12 New Must-Read Collections By Poets Of Color

by E. Ce Miller

We humans have been creating poetry since practically the beginning of time… or, you know, since about right around then, anyway — first through song and chants, through images, and finally by chiseling, carving, scratching, burning, writing it onto whatever we could get our hands on. In my mind, poetry is one of those things that is just essential to the human experience — all human experience, no matter who you are or where you come from, regardless of race, religion, or language, people have always felt the desire to share the stories of their lives and to pass those stories down through generations — which is why it is equally essential to have diverse collections of poetry on your bookshelves. These recently published books by poets of color are a great place to start.

The writers of color on this list cover a vast spectrum of material in their poetry — everything from motherhood and the female body, to experiences of racism and immigration, to love and family history; they share their thoughts on global warming, war, the solar system, religion, fairy tales, Beyoncé, and more; and they make space to engage with other forms of art in their own writing: mediums like music and film, painting and performance art. Their words are both relatable and eye-opening, as funny as they are sad, as beautiful as they are jarring. I'm obsessed with basically all of them.

Check out these 12 new poetry collections by poets of color.

1. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

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What about modern womanhood isn’t explored in Morgan Parker’s poetry collection, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé , out in February 2017? The easy answer: nothing. Filled with politics, pop culture, and personal poetry this collection challenges the status quo — critiquing the modern media, current politics, and the patriarchy, and challenging racism, sexism, and the ideas/products/entertainment we choose to consume both individually and as a society. Parker’s writing is soulful and in-your-face, and is exactly the best of what modern poets have to offer their readers. If you loved Roxane Gay’s essay collection Bad Feminist, then you’ll love There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, which in many ways almost seems to be in poetic conversation with Gay’s essays. Put this one on your pre-order list immediately.

2. Violet Energy Ingots by Hoa Nguyen

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I’m kind of obsessed with Hoa Nguyen, and here’s why: she somehow manages to point out the serious imperfections in our modern world, in our human history, in people and societies as a whole, while still being in utter awe of the beautiful, the humbling, the miraculous. Her poetry in Violet Energy Ingots traverses an expansive terrain — politics and war, the economy, global warming, love and religion, the Mayan calendar, menstruation, the solar system, the agony of the inability to find the precise word for the exact thing you’re trying to articulate — you name it. Nguyen’s writing is vivid and kaleidoscopic, and you’re just as apt to get lost in her imagery as you are to be moved by her messages.

3. Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin compiled and edited by Phil Cushway and Michael Warr

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Why stop at just one poet when you can experience more than 40 of them in a single collection? Of Poetry and Protest features the poetry (and protest… and personal essays, and images) of some of the genre’s most iconic and explosive and gorgeous and mind-bending African American writers, all exploring the modern history of racism and politics in America — from the Black Panther Party to the Black Lives Matter movement and more. Each poem features a photograph and first-person narrative about the inspirations and motivations of the poet, making this an essential collection for poets and activists (and poet-activists) interested in verse that transcends the page.

4. How Much We Must Have Looked Like Stars To Stars by Alysia Nicole Harris

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I read somewhere that Alysia Nicole Harris has been writing and reciting poetry since she was 10-years-old. Now in her late-twenties, Harris’s debut collection How Much We Must Have Looked Like Stars to Stars won the 2015 New Women’s Voices Chapbook Contest, and was published this year. Her poems are empowering and spiritual, revealing and redemptive. She often writes about the human body — and particularly the female body — in a way that is exploratory and unashamed, imperfect and strong. Harris is definitely a poet to watch out for, and you’ll want her on your bookshelves immediately.

5. Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015 by Kevin Young

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Nominated for the 2016 National Book Award in Poetry, Kevin Young’s Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems features two decades of the writer’s best poetry, and offers readers a number of previously-unpublished pieces as well. Young’s poetry is personal and political, musical and infused with a sense of hometown hospitality, and often experiments with intersections of verse and other art forms — paintings, film noir, and blues music.

6. Rapture: Poems by Sjohnna McCray

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Sjohnna McCray is the child of a Korean mother and an American father, born in the United States during the tense years of the Vietnam War — and his debut collection of poetry, Rapture, explores exactly how that family history and the individual histories of his parents, informed the person McCray would grow up to become. Rapture is a journey of identity, one that explores the different — and often desperate — spaces in which the human experience can unfold simultaneously. Rapture is touching and lyrical, emotional and relatable.

7. Unbearable Splendor by Sun Yung Shin

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Sun Yung Shin is the kind of poet who challenges her readers — she never underestimates your intelligence, which means you might be doing a bit of Googling in the midst of losing yourself completely in her poetic verse. Shin’s poetry is as cerebral as it is beautiful, exploring the personal experiences of race, immigration, and gender alongside academic investigations of religion and science, philosophy and art. Her latest collection, Unbearable Splendor , will be published by Coffee House Press in October — so add it to your TBR list pronto.

8. Bestiary: Poems by Donika Kelly

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Another of this year’s nominees for the National Book Award in Poetry, Donika Kelly’s poetry is rhythmic, bold, and declarative, often exploring the gendered experiences of the world. Bestiary is Kelly’s debut poetry collection, available November 1 by Graywolf Press, and tells the story of the world through creatures — great and mythological beasts like the whale to the centaur, as well as the less-obvious beasts that exist somewhere inside every human being as well.

9. The Black Maria by Aracelis Girmay

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Exploring the history of racism in the United States, the racism that is still inherent in American culture, the crisis of stateless people, and in particular the experience of Eritrean refugees who have been fleeing to Ethiopia before trying to make their way across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, Aracelis Girmay’s The Black Maria is a haunting and beautiful collection, alternating between disruption and grace, violence and gentleness — often from one line to the next. This collection feels somehow frenetic and methodical at the same time, and it will make you think about whose stories get told while others are forgotten.

10. Landscape with Headless Mama: Poems by Jennifer Givhan

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Another collection of poetry infused with the legacy left by literature’s darkest fairy tales, Landscape with Headless Mama explores the experience of motherhood — both becoming a mother and the subsequent raising of children, the inexpressible love and the incomprehensible exhaustion — in a way that feels equal parts earthy and supernatural. This debut collection from Mexican-American poet Jennifer Givhan resonates with the spirit of the arid southwest; the writing is sharp and vivid and passionate, and feels just a little bit risky, a little bit out of control, in all the best ways.

11. Blackacre: Poems by Monica Youn

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A third nominee for the 2016 National Book Award in Poetry, Monica Youn is the author of three collections of poetry, including her latest: Blackacre, which explores everything from racial identity to infertility, and dives deep into experiences of both wanting and not-wanting. The collection resonates with the energy of dark fairy-tales (aka: no Disney treatment here) — it’s grim, bleak, and haunting writing, and also beautiful. Blackacre reads like the most private mutterings of woman lost in the forest of her own imagination.

12. Olio by Tyehimba Jess

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This unique collection by poet Tyehimba Jess weaves together fact and fiction, song, sonnet, and narrative, as it takes readers on a first-person POV journey through the lives and performance art of ninetieth and early twentieth century African American performers. Spanning the years from just before the Civil War until World War I, Olio explores how these performers — whose art has remained largely undocumented — broke rules and defied expectations in order to tell truths about the experiences of their lives. Cool and unexpected.

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