Monthly Archives: April 2018

10 NEW POETRY COLLECTIONS TO READ DURING NATIONAL POETRY MONTH

The arrival of April brings two things: the reemergence of greenery and a fresh crop of poetry books for National Poetry Month. To ensure that your TBR shelf doesn’t become overwhelming to both your free time and your wallet, we’ve selected nine collections publishing in April (and one in May), including work from both new finds and old favorites, poems to be savored and poems to be devoured.

1. Monica A. Hand, DiVida
(Alice James Books, April 17)

Published posthumously, DiVida is the final collection from Monica A. Hand, who passed away in December 2016. In order to explore what it means to be black in America, Hand adopts two personas: DiVida, who believes assimilation is the only path to survival, and Sapphire, who refuses to sacrifice her self-actualization, no matter the cost. Hand’s writing imbues powerful verses with a surprising amount of tenderness. Her poems crack open the everyday experience to reveal both its inner beauty and hidden darkness.

2. Dorothea Lasky, Milk
(Wave Books, April 3)

In Milk, Dorothea Lasky channels her electric writing into an examination of creativity and motherhood. In parts a critique and in others a celebration, Milk deftly navigates the complex relation between creator and creation, from poetry and new language to motherhood and new life. Lasky has a keen eye for the balance between the personal and universal. Milk has the intimacy of a memoir and the poignancy of a sacred text. This is her fifth full-length collection, in addition to nearly a dozen chapbooks that she has authored, and her experience shows. Milk is what happens when a writer is comfortable enough with their work to carve into the most terrifying and enigmatic parts of the human experience.

3. Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Oceanic
(Copper Canyon Press, April 10)

It’s a well-known adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but feel free to make an exception for Oceanic: its beautiful design and vivid hues are matched by the lush, imaginative verse inside. Nezhukumatathil’s writing is perfect for readers with a voracious appetite and a burgeoning curiosity. Always inquisitive, Nezhukumatathil studies forms of love ranging across borders and life forms, turning his gaze from a father penguin to a C-section scar to the thundering of Niagara Falls. Oceanic sings the praises of the earth and its peoples, and of the ways in which we come together as one.

4. Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Cenzontle
(BOA Editions, April 10)

With its lyrical imagery that will be dancing around your head for days afterwards, it’s hard to believe Cenzontle is Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s debut. Castillo weaves a nuanced narrative of his life as a queer undocumented immigrant in a heteronormative marriage, navigating the intersections of his identity in a universal search for belonging. Cenzontle follows Castillo’s journey before, during, and after crossing the US/Mexico border and revels in all of the ways two people can come together in love, mourning, and hope. Castillo knows that art can change the world; he cofounded the Undocupoets campaign, which successfully eliminated citizenship requirements from all major first poetry book prizes in the country.

5. Hieu Minh Nguyen, Not Here
(Coffee House Press, April 10)

If you’re a fan of slam poetry, you’ve probably seen some of Hieu Minh Nguyen’s powerfully lyrical verse on Button Poetry. Perhaps you’ve seen his work in New York Times Magazine or on PBS’s News Hour. Nguyen is a writer whose talent, charisma, and intelligent work have him primed to become one of the most celebrated poets of our generation. In Not Here, Nguyen untangles whiteness, trauma, family, and nostalgia through the beating heart of his experiences as a queer Vietnamese American. His work is painfully beautiful, at once fraught and hopeful, and always pulling at the axes of desire.

6. Kai Carlson-Wee, Rail
(BOA Editions, April 24)

Kai Carlson-Wee’s first collection Rail brings the reader to a landscape of rail yards and skate parks, where transition is a verb and a noun at once and brotherhood can be both the source of survival and destruction. Carlson-Wee’s writing is tactile and immersive. His evocative description drags your fingertips through the dirt and makes you squint into the sunset. Rail is described as “a verse novella in documentary form,” but rather than using poetry to show you his own path, Carlson-Wee takes you along on the journey.

7. Denise Sweet, Palominos Near Tuba City
(Holy Cow! Press, April 24)

Anishinaabe poet Denise Sweet has a long resume that spans a career as an academic (as a professor of Humanistic Studies, Creative Writing, and First Nations Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay), a performer, and a writer, and she served as Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate from 2004–2008. Palominos Near Tuba City combines a selection of Sweet’s most beloved poems with new works. Her poems dig their roots into the past, using history and memory to push new shoots up for the future. Sweet’s writing is visceral, tangible, audible; it immerses the reader’s every sense in startling imagery. The poems in Palominos Near Tuba City are penned with a light touch that alternates easily between serious wisdom and gentle humor.

8. Jason Stefanik, Night Became Years
(Coach House Books, April 24)

Jason Stefanik’s Night Became Years is a stroll through identity and culture gives the reader plenty to muse on with every sentence. Drawing from Elizabethan canting language—a vernacular developed by thieves and beggars in the 15th century—Stefanik explores what it means to have a mixed heritage of indigenous and settler blood in the politically charged North End of Winnipeg, Canada. Though the topics of each poem in Night Became Years are wide-ranging, covering everything from alchemy to Protestant witch judges and football taunts, they come together seamlessly into a wider discussion of ownership, inheritance, and the possibilities of poetry today.

9. Melissa Stein, Terrible Blooms
(Copper Canyon Press, April 17)

In Melissa Stein’s second collection, she turns conventional notions of femininity on their head, mingling images of violence and beauty until they can no longer be extricated from each other. Terrible Blooms is at once a battle cry and a gentle reclamation. One of Stein’s many strengths lies in her empathy, and the ways in which she uses persona and lyric richness to build worlds that are at once foreign and all-too-familiar. The New York Timessaid it best in a review of her first book: “Ms. Stein reminds us that there is no honey—rough, or otherwise—without the sting.”

10. Maw Shein Win, Invisible Gifts
(Manic D Press, May 15)

This one technically doesn’t come out until May, but we couldn’t resist slipping it in. Maw Shein Win’s poetry is full of redefinitions and redistributions, of recollections that take on new perspectives and fracture into possibilities for the reader to follow. In Invisible Gifts, Win reflects on family, art, and loss to chip away at what it means to be both powerful and vulnerable at the same time. Her writing is full of paradoxes as as colorful as the book’s cover. This is Win’s first full-length collection, following two chapbooks and impressively diverse accolades such as having her poetry featured in artist Megan Wilson’s mural, Flower Interruption, a featured piece at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum.

 

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7 Activists of Color You Should Read This International Women’s Day

“Women make 77 cents to every dollar a man makes” is a statistic often quoted in feminist arguments. What many white feminists are now realizing, though, is that that statistic only applies to them—and, beyond that, only able-bodied, cisgender white women. Race, class, disability, and sexuality all interact with gender dynamics, a system that legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw named “intersectionality.” Feminists of color have been putting in the work for decades and deserve equal space at the table. Celebrate International Women’s Day with the work of these activists and authors who have made invaluable contributions in the fight against racism, for gender equality, for disability rights, and more.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

There’s no better person to kick this list off than activist and scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. Currently an associate professor at Princeton, Taylor writes on black politics, social movements, and racial inequality in the United States. She was one of the first to call for the Day Without a Woman strike of March 2017 and emphasized the need for a feminist movement by and for the 99 percent. Taylor received the 2016 Lannan Cultural Freedom Award for an Especially Notable Book for From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. Her latest book, How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, chronicles the history and achievements of a path-breaking group of radical black feminists which became one of the most important organizations to develop out of the antiracist and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s. Though her activist work has (like many radicals before her) occasionally put her in the crosshairs, Taylor refuses to be silenced, and is a frequent guest on progressive shows like Democracy Now! and a regular contributor to Jacobin and The Guardian.

Ana Castillo

Ana Castillo is one of the most powerful voices in contemporary Chicana literature. Her work focuses on Chicana feminism, which she refers to as “Xicanisma” to incorporate the Nahuatl language and honor her indigenous roots. She is the author of So Far From God and Sapogonia, both New York Times Notable Books of the Year, as well as The Guardians, Peel My Love like an Onion, and many other books of fiction, poetry, and essays. Her newest novel, Give It to Me won a 2014 LAMBDA Literary Award; her seminal collection, Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma was re-released as a 20th anniversary edition in November 2014; and the award-winning Watercolor Women, Opaque Men was recently re-released by Northwestern University Press.

The Crunk Feminist Collective

Frustrated that academia didn’t cover the ways in which pop culture and current events intersect with race and gender politics, professors Brittney Cooper and Susana M. Morris came together in 2010 to found the Crunk Feminist Collective. Since 2010, the Crunk Feminist Collective’s blog has published over 540 essays and amassed a following of nearly one million annual readers. Posts cover everything from the politics of Blue Ivy’s hair to dealing with “white rage”. The collective’s mission statement paints a picture of utopia for feminists of color, a space “of support and camaraderie for hip hop generation feminists of color, queer and straight.” Self-described as “critical homegirls,” the authors tackle life stuck between loving hip hop and ratchet culture while hating patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism. The best of the collective’s writing has been compiled into The Crunk Feminist Collection under editorial curation of Morris, Cooper, and professor Robin M. Boylorn.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

As a writer of poetry and nonfiction, an educator, and an activist, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha knows what it means to turn social justice theory into everyday praxis. Piepzna-Samarasinha’s work focuses on documenting and lifting up the voices of queer and trans people of color, disabled people, and abuse survivors, demonstrating how colonialism perpetuates systems of abuse and violence. In 2015, Piepzna-Samarasinha published a memoir entitled Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home, which chronicled her experiences as a queer disabled non-binary femme and which Lambda Literary Review called “a manifesto for those of us who have also been walking, scantily clad, down dark alleys for most of our lives.” Piepzna-Samarasinha also co-edited The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities, an urgent and roaring challenge to the silence that usually surrounds sexual assault in social justice circles.

June Jordan

“Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth,” Caribbean-American poet, essayist, teacher, and activist June Jordan once said. Jordan’s work not only proves that the poetic is political, but also that the political can be poetic. In her 40-year-long career, Jordan pushed the limits of political vision and moral witness (and won a number of awards and honors for it, including a posthumous 2005 Lambda Literary Award). While Jordan didn’t invent the term “privilege,” she cemented it as a crucial feature of critiques of race, class, and gender. Admirers of her writing and activism include such literary greats as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. The best of her poetry, prose, letters, and more are compiled in We’re On: A June Jordan Reader, which was published in 2017 to honor the 15th anniversary of her death.

Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke may be best-known for running for Vice President on the Green Party ticket twice (in 1996 and 2000), but her literary contributions deserve equal attention. In 1985, she helped found the Indigenous Women’s Network, and she worked with Women of All Red Nations to bring attention to the forced sterilization of Native women. By 1994, TIME magazine had deemed LaDuke one of America’s fifty most promising leaders under forty. Much of LaDuke’s work has been focused on redistributing stolen land to the Anishinaabe, as well as reclaiming the traditions and culture that have been forcibly stolen from Native peoples. In All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, which was originally published in 1999 and revised for a 2016 edition, LaDuke provides an in-depth account of Native struggles against environmental and cultural degradation. Another of her books, Recovering the Sacred, discusses how the ability to define what is sacred—and access it—can empower Native communities.

SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective

While most mainstream discussions of reproductive rights are divided into the binary of “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice,” the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective knows that reality is far more nuanced. Founded in 1997, the SisterSong collective brought together 16 organizations across Native American, African American, Latinx, and Asian American communities to fight for a vision of reproductive justice that extended beyond white feminism. In their book Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundation, Theory, Practice, Critique, members Loretta Ross, Lynn Roberts, Pamela Bridgewater, Erika Derkas, and Whitney Peoples have penned a manifesto exploring practical applications for activist thought migrating from the community into the academy. This anthology asserts the crucial right for anyone with a uterus to have children, to not have children, and to parent and provide for the children they have.

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