These poems consider the brevity and disposability of Black lives and other oppressed people in our current era of emboldened white supremacy, and the use of the Black vernacular in America’s vast reserve of racial and gendered epithets. Finna explores the erasure of peoples in the American narrative; asks how gendered language can provoke violence; and finally, how the Black vernacular, expands our notions of possibility, giving us a new language of hope.
What He Did in Solitary
With his dazzling ability to set words spinning, Amit Majmudar brings us poems that sharpen both wit and knives as he examines our “life in solitary.” Equally engaged with human history and the human heart, Majmudar transfigures identity from a locus of captivity to the open field of his liberation.
When the Stars Wrote Back
In the vein of poetry collections like Milk and Honey and Light Filters In, this compilation of short, powerful poems from Instagram sensation Trista Mateer shines beauty and insight into relationships, love, growing up, and learning to cope.
Together in a Sudden Strangeness
As the novel coronavirus and its devastating effects began to spread in the United States and around the world, Alice Quinn reached out to poets across the country to see if, and what, they were writing under quarantine. Moved and galvanized by the response, the onetime New Yorker poetry editor and recent former director of the Poetry Society of America began collecting the poems arriving in her inbox, assembling this various, intimate, and intricate portrait of our suddenly altered reality.
Love Poems for Anxious People
With the same brilliant wit and hilarious realism that made Love Poems for Married People and Love Poems for People with Children such hits, John Kenney is back with a brand new collection of poems, this time taking on one of the most common feelings in our day-and-age: anxiety. Kenney covers it all, from awkward social interactions and insomnia to nervous ticks and writing and rewriting that email.
Puerto Rican poet Vincent Toro’s new collection takes the Latin American idea of an artistic social gathering (the “tertulia”) and revises it for the Latinx context in the United States. In verses dense with juxtaposition, the collection examines immigration, economics, colonialism and race via the sublime imagery of music, visual art, and history. Toro draws from his own social justice work in various U.S. cities to create a kaleidoscopic vision of the connections between the personal and the political, the local and the global, in a book that both celebrates and questions the complexities of the human condition.
Heartbreaking and hilarious, this verse-novel chronicles Coocoo’s spiraling descent: the transformation of her love into something at first desperate and obsessive, then finally cringing and animal, utterly without grace. Her best friend, Nouf, remains by her side throughout, and together they face the growing contradictions of Coocoo’s life. What does it mean to pray while giving your body to a man who cannot keep it? How long can a homeless love survive on the streets?
How to Love a Country
These poems form a mosaic of seemingly varied topics: the Pulse nightclub massacre; an unexpected encounter on a visit to Cuba; the forced exile of 8,500 Navajos in 1868; a lynching in Alabama; the arrival of a young Chinese woman at Angel Island in 1938; the incarceration of a gifted writer; and the poet’s abiding love for his partner, who he is finally allowed to wed as a gay man. But despite each poem’s unique concern or occasion, all are fundamentally struggling with the overwhelming question of how to love this country.
Acerbic, moving, and formally astonishing, Michael Prior’s second collection explores the enduring impact of the Japanese internment upon his family legacy and his mixed-race identity. The poems in this collection move seamlessly between geographical and psychological landscapes, grappling with cultural trauma and mapping out complex topographies of grief, love, and inheritance: those places in time marked by generational memory “when echo crosses echo.”
Broadway for Paul
Broadway, the famous artery, both off the grid and definitive of Manhattan as it cuts its way downtown, is a metaphor for Katz’s path through these poems: from Lincoln Plaza on the Upper West Side to the African Burial Ground and the courthouses downtown, Katz mines his native city for the deep humanity that undergirds its streets.
What Hurts Going Down
Nancy Lee’s searing collection of poems confronts how socially ingrained violence and sexual power dynamics distort and dislocate girlhood, womanhood, and relationships. Startling and visceral, the poems in What Hurts Going Down deconstruct a lifetime of survival, hover in the uneasy territory of pre- and post- #MeToo, and scrutinize the changing wagers of being female.
Poetry has a way of bringing people together. When we connect with words on a page, we feel seen. When other people connect with those same words, we feel that we’re not alone.
It’s a really remarkable thing to experience and to watch. I would argue that maybe more than any other form of writing, poetry comes from deep in the heart, which is a place that isn’t usually put on display. And I think that’s what makes it so unique and so accessible to all readers, because even if you don’t know why certain poems resonate with you, they make you feel something.
These 2020 poetry books are important and timely—I recommend them to everyone. They’re very worthy of a read (or two, or three).