10 More Poetry Books You Have to Read in 2014
Earlier this month, as part of our National Poetry Month coverage, I recommended 10 must-read titles from small presses on the micro-side of publishing. Now I'm back with 10 additional titles, including upcoming poetry collections from the “Big Five” publishers as well as some of the larger small presses.
In many ways, these poetry books preview what’s to come in 2014: fascinations with French lit, seductive dreams and meditations, Loch Ness monster selfies, 21st-century fables, narratives of race—and more. Put your pre-orders in and help celebrate poetry all the way through next April.
John Ashbery, one of America's greatest living poets, surveys his lifelong love of French poetry in this first of two collections (its companion volume compiles prose). Beginning in 1955, Ashbery spent almost a decade in France, where he formed a close relationship with the poet Pierre Martory. His versions of Martory’s poems are featured here, alongside meticulous yet innovative translations of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and France’s greatest living poet, Yves Bonnefoy. Dive into these influential poems that Lydia Davis has described as crafted with "care and imaginative resourcefulness.”
The title alone speaks to the history and geography present in this book—not to mention how Patricia Lockwood breathes new life into stuffed owls, the Hatfields and McCoys, Modernists, and sports mascots through her prevailing sense of humor. Lockwood, who crossed cultural boundaries online last year with her devastating "Rape Joke” (which appears in this collection), walks the tightrope between laughter and tears. Bambi-as-sex-object, Nessie contemplating her frogskin, and Walt Whitman's tit pics all make surreal cameos in this outrageous and touching book.
"If family is a body,” writes Sasha Steensen, “learn its anatomy.” In House of Deer, Steensen launches an inquiry into the back-to-the-land movement, a social phenomenon that emerged in the 1970s, pushing people to migrate from cities and grow food on their own land in rural areas. This call for naturalism, and its promises and failings, emerges in this lush American story that Maggie Nelson says contains "all the bloodiness and experiment that such a thing requires."
Albertine Simonet appears in Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu as Marcel's principal love interest (despite the character's constant slumber). Anne Carson, in her latest research, has composed 59 paragraphs about her findings on Albertine. Some have theorized that this figure, who possesses a very uncommon name for a girl in France, is a transposition of sexes—meaning that Albertine is actually based on Alfred Agostinelli, Proust's real-life chauffeur. Carson wittily explores the curious sexuality of Albertine and more in this new poetry pamphlet from New Directions.
Subtitled An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine's new book powerfully tackles race in the now—the reality of being black in America in the 21st century. The reader becomes a passenger as we sit through ongoing encounters of intolerance—in the car, at the supermarket, at Starbucks, on the subway, on the tennis court. Like a snowball rolling new layers into itself, these microaggressions accumulate into a juggernaut of the collective effects of racism. Beautifully told, Rankine's poetry questions our assumptions and expectations of what it means to be a citizen.
Called “one of the purest and most accomplished lyric poets now writing” by Robert Hass, Louise Glück has become an acclaimed figure in poetry due to her intimacy and precision on the page. Known for crafting sparse poems dealing with archetype and myth, Glück's upcoming collection is said to be spellbinding, dream-like, seductive, and luminous. Joseph Campbell once described the “one story in the world, retold in many guises”: Faithful and Virtuous Night tells a single story, too—mysterious, poignant, and galvanized with wonder.
The book of hours, traditionally, is a Christian devotional containing sparse psalms and prayers. Kevin Young's Book of Hours is concise, too—well-organized couplets and triplets appear like recitations of the hours, each with three or four words per line. Like the breviary after which it’s named, many of these poems are devoted to Young's recently departed father and recently born son. The grief attached to death and the celebration of life act as parentheses to the passages unfolding in the sequence of music within.
A woman moves to a city different from her other city. She tries to find meaning in the forest animals she encounters, in online tarot readings, in her children's joy and conflicted feelings about her husband. These meditations and movements emerge as a 21st-century fantasy in the first half of this collection, appropriately titled Fables. Moving away from prose, the second half, The Pedestrians, shifts to poems of all shapes and sizes—out of the myth and into NYC. Dreams and obligations of a woman in New York unfold, revealing what it means to exist in a place.
Almost like a Joseph Cornell box, Kristy Bowen crafts an assemblage of carnivals and fevers, milk and vinegar, hemlines and burnt staircases and salt shakers. The marginalia of soap in the shape of horses and sideshow mermaids creates a landscape built of both the beautiful and the grotesque. Pay your ticket fare and join the Gothic circus in this latest book out of Black Lawrence Press.
Maggie Nelson describes the poems in Laura Sims' third collection as "harrowing, probing, troubling, surprising, and often gorgeous." The aesthetics of killing and the language of murder appear within these pages: guns in pep rallies, guns at Costco, guns at wedding showers—fragments of evil-doing. Like a flea placed under stadium lights, we are seduced by the violence that exists in this sparse world: For heaven’s / sake catch me / before I kill more.
Click here for the rest of our National Poetry Month coverage.
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