The 18 Best Poetry Collections Of 2017
Although those New Year’s resolutions you made all the way back in January are probably a distant memory by now — if you’re anything like me, anyway — there’s one item on your 2017 to-do list that you should definitely complete: making your way through your year’s TBR pile. I don’t know about you, but in my reading life, it seems like with every passing year the number of books I just HAVE to read only gets longer… and the number of days I have in which to read them does not. This year was no different: filled with bestselling and award-winning novels, memoirs, thrillers, investigative reporting, and — one of my personal favorites — plenty of new poetry collections I just had to check out.
In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been a challenging year for lovers of language: with Twitter politics degrading the power of the written word, violent hyperbole cluttering up online comment sections, and single-syllable politicians lowering everyone’s expectations for how we should interact with one another. But one place language will always be revered is in poetry — and that’s why we have to keep reading it, and writing it, and sharing it with those around us.
Here are 18 new poetry collections to read before the end of the year — and before all the new 2018 titles have your TBR pile stacked sky-high.
'Testify’ by Simone John
I was lucky enough to get to talk to Simone John earlier this year in a Bustle interview about her poetry collection, Testify — and now I’m even more obsessed with her work than I already was. John is a powerful, necessary voice in the national conversation surrounding gun violence and police brutality, and Testify couldn’t be a more timely collection.
‘Bone’ by Yrsa Daley-Ward
Yrsa Daley-Ward is another writer I got to connect with this year, when we chatted about the re-release of her poetry collection Bone. Tackling themes of racism, sexism, gender, sexual identity, womanhood, the pains of preadolescence, religion, and more, Daley-Ward is a poet you just know is having fun with her words on the page — even when her topics are of a more serious nature.
'Magdalene: Poems' by Marie Howe
Magdalene: Poems by Marie Howe is just a really cool collection, one that was pleasingly fresh and unexpected. The poetry in Magdalene re-imagines the (often controversial) biblical figure of Mary Magdalene as a woman who is fully-alive in the modern world: engaged in the mundane of everyday, urban life and motherhood, while constantly aware that something — her partner, her lover, her spiritual guide — is missing from her existence.
'Earthling' by James Longenbach
Did you know that "earthling" is one of the oldest words in the English language? It’s this word, the original English-language term for ‘ploughman’ — or, more poetically ‘keeper of the earth’ that is the inspiration behind poet James Longenbach's latest collection, Earthling, published by W. W. Norton later this month. With an eye for other planes of existence — while keeping his feet planted firmly on the earth — Longenbach’s earthling takes readers on a journey of life and death, love and loss, that is both fully-grounded and totally magical.
'Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016' by Frank Bidart
Frank Bidart is one of the first contemporary poets who made me fall in love with modern poetry — and if he hasn’t made his way into your TBR pile yet, his newest collection Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 is a great place to start. The winner of the 2017 National Book Award for Poetry, Half-light gathers together the best of Bidart and takes a look at humanity in all its manifestations: the compassionate and the beautiful, the violent and the obsessive, the outcast and the misunderstood, the vulnerable and the brave, the complex and the brilliant.
'I Wore My Blackest Hair' by Carlina Duan
Out this November — aka: just in time to land at the top of your TBR pile — is Carlina Duan’s debut full-length collection, I Wore My Blackest Hair. Filled with energetic, playful, rebellious, and powerful verse, I Wore My Blackest Hair takes readers on an intimate journey through one Chinese-American girlhood: self-discovery, negotiating heritage with sense-of-self, grappling with the racism the poet faces as a Chinese-American, and ultimately the power she discovers in her own coming-of-age journey.
'The Sun and Her Flowers' by Rupi Kaur
If you’re as obsessed with poet Rupi Kaur as all 1.8 million of her Instagram followers are, then you’ve definitely already had a chance to read her second bestselling poetry collection, The Sun and Her Flowers. Filled with bite-sized verse that packs a punch and takes readers on a journey through the soul, Kaur explores themes of love, loss, trauma, abuse, healing, femininity, the body — all in the spare, evocative language she’s become known for.
'Afterland: Poems' by Mai Der Vang
Winner of the 2016 Walt Whitman Award and published earlier this year, Afterland: Poems by Mai Der Vang is a striking and often painful, but critical, collection. The poet tells a story of a story of displacement and exile — that of the Hmong people who were forced out of Laos as refugees — and the writing is harsh, beautiful, and resilient.
'Unaccompanied' by Javier Zamora
This is a collection that hasn’t been buzzed about nearly enough this year — so start buzzing about it now. Unaccompanied by debut poet Javier Zamora takes readers across the fraught terrain of the U.S./Mexico border wall — a place that many of us could stand to learn more about these days — detailing undocumented border crossings and the writer’s own experience of immigrating to the United States. Zamora’s writing will make you angry, sad, and more deeply engaged in the issues surrounding this highly-politicized landscape.
'I Am Flying Into Myself: Selected Poems 1960-2014’ by Bill Knott
Another collection that gathers together the best work of a poet’s lifetime is Bill Knott’s I Am Flying Into Myself: Selected Poems 1960-2014. The collection takes readers through Knott’s early verse to the poetry he published online right up until his death in 2014. A poet who wasn’t afraid to break the rules — playing with form, style, structure, and theme— Knott reads like a writer who simply loved his life on the page, and the subjects he tackles are as wide-ranging as the styles he wrote them in.
'When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities' by Chen Chen
A collection we’ve loved this year, and one that landed itself a spot on the National Book Award for Poetry longlist is poet Chen Chen’s debut collection When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. WIGUIWBLFP describes a mother/son relationship from the perspective of an Asian American immigrant and a queer son, and explores the complicated grief and love of familial bonds.
'Thousands' by Lightsey Darst
If you want to utterly lose yourself in a powerful, heartbreaking, relatable, empowering, feminist (I could go on…) poetry collection, be sure to pick up Thousands by Lightsey Darst, before the end of this year. Told through five different, chronological periods in the life of a woman — while she might be Darst herself, it’s a life ANY woman will feel connected to — Thousands reads something like a notebook and guides readers through the end of a marriage, a move, a pregnancy, and more. Simultaneously vulnerable and self-assured, Darst’s verse will have you clamoring for everything she’s ever written (she's got two more collections, so don’t worry.)
'In the Language of My Captor' by Shane McCrae
Yet another NBA for poetry finalist you don’t want getting lost in your TBR pile this year is Shane McCrae’s In the Language of My Captor, which 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.
'Together and By Ourselves' by Alex Dimitrov
Taking readers across the United States and deep into the human spirit, Alex Dimitrov’s Together and By Ourselves speaks to our immediate cultural moment: informed by social media, over-inundations of information, and near-constant digital contact with others, but marked by profound physical and emotional isolation. Dimitrov also looks closely at cultural obsessions with celebrity, fame, and money — and illuminates how such obsessions, paired with our increasing disconnect from one another, have landed us where we are today.
'Don't Call Us Dead: Poems' by Danez Smith
A third National Book Award for Poetry finalist you’ll definitely want to check out before the end of the year — or before the winner is announced next week — is Danez Smith’s Don't Call Us Dead: Poems. This collection begins with an imagined afterlife for black men shot by police, and takes a close look at the often-ignored violence that is inflicted upon both bodies and souls with great regularity in this country.
'WHEREAS: Poems’ by Layli Long Soldier
One final collection that has made its way onto the NBA for Poetry finalist list is Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS, which made its poetic debut back in March. This ever-timely and important collection confronts the violence, injustices, responses, treaties, and apologies of the United States government to the First Nation peoples it decimated, isolated, and is still alienating and marginalizing today.
'My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter' by Aja Monet
In case you haven’t already heard, Aja Monet’s My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter is probably my favorite poetry collection of the year — and if you haven’t heard, I’ll take this one final opportunity to remind you why you have to check it out. It’s explosive, it’s fierce, it’s addictive, and you’ll learn something new from it each time you dive back in. 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/powerhouses of female strength working every day to dismantle racism, sexism, genocide, displacement and more; while also navigating the quieter, more personal experiences of heartbreak, grief, and love. I’m obsessed. You’ll be obsessed. Just read it.
'How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times' edited by Annie Chagnot and Emi Ikkanda
Somewhat different than the other collections on this list, How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times edited by Annie Chagnot and Emi Ikkanda is THE collection to cap off your 2017 poetry reading. As fans of poetry know, there has been a resurgence of poetry — and the idea of poetry as an act of protest — in response to our current political climate. How Lovely the Ruins, like a balm for your soul and your Twitter-tired eyes, gathers together contemporary and classic poetry and a handful of prose that soothes the spirit, offers wisdom and beauty, and will re-energize you for all that is sure to come next year.