In celebration of National Poetry Month, we have initiated a new regular series to highlight poets and what they are reading. For this first list, we asked some of our favorite poets to offer a brief commentary about a recent collection they thought deserved more recognition. This is the literary-equivalent of Sophie’s Choice, yet, naturally, our immensely talented panel came through with a rich handful of poets and books that you should be reading beyond this one month. Do check out our panel’s work while you’re at it. You won’t be disappointed!
Paul Hlava Ceballos is the author of banana [ ], a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. His collaborative chapbook, Banana [ ] / we pilot the blood, shares pages with Quenton Baker, Christina Sharpe, and Torkwase Dyson. He has fellowships from CantoMundo, Artist Trust, and the Poets House. His work has been published in Poetry Magazine, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, and BOMB, among other journals and newspapers, and has been translated to the Ukrainian.
“I loved Anastacia-Reneé’s Side Notes from the Archivist. What an expansive and also personal book! She uses lists, quoted speech, sound poetry, persona, and visual art to show a multitude of speakers from the 80s to the present in intimate and moving poems. A “top-knot-pony-wearing / black girl” wonders where the Black girls on Fantasy Island are, a mother worries about her children raised in a world of pandemics and wildfires, while the archivist sees everything and collects it, as playlists or a history of Aunt Jemima. Not a lot of poetry books are page-turners, but I didn’t want to put this one down.”
Dr. Maya C. Popa is the author of Wound is the Origin of Wonder and the chapbook Dear Life (Smith|Doorstop 2022), which was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Awards (UK). She is the Poetry Reviews Editor at Publishers Weekly and teaches poetry at NYU. Her newsletter, Poetry Today, was named a 2023 Substack Featured Publication. She holds a PhD on the role of wonder in poetry from Goldsmiths, University of London, where she was a recipient of a department bursary for exceptional merit.
“I was gripped by Quiet, Victoria Adukwei Bulley’s debut, for its formal originality, linguistic sharpness, and powerful thinking on the page. The biting “The Ultra-Black Fish” features “Karen,” the marine biologist who “made the discovery” before the poet’s revision (crossing out) “made the discovery,” replacing it with the more accurate “came across them by accident.” Each page is full of striking descriptions, music, and energy. There is so much to admire and revisit in this layered and ambitious book.”
Allison Adair’s first collection, The Clearing, was selected by Henri Cole as winner of Milkweed’s Max Ritvo Poetry Prize. Her poems appear in American Poetry Review, Arts & Letters, Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, and ZYZZYVA; and her work has been honored with the Pushcart Prize, the Florida Review Editors’ Award, the Orlando Prize, a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, and first place in the Fineline Competition from Mid-American Review. Originally from central Pennsylvania, Allison teaches at Boston College and Grub Street.
“Two decades ago, in an enormous wooden temple in Kyoto, I witnessed the collective chanting of a group of Buddhist monks. Dark-timbre reverberations swelled the hall’s ancient wood, seemed to nourish its very beams and planks, fed its hollows. I hadn’t known music could do that. The monks, for their part, didn’t care who was there, didn’t notice, were somewhere else, somewhere transcendent. John Murillo’s sublime Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry brings me back to that moment. His poems—among them “On Confessionalism,” “Upon Reading That Eric Dolphy Transcribed Even the Calls of Certain Species of Birds,” “Distant Lover”—are intricate, layered, private pieces hummed in the throat with reverence and force so tense, so tightly restrained, that they can’t help but overspill into the room, into the street, into questions of policy as much as prosody. Murillo’s formally innovative and politically urgent heroic sonnet crown, “A Refusal to Mourn the Deaths, by Gunfire, of Three Men in Brooklyn,” has to be one of the most important poems of our era. I could go on, but better simply to find the book and listen to this man sing.”
Kemi Alabi is the author of Against Heaven, selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Academy of American Poets First Book Award. The collection was a Kate Tufts Discovery Award finalist, Chicago Review of Books Award winner, and one of New York Public Library’s Best Books of 2022. Alabi’s poems appear in The Atlantic, The Nation, Poetry, Boston Review and Best New Poets. A Periplus Collective mentor, Alabi has received fellowships from MacDowell, Civitella Ranieri, and elsewhere.
“Everyday is an invitation into intimacy, I decide, leaving my house.” Taylor Johnson’s Inheritance arrived November 2020—post-US lockdown, pre-vaccine, American holiday season underway. The collection found me scrambled by grief and starved for touch, offering a much-needed somatic intervention. “A new friend asked me where my wildness lives, and I remembered that I had a body.” Slowing my breath and tuning me to treesong, Inheritance made listening a practice as holy as prayer. Through poems that investigate stillness from the streets of DC to the nooks of a Black trans interior, Johnson invites sound and light to do divine work: “Light that did fall on me, made much of me. Light that sings through me. So I’m singing.”
Richie Hofmann is the author of two books of poems, A Hundred Lovers and Second Empire. His poetry appears recently in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, and The Yale Review, and has been honored with the Ruth Lilly and Wallace Stegner fellowships.
“I am entranced by the erudition and imagination of Julian Gewirtz’s Your Face My Flag. In powerful short lyrics that compress feeling into something lapidary or in longer sequences that give us multiple perspectives on desire, history, war, and myth, Gewirtz strikes me with the scale of his thinking, drawing equally from autobiography and from his vast expertise on Chinese history and politics, but never foregoing pleasure, humanity, and the primacy of the senses.”
Mandana Chaffa is founder and editor-in-chief of Nowruz Journal, a periodical of Persian arts and letters and a finalist for the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses’s Best Magazine/Debut; and an editor-at-large at Chicago Review of Books. She serves on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, where she is VP of the Barrios Book in Translation Prize, and is president of the board of The Flow Chart Foundation. Born in Tehran, Iran, she lives in New York.