This is by no means a comprehensive list. To recommend other titles, post them in the comments section!
To buy any of these books, head down to your local independent bookstore or get them online at:
Teaching for Change's Busboys and Poets Bookstore or Powell's Books
Copper Canyon Press, 95 pp. $15.00
Reading this collection is like standing in a cathedral on a sunny day, dazzled by the bright stained glass windows. Here is a book of connected poems linking politics, religion and human loss into a liturgy of images. Excellent.
Aragón places the reader in a storm of voices: tender, confused, relieved, and passionate. These poems draw on the rich tradition of Latino poets Dario and Lorca, while voicing a purely modern longing for love and acceptance. Read a poem from the collection here.
Graywolf Press, 240 pp., $28.00
The joy of Crave Radiance lies in watching the poems evolve over twenty years. Two decades of speaking to the African American cultural experience makes Alexander’s collection read like a powerful cultural memoir, reminding us at once of where we have been and where we are going.
R. Dwayne Betts
Shahid Reads His Own Palm
Alice James Books, 80 pp. $15.95
Selected as the 2009 Beatrice Hawley Award winner and
published by Alice James Books. These poems have wings. Resilient, lucid and attentive. Poems about memory and survival, lock up and lock down. As Marie Howe says,"this poet has entered the fire and walked out with the actual light inside him."
The language of these poems pushes and keeps pushing – through officialese to absurdity, through music and popular culture to an understanding, however complex and shifting, of how we live our lives. The poems can be dense and rich with allusion or stretching and stretched, a wonderful patchwork of form.
Suck on the Marrow
Red Hen Press, 88 pp. $17.95
Suck on the Marrow is “a fiction based on fact," historical verse that follows the lives of six main characters in mid-19th century Virginia and Philadelphia; men and women who lived as slaves and free persons, some who escaped, others who were born free and taken captive, and the ways in which their lives intertwine. This intimate collection of lyric and persona poems give voice to hunger, love, and survival of ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances.
Skin, Inc. offers the reader a rich, irreverent, and thoughtful walk through the battlefield that is race in America. In beautifully crafted poems and evocative photographs, Ellis lets us feel, laugh, and begin the process of repairing our identities. Read a poem from the collection here.
The Lover of a Subversive is Also a Subversive: Essays and Commentaries
University of Michigan Press, 118 pp. $28.95
Provocative and passionate essays on poetry and advocacy. Topics include: the poet/ lawyer, the role of poets in the Puerto Rican independence movement, a celebration of poet Jack Agüeros, speaking the unspoken, the 150th anniversary of Leaves of Grass, poets of the Vietnam War, a rebuttal to the unacknowledged legislator, marching with DC Poets Against the War, and more. Espada is as strong an essayist as he is a poet and these essays lays claim to the role of poet as truth teller, witness and advocate for justice, celebrating a lineage of poets who have shared this commitment in their work.
The Last of My Village
Poetica Publishing, 38 pp. $13.00
The Last of My Village reaches through family history and world history to tell the stories of survival. Winner of the Poetica Chapbook Award for 2010, the book reconstructs Jewish working class New York and pre-gentrification DC, always asking how the past can help us begin again, how tradition can be a talisman as we forge a new vision of spirituality and common justice. Read a poem from the collection here.
Melody S. Gee
Each Crumbling House
Perugia, 78 pp. $16.00
Gee takes the reader on a walk through memory, family, home and exile.These gentle poems accompany the reader through Chinese villages and
relocated homes in California, always illuminating the real home in human relationships.
Penguin, 112 pp. $18.00
The 2010 National Book Award winner for poetry takes a fearless look at our urgings, hopes and fears. Hayes’ language always surprises the reader with its layers and beauty. Like the blues, this collection names pain and moves through it. Any reader who loves language will delight in this award-winning collection of poems.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 96 pp. $24.00
A collective of quiet, meditative poems. His layered images will capture the reader at the connection between personal history and the history of nations. These poems are accessible, rich, and elegant in their simplicity.
The Language of Shedding Skin
Main Street Rag, 61 pp. $14.00
Write a poem… with the memory of good / bone and blood the poet instructs us and she does: poems of brutality and tenderness, of the violence Black people have endured in this country and of their resistance through poetry, through music, and through love. Ranging through history, the poems situate themselves in our difficult, contradictory moment. Note: Niki Herd will be reading at Sunday Kind of Love, December 19, at Busboys and Poets, 14th and V Streets, NW, Washington, DC.
Thunder in Her Voice: The Narrative of Sojourner Truth
Willow Books, 57 pp. $14.95
Hooper has woven a stunning tapestry made up of poems of Sojourner Truth’s
inner life and biography juxtaposed with excerpts from The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. The poems expose the deep ache of families torn apart, the torture at the heart of slavery, and the spiritual strength required for resistance. “Freedom…” says Sojourner Truth’s father in “Bomefree’s Last Testimony,” “come like rain when you need it most, when we can / no longer stand the drought.”
The Rising of the Ashes, written in French by Moroccan born poet, Tahar Ben Jelloun, continues two poetic sequences—one that gives voice to the dead and wounded in the Gulf War in 1991 and another that gives voice to Palestinians murdered in Lebanon and occupied territories during 1980s. These are a necessary remembering of crimes already turned to dust. As Jelloun writes in his preface, “To name the wound, to give a name again to the face voided by the flame, to tell, to make and remake the borders of silence, that is what the poet’s conscience dictates.”
Patricia Spears Jones
Tia Chucha Press, 80 pp., $15.95
Eros stalks New York City in these poems, as does love and the ghosts of those lost to AIDS, poverty, time. The poet employs great stylistic variety – poems long and exceedingly brief, lamentations and celebrations, sometimes wrapped in one – at the service of a warm humanistic vision of her city and of our world. These are poems “despite / abandonment, despair, the world, the world, the world.”
The award winning translator of Mahmoud Darwish, Fady Joudah, has said of the process of translating the great Palestinian poet, “If I am able to sing Darwish’s poem as if it were another in English, then I have succeeded.” In his translations of five Darwish epics, Joudah truly sings the poems. In If I Were Another, ordinariness and the presence of nature meld with the experience of war and exile. Cultural memory, grounded in personal loss, becomes global, as Darwish meditates on the experience of Native Americans. The poems understand what it is to long for home and peace, but mostly, they sing a vision of a possible justice.
Elegy for Dead Languages
Marick Press, 84 pp., $14.95
A collection of four long documentary poems, War Rug; Elegy for Dead Languages; and Hood, Handgun, Power Drill. These poems read like the news would read if there were any such thing as news these days. Fusing language of autopsy reports, counterintelligence manuals, and other official reports with the language of poetry, these poems are inhabited, haunted, visceral poems that lay cold the language of war.
Michael Luis Medrano draws his poetic breath from the lives of the Latino community in Fresno, CA. Medrano’s poems in Born In the Cavity of Sunsets do not fear risk; they play with repetition and prose while firmly anchored in place and time. Street gangs and Gertrude Stein, priests and Bukowski, addicts and Ginsberg, Iowa and California appear next to each other on the page, creating a powerful and beautiful book.
Murillo tells the stories of fathers, sons, neighborhoods and mentors. Using the language of music, his poems beat out a rhythm that is young and wise at the same time. A particularly good book for young adults.
Reyes creates a new mythology of lyrical beauty, grounded in Filipino tradition and ranging widely. The poems take on colonialism, war, the exploitation of women, often through the language of myth, creation, and the natural world; they are “poems to carry upon seawind and saltwind.”
The poems here weave the personal and the political; they tell stories and lament. A strong middle section resurrects the early female photographer and painter of the American Northwest, Myra Albert Wiggins, with scenes from her life and work. Rich is in love with the music of poetry and many of the poems are in form, lilting through even the most difficult of subjects. Note: Susan will be reading at Busboys & Poets (5th and K St.) at 7pm on Thursday February 3rd for the White Pine Press Reading as part of AWP.
Harmless will capture you from the first poem. Its delicate poems, often using Jewish Biblical characters and themes, explore memory, family, parenting, and conflict. The poems build an architecture of tenderness we could all live in.
Hard Times Require Furious Dancing
New World Library, 165 pp. $18.00
The first book of poems in several years by one of our leading literary lights and a scheduled feature for Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2012. Walker uses her characteristic short line to great effect in Hard Times, as in the poem, “Still,” here in its entirety: I have found / powerful / love /among / my sisters / I have / shredded / every / veil / and still / believe/ in them.
An anthology created by teachers at the California State University Monterey Bay who have taught a course in creative writing and social action for years within a diverse student population. The anthology is the culmination of poetry and prose they’ve found useful in the classroom and includes such writers and visionaries as Gloria Anzaldua, Dennis Brutus, Lorna De Cervantes, Kelly Norman Ellis, Martín Espada, Jamaica Kincaid, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Patricia Smith, Sekou Sundiata, and many others, including former students, on topics as various and essential as the Breaking Silence/ Politics and Voice; Where I Come From: Writing Race, Class, Gender and Resistance; Coming into Langauge; the Work We Do; Environment, Illness, and Health; Prisons; War; Waging Peace; and Talking, Teaching and Imagining. This book sets the table for some serious truth telling and courageous writing.
Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa, and Pireeni Sundaralingam, Editors
Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry
University of Arkansas Press, 220 pp. $24.95
Indivisible is a collection of South Asian American poetry, which introduces readers to poets from a wide range of cultures, faiths, and languages who share the identity of living in the United States. These poems, written in the shadow of the attacks on the World Trade Center and subsequent wars, are a celebration of multiplicity and of poets who refuse to allow their allegiances to be divided. The collection includes both up and coming and established poets who bring a wide variety of style and subject matter to their works, including work from Homraj Acharya, Agha Shahid Ali, Kazim Ali, Minal Hajratwala, Ravi Shankar, and many others.
Poems of witness against crimes of genocide, torture, war, rape, hate crimes, and more. These poems bring dignity and humanity to the wounded, language to our deepest silences, voice to unspeakable crimes, with poems by such poets as Marvin Bell, Tamiko Beyer, Martha Collins, Lois Red Elk, Christopher Howell, Scott Hightower, Christi Kramer, Phillip Metres, Farnoosh Moshiri, Susan Rich, and others. A poignant and necessary book. For a full review, please click here.
Roberts gathers 101 poems about Washington, D.C. These poems tell stories of change, beauty, decay, and hope as they trace the last 50 years of poems about our national capital. Anyone who loves Washington, D.C.—or loves poems of place — will love this book.
This collection takes the reader on a fascinating journey from 1991 to 2010. Roberts captures, in both prose and photography, the fire, anger, joy, and beauty that make up spoken word poetry. She takes you inside the coffeehouses and open mic venues and introduces you to the personalities of the movement.