When thinking of social justice work and activist writing, nonfiction is likely the first place your mind goes. Since its invention, however, poetry has been used to produce just as (if not more) political work in powerful turns-of-phrase and lyrical poignancy. From spoken word to page poetry to rap, the diversity of voices coming through modern poetry is a beacon of light in a country divided.
National Poetry Month is always a great excuse to dust off all of your favorite old collections, but this year, why not try something new? We’ve compiled a list of thirteen poetry collections coming out this April, with an emphasis on poets of color, trans poets, immigrant poets, and other marginalized voices we should be listening to now more than ever. Give one (or all of them) a try—you might just find something you never knew you needed.
Bright Advent by Robert Strong (White Pine Press, April 11, 2017)
If you’ve memorized every line to The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter but long for a more nuanced, progressive discussion of colonial narratives, this is the poetry collection you’ve been waiting for. Strong’s work brings Puritan America into the twentieth century, melding archival texts with a contemporary tone. This collection creates a dialogue around Christian conversion of the indigenous peoples of North America, looking specifically at the relationship between the Massachusett man John Sassamon and the Puritan missionary John Eliot. Strong’s poetry feels at once intensely academic and incredibly accessible.
Hard Child by Natalie Shapero (Copper Canyon Press, April 11, 2017)
Full of laugh-out-loud bleakness and self-deprecation, Hard Child is poetry for millennials. Shapero isn’t afraid to get intensely personal as she picks apart the territory of newfound motherhood and leaving her 20s behind. In Hard Child, she expertly navigates the line between the relatable and the too-macabre. Her writing is compulsively readable, and uses gentle turn-of-phrase to build thought-provoking stanzas. In one of the most memorable and hilarious poems from Hard Child, Shapero shines a nihilistic light on personality quizzes that determine what dog or inanimate object the reader might be, saying, “Actually it’s ridiculous to opine on what kind / of a dog I would be, were I ever a dog, as I don’t / contain within me half enough life to power / a dog. I WOULD BE A DEAD DOG, THAT’S / WHAT KIND.”
In Memory of An Angel by David Shapiro (City Lights Publishers, April 11, 2017)
David Shapiro’s poetry carries with it the tone of the New York School of poets, the generation of authors who came of age in the mid-60s and 70s and were influenced both by the Beatniks of the previous generation and the surrealist movement of their visual art peers. In Memory of An Angel balances avant-garde tributes to post-modernism with retrospectives on childhood and fatherhood. There’s a surprisingly heartfelt undercurrent through all of these poems, making you wonder if this book is, perhaps, one long love poem. With a fifty-year career under his belt, Shapiro’s writing has both shaped and been shaped by decades of poets, and he’s considered something of a maestro. In Memory of An Angel is his first collection in fifteen years, so get on it.
mary wants to be a superwoman by erica lewis (Third Man Books, April 4, 2017)
mary wants to be a superwoman pays homage to the works of Stevie Wonder and the power of music to trigger certain emotions and memories. Each poem is titled after a line of a Stevie Wonder song, and while the poems aren’t directly about the songs, they’re inspired by them, written about lewis’s emotive responses and associations with listening to pop artists from her childhood. lewis’s writing puts the “stream” in stream of consciousness. Her words tumble over one another like river rapid, constantly tugging you forward into the next line, and the next, and the next. Don’t mistake her smooth flow for a lack of power though; the ease of her words only makes for a more potent punchline.
Of Mongrelitude by Julian Talamantez Brolaski (Wave Books, April 4, 2017)
Reading Brolaski is like reading the David Foster Wallace of poetry (or rather, the work of David Foster Wallace’s cooler, less-pretentious sibling). Brolaski (whose pronouns are xe/xir/xem) dumps Latin, pop culture, etymology, politics, and sex into the melting pot of the page, creating a new linguistic experiment. Xir poetry is the kind that demands to be read out loud, so you can chew on all of the gooey consonants and sticky vowels. References to the fourteenth century, words like “maiden” and “agog,” swirl in with contemporary criticisms of corporations and the gender binary. Of Mongrelitude is a poetry collection for a digital age, where memes, emojis, and abbreviations create new vernaculars on a daily basis. It’s poetry like you’ve never read poetry before.
Patient Zero by Tomás Q. Morín (Copper Canyon Press, April 4, 2017)
This collection brings a classic genre (the love poem or, more accurately, the lost-love poem) into a fresh and fanciful new light. Morín’s writing uses the mundane details of everyday life—from pretzels to geese to blues music—as a jumping off point for creating fascinating and philosophical worlds. In Patient Zero, Morín looks at love not only from the perspective of the lovers, but from the places and things that surround a life sick with heartbreak. Morín has an uncanny knack for painting a scene that is rarely seen in poetry. Once the scene is established, he uses clever wordplay to reveal layers upon layers of new meaning. It’s poetry that keeps you thinking, that makes you want to go back and re-read each line to untangle the puzzles that Morín dangles before you.
A People’s History of Chicago by Kevin Coval, foreword by Chance the Rapper (Haymarket Books, April 11, 2017)
You can’t be a fan of the Chicago poetry scene (or any poetry scene, for that matter) without knowing Kevin Coval. Founder of Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival, the Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, and a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, there’s no one better to write a history of the Windy City than Coval. The book contains seventy-seven poems, one for each of the seventy-seven neighborhoods of Chicago, from the perspective of those on the margins. A People’s History of Chicago centers the often-untold histories of the city’s workers, poor people, and people of color. Coval’s poems have the flow of rap verses, and you can practically hear the thumping bassline running just beneath his wordsIn case that wasn’t enough to woo you, the foreword was written by Chancellor Bennett, a.k.a. the one, the only Chance the Rapper. A poetry book endorsed by Lil’ Chano himself? You know it’s gonna be good.
a place called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom (Arsenal Pulp Press, April 11, 2017)
a place called No Homeland takes the reader on a journey through memory and mythos to draw new maps of gender, race, sexuality, and violence. Stemming from her experiences as a Chinese-Canadian trans woman, Thom uses a characteristic lyricism (whose cadence is drawn from a strong spoken-word influence) to unpack complex ideas of what exactly “home” is, particularly in queer and diasporic communities. If Thom’s name sounds familiar, it might be because her work has been published on Everyday Feminism, Buzzfeed, xoJane, and other intersectional feminist-forward corners of the internet. Thom isn’t just a poet; she’s also an essayist, a novelist, a performer, and, in general, a verified Superwoman. She’s a rising star to watch, and there’s no better starting place than a place called No Homeland.
Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us by Noah Wareness (Biblioasis, April 11, 2017)
If you’ve ever wished that Tim Burton had directed an uncanny-valley version of The Velveteen Rabbit, this is the poetry book for you. Using The Velveteen Rabbit as a jumping off point, Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us is a collection of twenty-six poems and the unbelievably weird happenings that link them. Noah Wareness’s writing is grim, gripping, and more than a little creepy in all the right ways. Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us is a trippy philosophical exploration that feels less like reading a book and more like walking right out of reality and into someone’s dreamscape. It’s a delicious celebration of loss, vertigo, and wonder that’s sure to give you goosebumps.
Reaper by Jill McDonough (Alice James Books, April 11, 2017)
If you’re looking for political poetry, stop right here. Jill McDonough’s Reaper zooms in on America’s expanding drone program and the ever-blurring line of man and machine. McDonough examines the distancing of culpability and repercussions when there’s a computer screen and a continent between you and the dead. This is not a happy book; it’s a book to make you think, to shine a light on the darker side of American politics, and the warfare we often pretend isn’t happening. She swaps out flowery imagery for repetition of sparse, to-the point poetry that hammers home her message. McDonough’s writing is gritty and unapologetic, refusing to let even the reader off the hook. It never feels like an attack, though. Instead, McDonough is simply insisting that we look at the whole picture, not just the pretty, easy parts.
A Sand Book by Ariana Reines (Fence Books, April 11, 2017)
Reines’s work is lyrical and painfully relatable, her work resonating with a generational experience in lines like “Smoking crack after yoga / Swallowing vitamins with wine.” Speaking to Reines’s cultural relevance, Lena Dunham is one of the poet’s biggest fans, having posted multiple passages of Reines’s previous books on Instagram and that her “poems sing to my whole body.” Reines is also an accomplished playwright, and her scriptwriting talents bleed into her poetry, giving her verses a conversational quality and a natural flow.
The Trembling Answers by Craig Morgan Teicher (BOA Editions, April 11, 2017)
Teicher’s poems are largely confessional and autobiographical, and The Trembling Answers is no exception; this particular volume deals with explorations of family and fatherhood, and the role his poetry plays across each. One of Teicher’s great strengths is in his honesty. He frequently reveals his flaws and mistakes to the reader, laying bare intimate details about his wife, his son, and his marriage to illustrate his very humanity. His writing is full of lists and repetition, as if Teicher is searching for answers in real-time with the reader. Each poem is meaty and sprawling, providing plenty of space for interpretation and re-interpretation.
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen (BOA Editions, April 11, 2017)
Chen Chen’s work is versatile, skillfully adapting to different forms and functions; on one page, you’ll find a traditional poem, lines grouped together in rhythmic couplets. On another, lines run together into paragraphs, blurring the difference between poetry and prose. Chen Chen’s poems are odes and elegies, considerations of everyday life. In When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, Chen Chen muses his way through the idea of inheritance (specifically, what it means to inherit things like love and family) at the center of his identity as a queer Chinese-American immigrant. American Book Award Winner Jericho Brown gave When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities his seal of approval in his introduction to the book. NPR even named this book “Poetry to Pay Attention To” in their 2017 book preview on February 8, calling it “deeply serious and moving.” Plus, who could say no to such a catchy title?
Find out where to buy these great collections and more here on the Consortium website!