Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Some of Our Favorite Poetry Books of 2011

2011 has been an incredible year for poetry of provocation and witness! We're seeing an explosion of poetry today, poetry that tells the story of what it is to be alive in the United States, in all its variety and beauty and madness and disaster.

We recommend 25 single-author books by some of our favorite poets below -- Split This Rock featured poets, festival attendees, poets who've read in our monthly series in DC, poets new to us. We also suggest five anthologies that break new ground and we look forward to several books forthcoming in 2012.

Poetry books make great holiday gifts, great gifts, great reading any time of the year. Run out to your local independent bookstore to support poets and poetry or order through Teaching for Change's Busboys and Poets Books, or Powell's, a union shop. You'll be changing the world, one book at a time.

And if you love that Split This Rock is bringing you this diverse alternative to the Other Guys' lists, please consider a gift to support poetry by and for the 99%. Just click here to give. We thank you!

Split This Rock

Recommended Poetry Books of 2011



Wisdom Teeth, Derrick Weston Brown (Busboys and Poets Press)

"After reading Derrick Weston Brown's Wisdom Teeth, it's hard to believe this is his first collection of poems. As Busboys and Poet's first Poet-In-Residence, Brown approaches his poetry with an incredible confidence, which often touches on tense topics of history and culture." - Kaitie O'Hare for Split This Rock

L-Vis Lives: Racemusic Poems, Kevin Coval (Haymarket Books)

"A radically candid collection... daring, historically grounded, and socially cathartic poems... Coval's air-clearing honesty about violent and insidious racism and authenticity and creativity is blazing and liberating." - Donna Seaman, Booklist

The Trouble Ball, Martín Espada (W.W. Norton & Co.)

"Poetry would have no meaning in society if it did not also include the work of poets like Martín Espada who look beyond the surface glitter of contemporary culture, who bear witness, and bring us the hard news from this all too real world we live in." -- Sunil Freeman, First Person Plural

Head Off & Split, Nikky Finney (Triquarterly) - Winner of the National Book Award for Poetry
"What makes this book as important as anything published in the last decade is the irresistible music, the formal dexterity and the imaginative leaps she makes with metaphor and language in these simply stunning poems." --Kwame Dawes, author of Hope's Hospice

The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands, Nick Flynn (Graywolf Press)

"By engaging with the contemporary world, and its atrocities, Flynn faces up to some of the most difficult and uncomfortable questions and confusions of our time, and his devotion to the consideration and confrontation of dark truths, compels the reader to do the same." - Louise Helferty for Split This Rock

Bringing the Shovel Down, Ross Gay (University of Pittsburgh Press)

"These poems speak out of a global consciousness as well as an individual wisdom that is bright with pity, terror, and rage, and which asks the reader to realize that she is not alone-that the grief he carries is not just his own." - Jean Valentine

Kingdom Animalia, Aracelis Girmay (BOA Editions)

"Girmay's poems, sometimes ecstatic, and always incantatory, take as their project the disciplined practice of building connections... Kingdom Animalia maps the world in which we live, classifying us, grouping us, reminding us of what sets us apart, and what ties us together." - Camille Dungy for The Rumpus

Black Blossoms, Rigoberto González (Four Way Press)

"Black Blossoms taps into the waters of Lethe, as a bower uniting desire and mortality, history and the present, in tones alternately rapturous and threnodial. Gonzalez alights on the darkest and most alluring flowers, "the beauty and grief of life," and draws us down into its intoxicating sweetness." -D. A. Powell

Mule & Pear, Rachel Eliza Griffiths (New Issues)

"Griffiths gifts us with deleted scenes, alternate endings, and a VIP pass to wander the sets of some of the greatest literature of our time... But what else should we expect from an artist who sees the world through so many mediums?" -Frank X Walker

The Requited Distance, Rachel Eliza Griffiths (Sheep Meadow)

"The myths and ancient images... wander into each other's stories, get possessed by another's myths and challenge the old music with their questions...There is a surreal, unsettled beauty in these re-settings and these ancient dreams invade our own time with their inevitable augury."- Ed Roberson

Elegies for New York Avenue, Melanie Henderson (Main Street Rag)

"Elegies for New York Avenue, the 2011 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award Winner, is quite a collection of verse, styles, and emotions. It tackles all of life's complex subjects but it also celebrates the simplicity of life in Washington D.C." - Brian Gilmore for The Big Ideas

Chameleon Couch, Yusef Komunyakaa (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

"Known for musical references and remarkable imagery, the Pulitzer Prize winner mixes worlds freely. Memory is stirred up and ghosts engaged, from Minerva to Monk.... More than a witness, Komunyakaa navigates between poles: between crime and faith, cages and paradise, love and reason." - Jeffrey Cyphers White, The Brooklyn Rail

Last Seen, Jacqueline Jones LaMon (University of Wisconsin Press)

"At the heart of Jacqueline Jones LaMon's collection is a haunting series of poems born of the silence tragedy and loss wedges into our lives. With restraint and through a variety of characters, LaMon gives voice to those whose voices have been lost to us, who've left behind only questions and vivid empty spaces." - Natasha Tretheway, author of Native Guard

Transfer, Naomi Shihab Nye (BOA Editions)

"Naomi Shihab Nye has more than honored her father by these poems. In their personal and tender qualities, she honors all of us who know loss. Anyone who knows grief, especially the loss of a parent or of a homeland, can find a fatherly love, a homeland, in these poems." - Joseph Ross

Meanwhile, Kathleen O'Toole (WordTech Communications)

"Kathleen O'Toole's Meanwhile dwells as much on what is not present as what is. The book plays with time, transience, land and place, and works these themes into a powerful statement about justice and love." - Katherine Howell for Split This Rock

Spit Back a Boy, Iain Halley Pollock (University of Georgia Press)

"Beyond the bracing intelligence in these poems, beyond the surges of joy and trouble, beyond the poet's awe in this split second, he plunges with imagination into the timeless work of loving witness, resonant with high style and the blues." - Brooks Haxton, author of They Lift Their Wings to Cry

Inside the Money Machine, Minnie Bruce Pratt (Carolina Wren Press)

"Deeply informed by politics and an analysis of the socioeconomic system in the United States today-and it's flaws-Pratt doesn't deliver a polemic...but rather a carefully observed and deeply transformative vision of people doing work in the United States and around the world today." - Julie R. Enszer, Lambda Literary

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, Adrienne Rich (W.W Norton & Company)

"Rich is one of the greatest American poets of the past half century...attested to both by the extraordinary power of her poems and by the laurels she's racked up....The events of our blood-dimmed decade have afforded Rich a subject for some of her strongest material." - Sara Marcus, San Francisco Chronicle

Animal Magnetism, Kim Roberts (Pearl Editions)

"Animal Magnetism takes the reader on an unexpected and fascinating tour - a tour of the human body via an exploration of unusual museums and peculiar collections of medical memorabilia... Roberts' verse is lean and lyrical... a formalism [that] is easy and non-intrusive and frames the poems in a sheath of historicity, as if we were observing them like specimens behind an antique glass display." Mike Maggio, Rattle

Though I Haven't Been to Baghdad, Margaret Rozga (Benu Press)

"The poems in Though I Haven't Been to Baghdad throb with the anxiety of those left behind: mother, lover, friend. They are finely tuned to the fractures in daily life when a child is at war, when a child is wounded in war - how language itself stutters through fear and grief... Rozga's striking poems tell us, Look. Here. This is the true cost of war. Here." Sarah Browning, Split This Rock

the new black: poems, Evie Shockley (Wesleyan University Press)

"Shockley's the new black is a dismantling of archetypes: a series of poems where black is at times landscape and at times backdrop, righteous fist in the air or questioning glance...Race is the linchpin but not the quintessence." -Reginald Dwayne Betts for Post No Ills

Mad for Meat, Kevin Simmonds (Salmon Poetry)

"As sharply and carefully honed as his poems are, Kevin Simmonds has managed to preserve a quality of urgency, spontaneity and surprise in his poems through his unquestionable sense of music and, above all, through his willingness to take risks in subject and form." -- Kwame Dawes

Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf Press)

"[Life on Mars] blends pop culture, history, elegy, anecdote, and sociopolitical commentary to illustrate the weirdness of contemporary living. . . . The title poem, which includes everything from 'dark matter' and 'a father.../ who kept his daughter/ Locked in a cell for decades' to Abu Ghraib is proof that life is far stranger and more haunting than fiction." - Publishers Weekly

Tropicalia, Emma Trelles (University of Notre Dame Press)

"Tropicalia gives us instead an ultrasensitive pair of eyes in addition to our own--as acutely attuned to color and texture and passion as a painter's. Trelles writes with a sensibility part emotional and part anthropological, offering a way of seeing first the surfaces and then delving into the poems' subjects with both heart and precision." - Khadijah Queen for Post No Ills

Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, Kevin Young (Knopf)

"Twenty years in the making, Kevin Young's "Ardency,'' a sprawling choral retelling of the 1839 uprising aboard the slave ship Amistad and the aftermath for its captives, rises fearlessly to the challenge of historical poetry, in both the breadth of its scope and the intimacy of its materials. Young transforms archived letters, artifacts, and oral accounts into a carefully composed clamor of voices, stolen through history into some of the year's keenest lines." - Boston Globe


Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, Editors: Sheila Black, Jennifer Bartlett, Michael Northen (Cinco Puntos Press)

"Highly intuitive and without artifice, the poetry in this compendium shows that the greatest difference may be the greatest triumph. This book's a brain trust of talent in a world of doubt. Sensory memory, self analysis-the constants of the poet-acquire a greater spiritual value than before, teaching all of us to trust our own abilities. It is sumptuous." - Grace Cavalieri, Washington Independent Review of Books

Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion, & Spirituality, Editor: Kevin Simmonds (Sibling Rivalry Press)

"If prophesy is speaking an idea whose time has come, then Collective Brightness must be prophetic. In a time when the right for all persons to participate in religious freedoms, such as marriage or ordination, is shifting and changing, and when religious groups of all kinds demonstrate their turmoil over sexual identity, the 100 plus poets represented in the anthology write boldly of faith, lack thereof, religion, exclusion therefrom, and spirituality that cannot be taken from them." - Katherine Howell for Split This Rock

Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry, Editor: Julie R. Enszer (A Midsummer Night's Press)

"In the land of milk and honey, there is room for a myriad of voices expressing a spectrum of emotions and witnessing a pantheon of moments - rage and humor, passion and regret, secular necessity and sexual desire, political exhortation and personal reflection. That's how it is in this collection of work by more than 30 poets, every one somehow queer and in some way Jewish." - Richard Labonte, Book Marks

Sing: Poetry of the Indigenous Americas, Editor: Allison Hedge Coke (University of Arizona Press)

"One of the most essential anthologies of recent years, Sing is rare in scope and insight. The poems found here are a testament to the power of indigeneity and the urgency of our current moment. This book sings the hemisphere into glorious fullness, teaching us the connections between us, and the great schisms between our knowledge and our actions." - Matthew Shenoda, author of Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone

Entering the Real World: VCCA Poets on Mt. San Angelo, Editors: Margaret B. Ingraham and Andrea Carter Brown (Wavertree Press)

Editor Margaret B. Ingraham writes, "This anthology is at once a work of literary merit, a celebratory offering, and an historical record of a hallowed place." A celebration of the 40yh anniversary of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Contains over 60 previously published poems by VCCA Fellows, written about or inspired by their VCCA residencies. The poets are from throughout the United States, around the world, and across the decades.

And a few 2012 books we're looking forward to:

  • Richard Blanco, Looking for the Gulf Motel (Pitt Poetry Series)
  • Carmen Calatayud, Cave Walk (Press 53)
  • Martha Collins, White Papers (Pitt Poetry Series)
  • Piotr Gwiazda, Messages (Pond Road Press)
  • Monica Hand, me and Nina (Alice James Books)
  • Nathalie Handal, Poet in Andalucía (Pitt)
  • Alan King, Drift (Willow Books)
  • Alicia Ostriker, The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems, 1979-2011 (Pitt Poetry Series)
  • Joseph Ross, Meeting Bone Man (Main Street Rag)
  • Tim Seibles, Fast Animal (Etruscan Press)
  • Patricia Smith, Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press)
  • Pamela Uschuk, Wild in the Plaza of Memory (Wings Press)

1 comment:

Carole said...

this is my favorite poem.