Must-Read New Collections To Pick Up This Nat'l Poetry Month

by E. Ce Miller

Each year in April, millions of readers, writers, publishers, students, educators, booksellers, and purveyors of all-things-poetic collaborate over what’s been called the largest literary celebration in the world — National Poetry Month. This year marks the 21st annual observation of the month-long celebration, and for you, that means it’s the perfect time to add some more poetry to your TBR pile, with these new poetry collections to read during National Poetry Month. After all, there cannot be enough poetry in the world right now — amirite?

Since 1996, the Academy of American Poets has encouraged better literary citizenship by using National Poetry Month as an opportunity to bring attention to the artistry and achievements of American poets, inspire readers to pick up a bit more poetry than usual, promote poetry in the classroom, and emphasize the importance of increased funding and publishing opportunities for poets. And while there are tons of ways to participate in National Poetry Month this year (just check out the list of events and opportunities featured on the most essential thing you can do this month is read some poetry. This list of recently-published (or soon-to-be-published) collections will get you started.

Here are 15 new poetry collections to read for National Poetry Month.


‘Pages from the Biography of an Exile’ by Adnan al-Sayegh

Published last May, Pages from the Biography of an Exile is the latest translated collection by one of Iraq’s most widely-recognized poets. Adnan al-Sayegh takes readers through a tumultuous journey of violence, resistance, and political exile, as the poetry follows al-Sayegh from his days as a conscript in the Iran-Iraq war; his experience speaking hard truths to power; his exile to Jordan, Lebanon, Sweden, and ultimately the United Kingdom; and the struggles of assimilation and acceptance his exile forced him to face.

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‘Cattle of the Lord’ by Rosa Alice Branco

Published late last year, the bilingual collection (published in both English and author Rosa Alice Branco’s native Portuguese) Cattle of the Lord is a haunting, beautiful, and spiritual poetry collection, touching on love and sex and death, bodies and relationships and the general messy, gorgeous complexity of being a human in the world. Our uncertainties, our contradictions, our grief and our failings, told through sensuality and sacrament, humor and darkness, blasphemy and hope.

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‘Trophic Cascade’ by Camille T. Dungy

A collection that will make you think deeply about environmental degradation and disaster, and the legacy today’s humans are leaving the generations of tomorrow, Camille T. Dungy’s Trophic Cascade is a poetic collection that speaks to survival and resilience, new life and death, nature and power, and the place of both fragility and endurance in the world.

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‘The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks’ edited by Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar, and Patricia Smith

Published by the University of Arkansas Press in February and edited by Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar, and Patricia Smith, The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks is a hybrid collection of the poetry (or poetic excerpts) of Gwendolyn Brooks accompanied by new works of contemporary poets — recognized writers like Rita Dove, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Julia Alvarez, Joy Harjo, Tracy K. Smith, and Nikki Giovanni as well as the emerging work of high school and university students. Celebrating the life, writing, and poetic style of Brooks, The Golden Shovel Anthology is a gorgeous and celebratory collection that both longtime fans of Brooks and newcomers to her work will love.

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‘Scald’ by Denise Duhamel

Beginning with the totally relatable struggles of a life filled with “auto-correct”, Denise Duhamel’s Scald takes on celebrity culture and religion, (and they’re not always that different,) sex and procreation, art and writing, and — of course — feminism, all in Duhamel’s classic depth and wit. Exploring our modern moment through the female celebrities who became pop culture heroes of the last several decades, Duhamel tries to understand how we got here, who we’ve become, and where we’re going.

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‘Whereas’ by Layli Long Soldier

Layli Long Soldier is a member of the Oglala Lakota nation and a winner of the 2016 Whiting Writers’ Award for poetry. Her collection, Whereas, just published in March, confronts the violence, injustices, responses, treaties, and apologies of the United States government to the Native American peoples it first decimated, then isolated, and now literally bulldozes over in the name of capitalism. As infuriating as it is powerful, Whereas explores the importance (and manipulations) of language, in a sense reclaiming the words used by the U.S. government to dominate and devastate.

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‘Sycamore’ by Kathy Fagan

Published by Milkweed Editions in mid-March, Sycamore, by poet Kathy Fagan, is another title that will appeal to the environmentalist in you, celebrating seasons — both those in the natural world as well as those one moves through during a lifetime. Filled with gorgeous meditations on love and loss, growth and death, hibernation and rebirth, destruction and recovery, Sycamore will mesmerize you with its descriptions and awaken you with its insights.

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‘Map to the Stars’ by Adrian Matejka

Released just last week, Adrian Matejka’s Map to the Stars transports readers back to the Reagan era, taking a hard look at the racial, economic, cultural, and geographic tensions that permeated (and still do) the United States. But despite our complex, fractured relationships with one another, Matejka lands in a space of hope — demonstrating that the first step to transcendence is this very hope, and that escaping from any space of suffering is predicated on it.

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‘Simulacra’ by Airea D. Matthews

Winner of the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, Airea D. Matthews’s debut poetry collection, Simulacra, landed on bookstore shelves just in time to make the top of your National Poetry Month TBR pile. This collection takes a provocative and edgy look at modern privilege, power, desire, contemporary modes of communication, and more, from the vantage point of a radicalized America, inviting readers to think differently about the roles of language and imagination, and how we share our thoughts with the world in a hyper-media age.

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‘Field Theories’ by Samiya Bashir (April 4)

Published just in time to kick off National Poetry Month, Field Theories, by Samiya Bashir, explores a wide breath of subjects: quantum mechanics, Blues music, chicken wings, dark matter and radiation, Newport cigarettes, and love, to name just a few. The collection takes on modern understanding (or lack thereof) of the black body, intersectionality, and how we form the identities we do. Edgy, experimental, musical, and raw, you’re definitely going to want to pick this one up.

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‘The Blessing of Dark Water’ by Elizabeth Lyons (April 11)

In her forthcoming collection, The Blessing of Dark Water, debut poet Elizabeth Lyons explores the duality of mental illness — the highs and lows, the bursts of creativity and the debilitating bouts of depression, of bipolar disorder as experienced by the American artist, Walter Inglis Anderson, shedding light on the suffering and isolation endured by so many who struggle with mental illness.

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‘When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities’ by Chen Chen (Apr. 11, 2017)

Another title out in time to make your National Poetry Month TBR pile, debut poet Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities has, in addition to a killer book title, a beautiful and complex story of identity to share. The collection tells describes a mother/son relationship from the perspective of an Asian American immigrant, queer son, and explores the complicated grief and love of familial bonds.

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‘Hard Child’ by Natalie Shapero (Apr. 11, 2017)

Taking on the experiences of turning 30, new motherhood, and being a woman in a complex and sometimes inhospitable world, Natalie Shapero’s second poetry collection, Hard Child, (her debut was the knockout 2013 title No Object) will shake you up and remind you why you fell in love with language in the first place. Shapero’s signature style of seriousness and humor, light and darkness, and musicality and intensity makes for some can’t-miss poetry.

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‘Reaper’ by Jill McDonough (Apr. 11, 2017)

Add something timely and essential to you National Poetry Month reading, by picking up Jill McDonough’s latest poetry collection, Reaper. This haunting collection explores the world’s past, present, and future of the world we live in, playing with time and space, and offering readers a glimpse of a devastated future that might help save us from our fate. McDonough navigates our growing dependence on technology — and especially that of America’s expanding drone program, which is destroying lives and landscapes around the world.

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‘Soft Focus’ by Sarah Jean Grimm (June 2, 2017)

Here’s a bonus book for ya (because this one doesn’t come out until June.) But now that you’ve added a ton of poetry to your life this April, it’s time to get excited for of 2017’s other great poetry releases this year. Sarah Jean Grimm’s debut collection, Soft Focus, is the winner of the 2016 Metatron Prize and, in ethereal and raw language, explores things like internet culture, the human body, American Exceptionalism, femininity, and female power.

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