human: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie? Brown makes mythical pastorals to question the terrors to which we’ve become accustomed, and to celebrate how we survive. Poems of fatherhood, legacy, blackness, queerness, worship, and trauma are propelled into stunning clarity by Brown’s mastery, and his invention of the duplex―a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues―is testament to his formal skill. The Tradition is a cutting and necessary collection, relentless in its quest for survival while revelling in a celebration of contradiction.
17. Moira of Edges, Moira the Tart by Moina Pam Dick (Organism for Poetic Research)
Mary of Egypt, patron saint of penitents, was a 5th-century harlot who lived the last 47 years of her life in a desert hermitage. MOIRA OF EDGES, MOIRA THE TART transposes Mary’s vita to a contemporary setting, with Mary appearing as the young artist and lay philosopher Moira (and sometimes Moina) Jones. Part-hagiography, part-künstlerroman in poetic form, MOIRA OF EDGES carries us into “edge time”: a limned threshold; a quivering seam; an angular meditation on god, sex, the metaphysics of time and perception.
18. All That Beauty by Fred Moten (Letter Machine Editions)
A pathbreaking new volume of poems from Fred Moten, ALL THAT BEAUTY combine’s Moten’s penchant for lyrical prosody, radical thought, and African American theory to produce writing unlike any other poetry in the world: “What is it to reside without settling? Is that is or is that ain’t like being stuck in sweetness, held in life?”
19. Casting Deep Shade: An Amble by C.D. Wright (Copper Canyon Press)
Casting Deep Shade is a passionate, poetic exploration of humanity’s shared history with the beech tree. Before Wright’s unexpected death in 2016, she was deeply engaged in years of ambling research to better know this tree; she visited hundreds of beech trees, interviewed arborists, and delved into the etymology, folklore, and American history of the species. Written in Wright’s singular prosimetric style, this “memoir with beech trees” demonstrates the power of words to conserve, preserve, and bear witness.
20. Be Recorder by Carmen Giménez Smith (Graywolf Press)
With an urgency propelled by largely unpunctuated language and nimble lines, Giménez Smith careens between devastating accounts of racial and xenophobic violence. . . . While taking on gentrification and border walls, white feminism and late capitalism, Giménez Smith manages to frame a queer, Latinx, immigrants’ daughter, motherhood poetics that’s entirely her own. —The New York Times Book Review
21. Furthest Ecology by Adam Fagin (Center for Literary Publishing)
Furthest Ecology takes up the life and labor of Abbott Thayer, the prickly, irrepressible American painter and naturalist nicknamed “the father of camouflage.” In 1896, Thayer discovered countershading, also known as “Thayer’s Law,” the theory of animal coloration often credited for laying the groundwork for military camouflage in World War I. Fagin’s poetry follows Thayer through “pure leafy space” ringing with “hypertelic / rhythms of a redpoll,” examining in lush, panoramic detail “the clairvoyance of the artist’s attention.” But this idyllic portrait unravels as Thayer’s story proceeds. Grieving the death of his first wife and, later, cutting a frenzied path through wartime Europe, Thayer encounters darker forces, within and without. With spare beauty and sharp-edged syntax, Fagin conjures the painter’s world: Loss, despair, obsession, ecstasy, and the aesthetic sublime. Furthest Ecology is a vivid and powerful debut that will haunt readers with its singular vision of artistic pursuit.
22. The Tiniest Muzzle Sings Songs of Freedom by Magdalena Zurawski (Wave Books)
Taking readers from suburban carports to wintry Russian novels, from summer tomato gardens to the sublime interiors of presleep thoughts, Magdalena Zurawski’s poems anchor the complexities of our interconnected world in the singularity of the human experience. Balancing artistic experimentation with earnest expression, achingly real detail with dazzling prismatic abstraction, humor with frustration, light with dark, she offers a book of great human depth that is to be carried around, opened to anywhere, and encountered.
23. The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi (Yale University Press)
How can a search for self-knowledge reveal art as a site of community? Yanyi’s arresting and straightforward poems weave experiences of immigration as a Chinese American, of racism, of mental wellness, and of gender from a queer and trans perspective. Between the contrast of high lyric and direct prose poems, Yanyi invites the reader to consider how to speak with multiple identities through trauma, transition, and ordinary life. These poems constitute an artifact of a groundbreaking and original author whose work reflects a long journey self-guided through tarot, therapy, and the arts. Foregrounding the power of friendship, Yanyi’s poems converse with friends as much as with artists both living and dead, from Agnes Martin to Maggie Nelson to Robin Coste Lewis. This instructive collection gives voice to the multifaceted humanity within all of us and inspires attention, clarity, and hope through art-making and community.
24. Oculus by Sally Wen Mao (Graywolf Press)
In Oculus, Sally Wen Mao explores exile not just as a matter of distance and displacement, but as a migration through time and a reckoning with technology. The title poem follows a girl in Shanghai who uploaded her suicide onto Instagram. Other poems cross into animated worlds, examine robot culture, and haunt a necropolis for electronic waste. A fascinating sequence speaks in the voice of international icon and first Chinese American movie star Anna May Wong, who travels through the history of cinema with a time machine, even past her death and into the future of film, where she finds she has no progeny. With a speculative imagination and a sharpened wit, Mao powerfully confronts the paradoxes of seeing and being seen, the intimacies made possible and ruined by the screen, and the many roles and representations that women of color are made to endure in order to survive a culture that seeks to consume them.
25. Feed by Tommy Pico (Tin House)
Funny, irreverent, profound. This book is an ode to love and language and food and what right now sounds like. It’s also a meditation on what it means to belong on/to this planet/universe. Delivered in headlines, texts, conversations, song lyrics, puns, rhymes, and speculation about the possibility of life on other planets, Tommy Pico’s Feed sprawls across time and this country. It is endlessly inventive and stays fun while bringing the heat and weight of a world we’re all helplessly watching burn down. As his character/AKA Teebs says of Oakland rapper Too $hort, the same is true of Tommy Pico in this book and in general: Vigor is the art he argues for. —Tommy Orange
26. Extratransmission by Andrea Abi-Karam (Kelsey Street Press)
This is demanding prose that scrapes at the bones of psychic worlds. There’s nothing accidental about a signature injury, Andrea Abi-Karam avers, and their searing interrogation of the wounds of militarization, masculinity, and trauma is unflinching yet implosive. From #metoo to war machines, every once-removed scale of violence comes crashing into each other, leaving the reader raw with implication. We are haunted with ledgers that can never be balanced. —Jasbir Puar
27. Hall of Waters by Berry Grass (The Operating System)
To enter Berry Grass’ Hall of Waters is to agree to a deep-sea excavation through baths that are simultaneously familiar yet foreign. Grass is your guide–pen light in hand, illuminating darknesses that cause the light to refract back upon the reader and author. In Missouri, there are no natural lakes–instead, they are created by dam construction; the water cutting a swath through the trees. The springs, however, are believed to be true blue, as Grass says, ‘And it’s all so healthy, isn’t it? So restorative? To soak in our nature’s superior water and pretend that superiority is therefore our nature. To pretend that the concept of natural is natural.’ Hall of Waters is an examination of how America loves to be undisturbed after claiming what it believes to be theirs, and how Grass finds a way to reclaim identity while still carrying traces of the fountains of the past. –Brian Oliu
28. Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Copper Canyon Press)
In her fourth collection, Aimee Nezhukumatathil hums a bright blue note—a sensuous love song to the Earth and its inhabitants. Oceanic is both a title and an ethos of radical inclusion, inviting in the grief of an elephant, the icy eyes of a scallop, “the ribs / of a silver silo,” and the bright flash of painted fingernails. With unmatched sincerity, Oceanic speaks to each reader as a cooperative part of the natural world—the extraordinary neighborhood to which we all belong. This is a poet ecstatically, emphatically, naming what it means to love a world in peril.
29. Blood Box by Zefyr Lisowski (Black Lawrence Press)
Blood Box, the deliciously haunting debut short collection from poet Zefyr Lisowski, takes us inside the infamous 1892 axe murders of Abby and Andrew Borden through twenty-six wide-ranging, stylistically experimental persona poems. Lisowski re-introduces us to mythologized spinster Lizzie Borden as we’ve never seen her before: a girl wielding an axe, yes, but also a girl trapped—in the boxes of age, of hunger, of loneliness, of blame. Lizzie, who was acquitted of the double murder of her father and stepmother, yet continues to haunt our cultural psyche over a hundred years later. Even now, “Violence dances with us like ghosts.” In these pages, the notorious crime and its cast of characters serve as a jumping-off point for a textured exploration of inherited violence, queer intimacy, and the way family can be “another geometry, another violence too.” Blood Box is Lizzie’s story, but it’s also the story of grief, of selfhood, of trans and queer becoming. Lisowski’s Lizzie Borden is as sweet, sad, spooky, and haunted as a girl with an axe ever can be.
30. Mitochondrial Night by Ed Bok Lee (Coffee House Press)
Taking mitochondrial DNA as his guide, Lee explores familial and national legacies, and their persistence across shifting boundaries and the erosions of time. In these poems, the trait of an ancestor appears in the face of a newborn, and in her cry generations of women’s voices echo. Stories, both benign and traumatic, travel as lore and DNA. Using lush, exact imagery, whether about the corner bar or a hilltop in Korea, Lee is a careful observer, tracking and documenting the way that seemingly small moments can lead to larger insights.
31. Doomstead Days by Brian Teare (Nightboat Books)
Doomstead Days is a lyrical series of experiments in embodied ecological consciousness. Drafted on foot, these site-specific poems document rivers, cities, forests, oil spills, mountains, and apocalyptic visions. They encounter refineries and urban watersheds, megafauna and industrial toxins, each encounter intertwining ordinary life and ongoing environmental crisis. Days pass: wartime days, days of love and sex, sixth extinction days, days of chronic illness, all of them doomstead days. Through these poems, we experience the pleasure and pain of being a body during global climate change.
32. Austerity by Marion Bell (Radiator Press)
Marion Bell’s first book, AUSTERITY, is poetry written through and against neoliberal demands, “committed to what can only be approached by trust which is impossible to imagine after the things we’ve lived thru.” In conversation with friends, activists and philosophers, these poems explore love, intimacy, queer liberation, and time. What takes shape is a music “that happens also / while looking for work / so you can keep living / to undo / what work does.”
33. Brute by Emily Skaja (Graywolf Press)
What happens when rage and grief transform us, when our bodily fury makes us feel animal? What language do we use to howl such feral moments? These are the questions that animate Skaja’s taut, ferocious debut, Brute. . . . This is a book about survival, and a welcome, confident debut. —The New York Times Book Review
34. Losing Miami by Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué (The Accomplices)
In Losing Miami, Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué longs for a city he is losing, has lost, which has been built of, in, and through loss. Its language is both and neither, a language singular to Miami and Ojeda-Sague’s playful refusal to authenticate. Here we have a yearning that veers between nostalgia and el brillito of a queer utopianism. It is too much and definitely too little. It is shameless and maybe a little deliciously ashamed. It doesn’t care if there is no return, if there is no closure, if all the roads lead to other roads. This book has no better home than far from home, where se goza como nunca while running on empty into the sea. –Raquel Salas Rivera
35. What I Knew by Eleni Sikelianos (Nightboat Books)
What I Knew engages activities and knowledge that can’t be mined or verifyed by search engines or easily surveilled. Sourced from poetry’s ancient materials of dream, memory, story, and experience, What I Knew aims to create a site of resistance to, and refuge from, our current overflow of information and fact checking, where private desires and whims cannot be commodified. It seeks alternative, personal forms of globalization rather than the public forms we know.
36. Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers by Jake Skeets (Milkweed Editions)
Drunktown, New Mexico, is a place where men “only touch when they fuck in a backseat.” Its landscape is scarred by violence: done to it, done on it, done for it. Under the cover of deepest night, sleeping men are run over by trucks. Navajo bodies are deserted in fields. Resources are extracted. Lines are crossed. Men communicate through beatings, and football, and sex. In this place, “the closest men become is when they are covered in blood / or nothing at all.” But if Jake Skeets’s collection is an unflinching portrait of the actual west, it is also a fierce reclamation of a living place—full of beauty as well as brutality, whose shadows are equally capable of protecting encounters between boys learning to become, and to love, men. Its landscapes are ravaged, but they are also startlingly lush with cacti, yarrow, larkspur, sagebrush. And even their scars are made newly tender when mapped onto the lover’s body: A spine becomes a railroad. “Veins burst oil, elk black.” And “becoming a man / means knowing how to become charcoal.” Rooted in Navajo history and thought, these poems show what has been brewing in an often forgotten part of the American literary landscape, an important language, beautiful and bone dense.
37. Space Struck by Paige Lewis (Sarabande Books)
Consider this glowing debut from Paige Lewis a menagerie of near-extinction. Space Struck explores the wonders and cruelties occurring within the realms of nature, science, and religion, with the acuity of a sage, the deftness of a hunter, and a hilarious sensibility for the absurd. The universe is seen as an endless arrow “. . . and it asks only one question: How dare you?” The poems are physically and psychologically tied to the animal world, replete with ivory-billed woodpeckers, pelicans, and constellations-as-organisms. They are also devastatingly human, anchored in emotion and self-awareness, like art framed in a glass that also holds one’s reflection. Silky and gruesome, the poems of Space Struck pulse like starlight.
38. Street Gloss by Brent Armendinger (The Operating System)
In this experimental translingual work, Brent Armendinger follows the work of five contemporary Argentinian poets into the streets of Buenos Aires, attempting to map the ways a word might be an echo of the city itself. Interested in the surface areas of language and the generative potential of failure in translation, the author follows a set of procedures oriented simultaneously in the lines as well as in the streets of the city, gathering impressions, associations, and language through unpredictable encounters with the place and its inhabitants. Notes from these encounters appear interlaced, here, between the original poems in Spanish and their translations. Featuring poems by Alejandro Méndez, Mercedes Roffé, Fabián Casas, Diana Bellessi, and Néstor Perlongher, and artwork by Alpe Romero.
39. What’s in a Name by Ana Luísa Amaral, Translated by Margaret Jull Costa (New Directions)
40. Hoodwitch by Faylita Hicks (Acre Books)
Charged with surreal images and personal history, HoodWitch is an exciting debut that haunts at every possible turn. This richly imaginative world in which all is possible and time and space are merely distant constraints explores the hunger for intimacy and the constant remains of absence. This collection reminds that the truest representation of emotional truth is best derived through the fantastic. Each poem is a special magic that inhabits the deepest parts of the psyche, digs in, and resists forgetting. —Airea D. Matthews
41. Heart Like A Window, Mouth Like A Cliff by Sara Borjas (Noemi Press)
Heart Like a Window, Mouth like a Cliff is a transgressive, yet surprisingly tender confrontation of what it means to want to flee the thing you need most. The speaker struggles through cultural assimilation and the pressure to “act” Mexican while dreaming of the privileges of whiteness. Borjas holds cultural traditions accountable for the gendered denial of Chicanas to individuate and love deeply without allowing one’s love to consume the self. This is nothing new. This is colonization working through relationships within Chicanx families—how we learn love and perform it, how we filter it though alcohol abuse—how ultimately, we oppress the people we love most. This collection simultaneously reveres and destroys nostalgia, slips out of the story after a party where the reader can find God “drunk and dreaming.” Think golden oldiez meets the punk attitude of No Doubt. Think pochas sipping gin martinis in lowriders cruising down Who Gives a Fuck Boulevard.
42. Let It Ride by Timothy Liu (Saturnalia Books)
At the height of his powers, Timothy Liu’s first book since his New & Selected Poems explores how the necessities of life and art dovetail to open up a vital path forward at midlife. His twelfth book of poems, Let It Ride integrates life’s struggles at midlife by way of disintegration. What’s left behind are lyrical traces, poetry a gambol, love a gamble, you’re either all in or all out. You let it ride, that is, if you’ve got the guts. And ride he does. These poems argue for a life that is more than amusement—rather, a mythic venture waiting to be embodied, embarked upon. And invariably, it almost never turns out well, not in the long run. But Let It Ride show us that, sometimes, if you happen to get lucky, if you have the good fortune to jot a few things down—you just might stand a chance to walk away from the crowded table with shreds of your soul intact.
43. Hysteria by Kim Yideum, Translated by Jake Levine, Soeun Seo, Hedgie Choi (Action Books)
Kim Yideum’s second collection to appear in English continues to evoke the grotesqueries of her first work, while simultaneously delving further into the materiality of everyday life. Through an overflowing that echoes fellow feminist poet Kim Hyesoon, and a blunt, down to earth language that is unique to the poems, Hysteria rides through the surface of wage labor, patriarchy, and subsistence, proceeding through a varieties of personas, human and otherwise, along an intensity that demands to be seen as it is, to be taken at face value.
44. Several Rotations by Jesse Seldess (Kenning Editions)
How do we locate and orient ourselves amidst a continuous present of inconspicuously networked devices and “services”? With tracked interests reinforced to impulses through millisecond auctions for ad impressions and “sponsored” content, what are our desires and dreams? With products valued as a function of the strength of the habits they create, where are our values and actions? Written over several years but at the scale of minutes, Several Rotations is “full of the missing words” for the affects of intersecting and overloading dimensions in a technology-paced, data-saturated context. These poems attempt to slow down, interrupt, reweave, and transform that density into an open and livable “interface.”
45. Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández (The Feminist Press at CUNY)
Knitting the Fog brings us the immigrant experience in a refreshingly new light. This memoir of hybrid forms—moving evocatively between poetry and prose—is not only timely but resonant in sense of place and purpose. How exciting that Hernández’s voice joins the canon of contemporary Latina stories. —Bridgett M. Davis
46. Personal Volcano by Laura Moriarty (Nightboat Books)
Moriarty’s Volcano shares in these developments by radicalizing the medium of poetry as a construct for research, critique, and prophecy. Within these pages, the writer-volcanologist re-imagines the poetic act to highlight the intersections, not only between literary genres — travelogue, prose poem, dramatic monologue, investigative lyric, autobiography — but also between various discourses, voices, and rhetorical strategies. The upshot of such a heteroglossic, relational structure is that Volcano complicates each individual strand and doubles it with a persistent questioning of one’s own positionality. –Chris Tysh
47. Have You Been Feeling Blue These Days by Kim Eon Hee, Translated by Sung Gi Kim & Eunsong Kim (Noemi Press)
Sung Gi Kim’s and Eunsong Kim’s deft, nuanced, and unmannered translations of Kim Eon Hee’s poems introduce a genuinely exciting poet to the English-speaking world, one whose work reveals for us the limitations of our conceptions of what poetry is and the colonial legacies that structure our basic concepts of poetry, such as the gendered and raced expectations of the poetic speaker and of what counts as “experimental” writing. Kim’s poetry, as the translators write, is “unafraid of graphic disappointment or the pits”: she brilliantly violates our idea of what is acceptable for an Asian female poet to say out loud. The backdrop to Kim’s playful “absurdist” poetry is the neoliberal and neocolonial context of contemporary South Korea and its relationship to the United States, the two countries in the Kims’ words, “economic and political collaborators.” They rightly describe Kim Eon Hee’s poetry as “an unexpectedly politicized space,” as, equally so, are their translations—and, indeed, all poetry and all translations. – Dorothy Wang
48. (the other house) by Rocio Carlos (The Accomplices)
(the other house) is a spell to re-member and re-write maps and home(s). This book is an incantation–a wish fulfilled from “wanting […] when you are raised in drought.” Carlos is a woman who is trucha before she can walk, who “in obedience” her “brow becomes a valley” through which agaves dot hillsides and we find ourselves in neighborhoods where our homes may be aflame. The speaker observes incisvie angustias for many working-class, women, and people of color: that sometimes “we are so quiet and so clean/ we are so silent we are not even/ here” but in that quiet is a girl, threading together lands that burn, where a “mother sews me with bright veins/ my father hides a compass under my tongue [..] the map of our steps.” To find ourselves, Rocío Carlos shines a light: “look in a mirror to find your way home. –Vickie Vértiz
49. while they sleep (under the bed is another country) by Raquel Salas Rivera (Birds, LLC)
while they sleep (under the bed is another country) refuses to sweep up the shards of Hurricane María’s aftermath. Written in dialogic fragments and intersped with prose poems reflecting on the lasting impact of colonial trauma, it is arranged around the two different discourses. The bed on which America sleeps, and which America has made, is built on the fear that the nations it has oppressed will rise up against it, a monstrous shadow in a child’s nightmare. Written in English, while they sleep points to a imperialist American identity: the dormant body of the text. Answering in Spanish, under the bed is another country is the footnote, the monster under the bed, the colony: Puerto Rico.
50. The Unexploded Ordnance Bin by Rebecca Foust (Swan Scythe Press)
‘The ticking IS the bomb,’ Nick Flynn says, and the idea of events from our genetic, cultural, historic, and experienced past—coiled and waiting to explode in our lives—lies at the core of Rebecca Foust’s new collection, winner of the 2018 Swan Scythe Press Chapbook Award. THE UNEXPLODED ORDNANCE BIN presents new poems that ignite a long, sparking fuse about contemporary culture, society, and political events now dividing family, community, and country.”—Left Coast Writers