I could not forget that April is National Poetry Month, so this week I made a list of 13 poetry books that shifted me as a poet and person, over the span of 20 years, beginning when a young grad student teaching a poetics class introduced me to Audre Lorde, to 2020, the year of our global pandemic, when all I find myself capable of doing is reaching for books to keep me company.
But, poets are never alone because we always have ghosts.
mónica teresa ortiz
"This collection, 39 poems written between 1987 and 1992, is the final volume by 'a major American poet whose concerns are international, and whose words have left their mark on many lives,' in the words of Adrienne Rich. Lorde's poems have always melded the political and lyrical worlds, the ordinary and the luminous, addressing controversial topics as a black lesbian poet, and these poems are reminders of her characteristic themes, from ecstatic poems of love and self-discovery to others grappling with cancer and the fear of death."
"The poems in this highly anticipated second book are elegiac poems, as concerned with honoring our dead as they are with praising the living. Through Aracelis Girmay's lens, everything is animal: the sea, a jukebox, the desert. In these poems, everything possesses a system of desire, hunger, a set of teeth, and language. These are poems about what is both difficult and beautiful about our time here on earth."
"Real seriousness, Nicanor Parra, the Antipoet of Chile, has said, rests in the comic. And read in that light, this collection of his work is very serious indeed. It is an abundant offering of his signature mocking humor, subverting received conventions and pretensions in both poetry and everyday life, public and private, ingeniously and wittily rendered into English in an antitranslation (the word is Parra’s) by Liz Werner."
"Perhaps the fastest-reading long poem of the century, and certainly the wildest, Altazor rushes through the universe in a lyrical babble of bird-languages, rose-languages, puns, neologisms, and pages of identical rhymes, finally ending in the pure sound of the language of the future."
"The poetry of Langston Hughes electrified readers and launched a renaissance in black writing in America. The poems in this collection were chosen by Hughes himself shortly before his death in 1967 and represent work from his entire career, and gives us a poet of extraordinary range, directness, and stylistic virtuosity."
"...Through the landscape of broken windows and economic decline, the urge to make art in response to the conditions of his life still surges forward: “I shall create! If not a note, a hole. / If not an overture, a desecration.” Few outshine Brooks in accounting the cost of the everyday life in late capitalism." —Virginia Quarterly Review
"A war had begun which, though most of his country was soon occupied, occupied René Char still more; the poetic journal he kept from that time comes to us under the auspices of his Resistance code-name, Hypnos, the Greek divinity of Sleep. As for the present work, the "leaves" remind the translator of Rimbaud's from a Season in Hell, but this is no longer a private hell expatiated into a vision of the human condition, but a public hell drawn from, exceeded by, a sense of responsibility."
"Amidst the ongoing atrocities in Iraq, here is an important new voice that rescues the human spirit from the ruins, unmasking the official glorification of war with telegraphic lexical austerity. Embracing literary traditions from ancient Mesopotamian mythology to Biblical and Qur'anic parables to Western modernism, Mikhail's poetic vision transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries with liberating compassion."
"In this collection, Vitale offers the reader a diversity of beautifully lucid contemplations, ranging from the unflinching personal meditations on loss and desire, to pieces that sparkle with a playful irony and wit. This work inspires us to confront the world as it is, looking squarely in the face of human existence."
"Ossuaries is the narrative of Yasmine, a woman living an underground life, fleeing from past actions and regrets, in a perpetual state of movement. She leads a solitary clandestine life, crossing borders actual (Algiers, Cuba, Canada), and timeless. Cold-eyed and cynical, she contemplates the periodic crises of the contemporary world."
"Art can't shield our bodies or stabilize the earth's climate, but Evie Shockley's semiautomatic insists that it can feed the spirit and reawaken the imagination. The poems trace a whole web of connections between the kinds of violence that affect people across the racial, ethnic, gender, class, sexual, national, and linguistic boundaries that do and do not divide us."
"Moving from West Texas to Dubai, from Virginia to remote villages in Bangladesh and back again, the narrator calls on the legacies of Willa Cather, César Vallejo, Tomas Tranströmer, and Paul Celan to give voice to the voiceless. Fierce yet loving, devastating and magical at once, Seam is a testament to the lingering potency of memory and the bravery of a nation's victims."
"Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer who is based in London. She is an artist and activist who uses her work to document narratives of journey and trauma.What elevates her work, what gives the poems their disturbing brilliance, is Shire's ability to give simple, beautiful eloquence to the veiled world where sensuality lives in the dominant narrative of Islam; reclaiming the more nuanced truths of earlier times."