It seems almost clichéd to talk about the incredible renaissance that’s happened in poetry the last few years. Each year, poetry readers are being blessed with an abundance of incredible, important, and beautiful collections of verse. 2019 has been no different. This year witnessed the release of highly anticipated books by well-known poets (and this is a very truncated list) Ilya Kaminsky, Franny Choi, Morgan Parker, Jericho Brown, Hanif Abdurraqib, and Ada Limón, plus memoirs by the poets Ocean Vuong and Saeed Jones. Below, I add my ten cents on ten collections from 2019 that you may have missed, but should be on every poetry-lover’s bookshelf.
The Year of Blue Water
Yale University Press
In his debut collection, which won the 2018 Yale Younger Poets Award, Yanyi delves into issues of racism, mental health, and gender. Deeply lyrical, these poems shine a light through the prisms of voices we carry individually and collectively.
By Su Hwang
Bodega takes place in 1992 during the Los Angeles Riots, with the war on drugs as its backdrop. Set in the speaker’s neighborhood bodega, these narratives consistently and smoothly shift structure and form, complicating the American story as it foregrounds the immigrant experience.
A Sand Book
By Ariana Reines
Written in 12 parts, A Sand Book is a collection that truly understands the intersections between the personal and the political. Whether examining mass shootings, super hurricanes, or menstruation, Reines’s voice feels like it is on a holy quest through the chaos of the contemporary world.
turn around, BRXGHT XYXS
By Rosebud Ben-Oni
Get Fresh Books
In her second collection, Rosebud Ben-Oni invokes Matarose, an alter ego persona, to write a book-length love poem to the self that would make Whitman both proud and blush. Ben-Oni’s poems are ecstatically and unabashedly feminist, queer, punk, Latinx, and Jewish, making hers a unique and vital voice for our times.
Bicycle in a Ransacked City: An Elegy
By Andres Cerpa
Alice James Books
Cerpa’s brilliant debut offers a quiet music as its speaker watches his father suffer from a debilitating illness. These confessional narratives do an amazing thing for a twenty-first century voice: the ‘I’ in these poems steps away from the spotlight as it searches for grace and beauty in a world with too much sorrow and grief.
Mannequin in the Nude
By Logan February
No one writes poetry like Logan February, and this is immediately clear in their debut collection. These poems navigate the deep loneliness that comes when someone is forced to separate their identity from everything, including the self. Beautifully written, with turns that are shocking, original, and precise, February takes their readers on a mythic journey of queerness in modern Nigeria.
By Aria Aber
University of Nebraska Press
Aria Aber’s stunning debut is both deeply personal and deeply historical. Examining the effects of western colonialism on Afghanistan and the consequences of decisions dating back to the 1950s, Hard Damage questions and mourns the idea of citizenship. This collection focuses on stories of displacement, which Aber accomplishes by breaking boundaries, breaking forms, and even breaking language.
By Jesse Rice-Evans
Sibling Rivalry Press
The Uninhabitable is a book about bodies and a book about minds, but mostly it is a book about words. Caught between disabled bodies and ableist language, these poems try to forge a new language. Gorgeous and debilitating, these poems brim with pain and with a keen understanding of self. Rice-Evans’ debut never relaxes and never relents. It reveals its truth purposefully, at times painfully, and always with an abundance of passionate grace.
By Xandria Phillips
In this tour-de-force debut, Xandria Phillips stares down white colonialism and patriarchal violence against queer bodies. Both historical and contemporary, Hull repurposes and reclaims the lost and abandoned narratives of Blackness and queerness in poems that are both gorgeously lyrical and hauntingly textured.
Afakasi | Half-Caste
By Hali Sofala-Jones
In Afakasi | Half-Caste, Hali Sofala-Jones examines what it means to be nationless. Simultaneously cut off from her Samoan and her American roots, the speaker in her collection searches for an identity that makes sense in an exiled existence. The poems, beautiful and rich in detail, speak beyond their traumas and point toward a new path for forgotten and displaced voices.