With 2018 coming to a close, I know the very LAST thing you probably need is MORE books in your TBR pile. If it’s anything like mine, 2018’s must-reads are definitely going to overflow into 2019. (And don’t even get me started on all the books I already know are going to land in my lap in the year ahead.) With that said, if I know anything about bookworms and bibliophiles, it’s that no matter how close to the ceiling your TBR pile might rise, you still don’t want to miss any of the good stuff. Not one page. Which is why you definitely want to make sure these poetry collections from 2018 make your reading list, before it’s totally filled with all the great stuff 2019 has in store.
This year’s best poetry collections took on race and religion, sexism and feminism, politics and the patriarchy, women’s lives and immigrant stories, nature and gender, and so much more. They guided readers on beautiful and difficult journeys into women’s bodies and the nature of desire, traveled from Lower Manhattan to West Texas, explored the complexities of displacement and loss, critiqued the violence of the prison industrial complex and environmental degradation, told unique and relatable coming-of-age stories, and ultimately did what poetry does best: plays with words, celebrates language, leaves readers feeling a little differently about something than they did before. I know you definitely don’t want to miss any of that.
'Virgin' by Analicia Sotelo
Virgin’s narrator is someone you’ll want to have drinks with (on second thought, make that whiskey shots.) She’s young, Mexican-American, and feminist. A writer who is funny, angry, sarcastic and unafraid. Someone who keeps it real about the fraught, infuriating, beautiful experience of being a young woman in the world.
'Eye Level: Poems' by Jenny Xie
A finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry, Eye Level is tells a story of migration and travel, personal and cultural borders, and the silent solitude that can be found even in the busiest of places.
'Wade in the Water: Poems' by Tracy K. Smith
Wade in the Water was Tracy K. Smith's first collection as Poet Laureate of the United States, and it's a timely and startling examination of the complexities of American history and the nagging violence of our modern lives.
'Years, Months, and Days' by Amanda Jernigan
Unique in size, style, and content (it’s compact, concise, and quirky), this collection is inspired by traditional Mennonite hymns, and moves seamlessly between the religious and the secular, the spiritual and the concrete.
'Indecency' by Justin Phillip Reed
Winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Poetry, Indecency is as playful with language as it is searing in it’s critique of white privilege and supremacy, the prison industrial complex, the general violence of daily life in America, and more.
'Not Here' by Hieu Minh Nguyen
In this breathtaking collection, Hieu Minh Nguyen writes about the many different experiences that make him who he is: That he is queer, that he is the son of Vietnamese immigrants, that he holds shame, and regret, and grief — but also love, hope, and pride — close to his heart.
'American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin' by Terrance Hayes
Filled with countless literary references, and inspired by iconic poet Wanda Coleman, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin was written during the first 200 days of the Trump presidency — so, you can imagine — and takes a long, hard look at race in America.
'If They Come for Us: Poems' by Fatimah Asghar
Chronicling the experiences a young Pakistani Muslim woman (and orphan) in contemporary America, If The Come for Us is an illuminating, vulnerable, and surprisingly joyful collection that explores what it means to come of age without parents and what parts of ourselves are unavoidably inherited.
'A Memory of the Future: Poems' by Elizabeth Spires
Spires plays with words in the absolute best way — exploring subtle rhymes and rhythms, offering just the faintest flutter-touch of a pun here and there, and seeming having fun with not only her writing, but her readers. This one reads like poetry written for the love of the poetic process, with a reverence for written language.
'The Carrying' by Ada Limón
Angry, igniting, empathetic. From exploring the history that America ignores to growing tomato plants and trying to conceive a baby in the face of global terrorist attacks, The Carrying protests against death and the inability to carry life, while realizing the poignant inevitability of both.
'feeld' by Jos Charles
Longlisted for the National Book Award, feeld challenges traditional definitions of gender, the words used to describe and define sexuality, and the limited range of human bodies deemed acceptable in our world.
'Human Hours: Poems' by Catherine Barnett
A whirlwind ride through Manhattan, Human Hours reads like a day in the life of a modern American: go-go-go-go-go… crash. It’s fast-paced, until it’s quiet. It’s busy, until it’s still. It’s loud, until it’s calm. It’s chaotic and jarring and hammering and lovely.
'The Flame' by Leonard Cohen
Featuring previously unpublished poetry, notebook entries, illustrations, and prose pieces, The Flame was written and compiled in the months just before legendary writer and musician Leonard Cohen’s death, and includes the full lyrics of Cohen’s final three albums. How can you resist?
'Hey, Marfa: Poems' by Jeffrey Yang
Everyone is ever so slightly obsessed with Marfa, as far as I can tell — so you know you’ve gotta read this one. From the West Texas town with the global reputation in the art world comes this collection of poems that looks at Marfa from all angles: past and present, glamorous and pastoral, real and mythologized.
'So Far So Good' by Ursula K. Le Guin
If you know Ursula K. Le Guin, it’s for her fantasy and science fiction writing — and true to Le Guin’s work, this collection plays with the physical and the spiritual, the real and the imagined, the concrete and the theoretical, the known and the mysterious.