RaveWashington PostNaomi Shihab Nye presents some of her best work in years ... Nye writes in Janna’s voice in many poems, drawing on material from Janna’s Facebook posts. The poet also recalls her own experience of living between Jerusalem and Ramallah as a teenager. The result is a moving testament to the impact one person can have and the devastating effects of occupation.
Reginald Dwayne Betts
RaveThe Washington PostThe poems vividly chronicle how the dehumanizing experience of incarceration doesn’t end with a clean slate but with another long struggle on the outside, one that often includes homelessness, drug abuse and underemployment ... Betts writes masterfully, in various forms. He also illustrates the transformative power of love.
PositiveThe Washington Post... soars with a subtle, sublime music ... Olds displays a range of voices here, from indomitable to vulnerable. The work is most surprising when exquisite melodies combine with flashes of new understanding.
RaveThe Washington PostThe book opens with a gorgeous, understated poem about a fishing trip she and her father took years ago. That experience and their difficult relationship create an underlying tension that shapes the entire book ... Thrall is a powerful, beautifully crafted book, and Trethewey does a wonderful job of shifting from a personal perspective to a global view and back. She subtly challenges readers to confront their own attitudes about race, which so often go unexpressed and unexamined ... She also has the opportunity, as Thrall illustrates, to advance, in some measure, the national dialogue about race as she promotes the art of poetry.
RaveThe Washington PostIf you read only one book of poems this summer, make it An American Sunrise ... stunning ... Every step of the journey is deeply moving. Harjo doesn’t just honor the people, creatures and landscapes that were lost, she embodies and embraces them ... Rich and deeply engaging, An American Sunrise creates bridges of understanding while reminding readers to face and remember the past.
Carmen Gimenéz Smith
PositiveThe Washington PostGiménez Smith turns a sharp, sometimes withering eye toward contemporary culture ... The work expands as Smith questions what it means to be an American and turns personal as she describes her mother, who became a citizen decades ago but lost those years and more to dementia.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorRich, complex ... Berry deepens and broadens his ideas about the causes of environmental destruction ... What I Stand On is essential reading for those who want to understand how we arrived at this point in time, and how we can begin to shift our standards, priorities, and habits. While some arguments are repeated several times, Berry is a thoughtful, wise voice of reason who has always appealed to those on both sides of the political aisle. His thinking and approach provide a model for those who want to foster change today in how we care for the earth.
RaveThe Washington PostScenters-Zapico speaks fearlessly throughout this, her second book. In doing so, she illustrates what needs to change so that victims can be freed from the cycle of abuse.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"The speaker’s brutal honesty and emotional transformation offer an engrossing guide for anyone dealing with a devastating loss.\
RaveThe Washington Post\"... searing ... The collection, [Brown\'s] third, is compelling and forceful because it wonderfully balances the dark demands of memory and an indomitable strength.\
PositiveThe Washington Post\"... Morgan Parker continues to fearlessly explore what it means to be a black woman in the United States today. Like Terrance Hayes, Parker draws on pop culture, current events and history to inform these poems, providing various backdrops and foils that help her challenge stereotypes and define her own complex, nuanced ideas ... Bold and edgy, the writing spotlights the strength and tenacity that enable the speaker to survive grief and inequity. It also gives voice to her disappointments and delights as she claims — and proclaims — agency over her body and her life.\
RaveThe Washington Post... poems that are clear, compelling and insightful ... Laux shows us how to endure hardships without losing humanity and compassion. This timely, beautifully crafted collection wonderfully balances light and dark.
J Michael Martinez
PositiveThe Washington Post\"J. Michael Martinez interweaves short, analytical prose pieces and poetic inquiry ... This fascinating hybrid collection explores how current events reflect long-held prejudices about Mexicans and people of color, as evidenced by Mexican casta paintings and the lynching postcards of Walter H. Horne. Throughout the work the speaker relays his concern and frustration about how he and other Mexican Americans continue to be classified and objectified.\
RaveThe Washington Post\"... a marvelous collection that conveys deep insights and exquisite details about life in the Midwest ... [Smith] also turns his gaze toward wars the United States is waging abroad and toward foreign nations and cultures. What links his subjects, as the title suggests, is the fact that seemingly invisible actions taken by Americans have lasting consequences in places we typically choose to view only from a distance.\
RaveThe Washington Post\"Natasha Trethewey’s Monument... is a glorious example of what results when one listens — and writes — brilliantly ... Those who are new to her work will marvel at her ability to address difficult subjects — slavery, the challenges of mixed-race families and the murder of her mother — with precision and compassion. These pages clearly demonstrate why Trethewey, whose honors include the Pulitzer Prize and two terms as poet laureate of the United States, is one of our preeminent poets.\
Ursula K Le Guin
PositiveThe Washington PostFans will recognize some of the motifs here—cats, wind, strong women—as well as her exploration of the intersection between soul and body, the knowable and the unknown. The writing is clear, artful and reverent as Le Guin looks back at key memories and concerns and looks forward to what is next: \'Spirit, rehearse the journey of the body/ that are to come, the motions/ of the matter that held you.\'
PositiveThe Washington Post...a collection of tight, chiseled poems that forces readers to consider how greed, excess and lack of critical thought have led to environmental destruction and a nation wobbling toward the edge of collapse ... If society allows such destructive attitudes to prevail, we will all be to blame, as these poems show.
Emily Jungmin Yoon
PositiveThe Washington Post\"... a heart-wrenching debut ... Yoon’s work is compelling in part because it shows the importance of understanding history and its enduring impact.\
RaveThe Washington PostThese taut, absorbing pieces weave together memories and close readings of work that has haunted or challenged him. Wiman...asks crucial questions, such as: Is artistic hunger a longing for God? Can writing be personally redemptive? What does it mean to be a believer? Wiman, who was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer several years ago, wrestles with his own mortality and ambitions as he searches for truth through literature.
RaveThe Washington PostKelly Forsythe’s startling debut, Perennial (Coffee House), asks two timely, important questions: What leads to mass school shootings? And how do survivors deal with the violence afterward? ... Forsythe, who drew on historical documents, brilliantly uses details that are subtle but telling to convey the chaos and horror of the event ... Perennial adeptly captures the complexity of the subject and reminds readers how difficult it is to understand and overcome such events, even decades later.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"... [Barnett] examines both small moments and current events, recalling lessons learned from her father, experiences with her son and her own consternation about living in a democracy with a violent legacy.The pieces, which range in tone from darkly comic to deeply distressing, present some dour scenarios, nudging readers to consider how they spend their lives.\
PositiveThe Washington PostA Memory of the Future by Elizabeth Spires is like a cup of tea for the weary. Here she describes life unfolding in what seems to be one long day where people step on or off an escalator moving toward change and the future. Against that backdrop enduring questions arise: Who am I? Who will I be when my memory fails or I die?
PositiveThe Washington PostTo convey her overwhelming sense of loss about the dissolution of her marriage, Katie Ford presents a strange, almost fairy-tale realm ... At first, the grief feels profoundly physical ... Yet as the narrative unfolds, in 39 sonnets, readers are led through a kingdom that includes a cold, distant lord, beasts of burden and multiple rooms for those who are stuck there. This landscape allows the speaker to slowly work through her feelings—from despondency...to equanimity ... The journey also serves as a quest of sorts as her shattered sense of self slowly begins to mend.
RaveThe Washington PostThe Carrying (Milkweed) is Ada Limón’s fifth and best book ... exquisite poems ... [Limón] is always a careful witness, accurately recording the moment rather than trying to transcend it. That leads to achingly graceful lines at times and to blunt insights at others ... a powerful example of how to carry the things that define us without being broken by them.
PositiveThe Washington PostAnne Waldman has challenged readers with her rigorous, eclectic writing and her insistence on overthrowing accepted notions about male patriarchy and female limitations ... As the work unfolds, Waldman presents a complicated panorama of places and events — including resistance after the 2016 U.S. presidential election — in these accomplished, intertwined pieces.
Ed. by Heid E. Erdrich
RaveThe Washington PostNew Poets of Native Nations (Graywolf) provides a wonderful introduction to the diverse landscape of native voices ... Some of the writers featured here, including Layli Long Soldier and Tommy Pico, have already earned critical acclaim for their shrewd, distinctive work that fearlessly explores their relationship to American history, the natural world and the traditions they learned from forebears who were powerless to defend their lands ... Bilingual poet Margaret Noodin also weaves compelling lines ... \'Are you the carved shoreline/and I the sweetwater sea/or am I the shifting wind/you cannot perceive?\'
PositiveThe Washington PostThroughout this rich collection, the speaker uses art to show how women and the lower class have been portrayed and framed, so to speak, by social norms and expectations. She challenges long-held ideas about worth, privilege and beauty, and creates an alternative landscape through self-portraits and gothic still lifes ... The poems, ranging from darkly challenging to direct and moving, require readers to levitate above their own assumptions and embrace a world that is, in many ways, \'a paradise of vagaries.\'
PositiveThe Washington PostHayes uses a variety of approaches to take aim at the sins of the nation. He also employs surprising rhythms throughout, and in several poems, opens with the line \'there never was a black male hysteria,\' which becomes a kind of refrain throughout the book’s five sections. Expect to be challenged on almost every page by a speaker who knows \'It is not enough/ to love you. It is not enough to want you destroyed,\' and warns that \'You will never assassinate my ghosts.\'
RaveThe Washington PostHe notices subtle details — a change in the weather, a long-married couple who no longer make eye contact, solar-powered stars in a churchyard — and masterfully uses description and metaphor as he writes about the people and creatures around him ... As Kooser records everyday pleasures and griefs, he remembers those he will never see again, underscores the deep need we all have for connection, moments of respite and the abiding sense that our ordinary moments matter.
RaveThe Washington Post\"[Young] effortlessly blends memories of his experiences — his childhood in Kansas, his college years and his travels — with reflections on sports figures, musicians and others who have influenced American life ... Young’s writing is crisp and well paced, his rhythms and harmonies complex. His virtuosity is on display as he illustrates the intersections between place and the past, the individual and the collective consciousness.\
Tracy K Smith
RaveThe Washington Post\"Can poetry contribute to the national dialogue in ways that both challenge and uplift? Tracy K. Smith’s Wade in the Water demonstrates that the answer is yes ... [Smith] shows tremendous range in these rich, humane poems as she shifts from lyricism to direct speech, from meditative passages to wry humor ... Smith brings great intelligence and sensitivity to her poems, leading readers deeper into other people’s stories — and ultimately into their own humanity.\
A.R. Ammons & Robert M. West
RaveThe Washington PostThe publication of The Complete Poems of A.R. Ammons is one of the biggest literary events of this year … The Complete Poems, arranged chronologically, shows the tremendous range and innovation that, despite Ammons’s stage fright, helped establish him as one of America’s most original and important 20th-century poets … As Vendler wisely points out in her introduction, ‘Ammons’s poems, first to last, are .?.?. a master inventory of the vicissitudes of human life, worked by genius into memorable shapes.’
RaveThe Washington PostIn Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, one of our most beloved writers offers both the best of her work and a spiritual road map of sorts ...more than 50 years and featuring more than 200 poems, the collection shows Oliver, in the early years, turning away from grief and finding in nature a 'vast, incredible gift.' Over time, as she carefully observes and records, Oliver extols the beauty and complexity around her and reminds us of the interconnectedness of living ...the luminous writing provides respite from our crazy world and demonstrates how mindfulness can define and transform a life, moment by moment, poem by poem.
RaveThe Washington Post...enthralling, enchanting ... The sly references to Oxford’s historical connection to British espionage enhance the novel’s resonance with our own world. Indeed, the first half of The Book of Dust reads like a thriller ... The Book of Dust feels more earthbound — in the best way — than the earlier trilogy. The cosmic clockwork of His Dark Materials, with its multiverses and metaphysics, becomes grounded in this new novel ... But there is plenty of magic here, too, not just daemons and startling prophecies but witches and specters, forays into Faerie, and Malcolm’s eerie, migraine-like visions of the aurora borealis. Too few things in our own world are worth a 17-year-wait: The Book of Dust is one of them.
RaveThe Washington PostThe collection highlights the poet’s enduring themes and concerns, among them: desire and shame, the quest to find truth and freedom, and the duality of evilness and innocence. Bidart’s ability as a storyteller fuels many of these pieces, including his famous dramatic monologues about child murderer Herbert White, an anorexic woman named Ellen West and other unsettling figures ... The book closes with an ambitious section of new writing that deals with mortality and remembered friendships, a fitting way to end this monumental work.
RaveThe Washington Post\"Smith, a performance poet who has won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, among other honors, takes aim at the racism and inequities in America that make many black people fear for their safety on a daily basis. Smith, who identifies with neither gender, also writes about sex, desire and the HIV diagnosis that resulted after one lover came over \'& then he left/but he stayed.\' As this stunning collection unfolds, the speaker weaves together personal sickness with societal ills, wondering \'just how/ will I survive the little/ cops running inside/ my veins.\' These pieces pulse with the rhythms and assertiveness one expects from poetry slams. They also demand that people understand why the speaker wants to leave Earth \'to find a land where my kin can be safe.\'\
RaveThe Washington PostIn his new book, Why Poetry, Matthew Zapruder makes the bold assertion that understanding poetry requires 'forgetting many incorrect things we have learned in school' and accepting 'what is right before us on the page' ...tackles another question people frequently ask: 'What is the purpose of poetry, and what should we be looking for?' ... He also leads readers through many famous and challenging poems... And he provides a wealth of revelatory yet practical statements on subjects as diverse as metaphor and symbolism, negative capability, and associative movement ...a consistently surprising work that shows novices how they can navigate poetry while providing a wonderful re-education for anyone who was taught to dissect a poem as if it were a dead frog.
RaveThe Washington PostEach chapter opens with a beautifully described memory. Then Bialosky seamlessly shifts to a famous poem (or two) that expresses what she felt at that time — or that allows her to reflect on the experience. The result is a lovely hybrid that blends her coming-of-age story with engaging literary analysis ... Adults and mature teens will find much to love in this book, which demonstrates how poems can become an integral part of life. It also suggests, on every page, the wisdom and deep compassion that make Bialosky, a longtime editor at W.W. Norton, a tremendous asset both to readers and other writers.
PositiveThe Washington Post...a brash, risqué collection that explores what it means to be a black woman in contemporary American culture ... Each woman in this fierce collection wants to be seen for who she is, not what society wants her to be, and each demands respect. As one woman explains: 'There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé': self-awareness and education, for example. Wryly celebrating personal growth, the speaker notes: 'Combing your records you’ll see the past and think OK/Once I was a different kind of person.'”
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorSome may also question the validity of conversations and details shared hundreds of years after the fact, despite Gooch’s thorough references. The book is important, however, because it illustrates how each man helped the poet learn about love (both human and divine), the process of giving up the self to make room for something purer and higher, and transcendence. The work also shows how the poet came to realize the logic and importance of a religion of the heart.
RaveThe Washington Post...provides deep insights and delightful anecdotes as she examines her role as a writer, reader and a spiritual seeker who constantly practices what she describes as the redemptive art of true effort ... Oliver incorporates all of those insights in her poetry. Yet here, the expansiveness of prose allows her to explore ideas in depth and to share imperatives ... The richness of these essays — part revelation, part instruction — will prompt readers to dive in again and again.
PositiveThe Washington Post...readers find the hallmarks of her distinctive and sometimes controversial work: sensual, explicit descriptions that convey the pleasures of the body, harrowing memories of a childhood marked by violence, a willingness to probe emotions that many others would avoid, and the ability to both shock and charm in a matter of lines. Fans and close readers will appreciate the depth and sensitivity in many of these poems, as when the speaker describes her own aging body or the decline and death of her mother.
RaveThe Washington Post...[a] remarkable debut ... Every piece underscores the importance of how we view and name things. Even the book’s title, a term that refers to mine warfare — admonishes readers to think about their own ideas and impressions.
RaveThe Washington PostRita Dove’s Collected Poems: 1974 to 2004 reminds readers why she is one of the nation’s most respected literary figures ... Even the earliest work here shows a tremendous capacity for conveying various voices, from a Colonial Boston slave, to the Snow King, to Catherine of Alexandria. Later books, such as On the Bus With Rosa Parks and American Smooth, point to the intersection of individual lives and our shared cultural heritage. Dove has often been praised, rightly so, for making all of this look easy, as she does throughout this essential collection.
Pablo Neruda, Trans. Forrest Gander
PositiveThe Washington PostThe book also features photographs of handwritten drafts — including one that was scribbled on a menu — and detailed notes about how the pieces, discovered by archivists cataloguing Neruda’s papers, relate to the poet’s established work. These documents, along with the poems (some of them fragments), translated by Forrest Gander, provide insights into the writing and its familiar themes — love, poetry and the strength and beauty of the people and landscape of Neruda’s native Chile. The book — made possible in part by a Kickstarter campaign by its nonprofit publisher — provides new glimpses of the poet, who died in 1973.
Rowan Ricardo Phillips
RaveThe Washington PostAs with Phillips’s first collection, The Ground, this slim volume is full of grace and beauty. Phillips is equally fluid in summoning boyhood memories as he is in alluding to passages from Homer and Shakespeare or describing scenes of the California coast or a snow-covered landscape. Phillips understands the natural world and its creatures — birds, elk, roosters — as well as the issues and influences that drive people’s behavior: geography, a sense of fate, feeling and poetry. No matter where he goes, his language is hauntingly astute, and the reality he conjures is multi-layered.
RaveThe Washington Post[SOS]provides readers with rich, vital views of the African American experience and of Baraka’s own evolution as a poet-activist ... The book ends with poems written from 1996 to 2013, when his work was fully realized and his convictions about life and poetry took shape in a variety of surprising forms ... If you haven’t appreciated Baraka’s work in the past, give SOS a chance.