In a time crowded with plenty of all the wrong kinds of words: monosyllabic tweets, vitriolic online comments sections, political commentators running down the news clock, never-ending streams of social media nonsense punctuated by the occasional amusing cat, it can be difficult to know where to find the right words. (Let the record show that “cat” is almost always a right word.) Poetry is one place to start — and to narrow it down even further, the new poetry collections being published this year. Responding to a landscape fraught with anger, division, tension, and misunderstanding, the best poetry collections of 2017 feature poetry that resists, poetry that celebrates diversity, and poetry that will expand your worldview.
Including tons of new voices alongside some of poetry’s more seasoned writers, these collections invite you to zero in on the smallest of buzzing bees to the largest of constellations; they’ll take you from New York City to Palestine, from Puerto Rico to Morocco; they tell stories of police violence and rural opioid epidemics, mental illness and urban poverty. They also celebrate language, draw attention to beauty, value multiculturalism, and honor female strength.
Sometimes fewer words a better at blocking out all the noise than more words — if they’re the right words. And the poetry collections on this list are filled with the right words. Check out these 14 new poetry collections that will broaden your perspective, open your mind, and expand your worldview.
1'Thousand Star Hotel' by Bao Phi
Filled with snapshots of the American immigrant experience, intense love for family, and deep empathy for community, this latest poetry collection by National Poetry Slam finalist Bao Phi, Thousand Star Hotel, challenges racism, police brutality, and the silencing invisibility of the Asian American urban poor.
2'Unaccompanied' by Javier Zamora
Out in September from Copper Canyon Press, El Salvadoran immigrant and a 2013 Best New Poet Javier Zamora’s debut poetry collection, Unaccompanied, takes on the fraught territory of the U.S./Mexico border wall, undocumented border crossings, and the writer’s own experience of immigrating to the United States.
3'I Know Your Kind' by William Brewer
Out in mid-September from Milkweed Editions, poet William Brewer’s debut collection, I Know Your Kind, will take you on an eye-opening and haunting journey into the opioid epidemic ravaging West Virginia — the constantly-chased highs, the crippling lows, the devastating overdoses, and the lives that the American healthcare debate doesn’t even come close to considering.
4'Testify' by Simone John
Simone John’s Testify blends official state documents of the Trayvon Martin trial and Sandra Bland’s arrest and subsequent death with John's own verse, exploring the violence with which black bodies are treated in the United States, critiquing the language we use against one another, and drawing attention to the utter lack of empathy law enforcement bring to the communities they police.
5'A Doll for Throwing' by Mary Jo Bang
Coming soon from Graywolf Press, Mary Jo Bang’s A Doll for Throwing is the latest in the poet’s daring, direct, and always-surprising poetry. Beginning from the vantage point of someone from the Bauhaus art school in Germany — closed after the Nazis took over in 1933 — A Doll for Throwing explores the political alongside the personal: nostalgia, xenophobia, and political extremism; art, marriage, and loss.
6'Don't Call Us Dead' by Danez Smith
Beginning with an imagined afterlife for black men shot by police, Danez Smith’s second poetry collection, Don’t Call Us Dead, will appear in September from Graywolf Press and takes a close look at the visceral violence that is inflicted upon both bodies and souls — from police murders to HIV diagnoses, and so much more.
7'Landlocked: Etymology of Whale Fish and Grace' by Danelle Lejeune
Poet Danelle Lejeune debut collection, Landlocked: Etymology of Whale Fish and Grace will make you stop and look closely, taking you on a slow, sometimes bloody, always intimate journey through the natural world. Her poetry is infused with swarms of white bees, stillborn lambs, the bones of cows, muddy boots, crawdads, and the very earth from which her inspirations come.
8'The Blessing of Dark Water' by Elizabeth Lyons
Published in April by Alice James Books, Elizabeth Lyons’ debut poetry collection, The Blessing of Dark Water, explores the duality of mental illness: the highs and lows, the creative bursts and debilitating depression — shining a compassionate and empathetic light on the suffering and isolation endured by artists struggling with mental illness.
9'I Wore My Blackest Hair' by Carlina Duan
Out from Little A this November, I Wore My Blackest Hair is poet Carlina Duan’s debut full-length collection, giving readers an intimate view of Chinese-American girlhood, coming-of-age self-discovery, the journey towards balancing family history with an American upbringing, the racism Duan faces as a Chinese-American, and the power she discovers in her own womanhood.
10'My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter' by Aja Monet
Aja Monet’s explosively fierce collection, My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter, takes readers from East New York, to the South Side of Chicago, to the olive groves of Palestine, telling a story of the mothers/daughters/women working every day to dismantle racism, sexism, genocide, displacement and more; while also navigating the quieter, more personal experiences of heartbreak, grief, and love.
11'Lighthouse for the Drowning' by Jawdat Fakhreddine
Lebanese poet Jawdat Fakhreddine’s first U.S.-publication, Lighthouse for the Drowning is a gorgeous and illuminating bilingual collection of verse, sharing Fakhreddine’s self-critical thoughts, feelings, and actions as he attempts to reconcile the modern international world in which he lives with his cultural and religious traditions.
12'In The Language of My Captor' by Shane McCrae
Poet Shane McCrae’s latest collection, In The Language of My Captor, blends poetry and prose, history and memoir to explore, critique, and understand what it means to create literature using the language of one’s oppressor — addressing racism in America, media and entertainment’s complacency in profiting from oppression, the myths and misunderstandings about race relations in the United States, and the unlikely and unexplored connections between racism and love.
13'Quickening Fields' by Pattiann Rogers
Another collection that will have you stopping to investigate the life forms you usually just plow through on a daily basis, Pattiann Rogers’ collection, Quickening Fields, zeroes in on the small and is humbled by the large: spider webs and flying insects, spiny crabs and short-eared owls, screeching coyotes and rat-tailed sperm; violent storms, roiling clouds, the spinning earth, celestial phenomena. It’s haunting and gorgeous and intense and unpredictable.
14'Beneath the Spanish' by Victor Hernández Cruz
Appearing this October from Coffee House Press, Victor Hernández Cruz’s Beneath the Spanish celebrates the evolution and musicality of language by taking you on a journey through the landscapes and cultures that formed the poet and his own bilingual expressions of self: Puerto Rico, California, New York, and Morocco.