Monday, December 9, 2013

Split This Rock Recommended Poetry Books of 2013

2013 was an extraordinary year for poetry! Choosing books for Split This Rock's fourth annual "recommended" list was harder than ever -- an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Poets are writing daring, innovative, gorgeous books that challenge the status quo and remind us of the power of language to wake us up, to give us strength.

Over the course of the past year we have felt immensely lucky to read and treasure new books of poetry of provocation and witness, and we're delighted to be able to recommend the following list to you today. We invite you to shop your local independent bookstore, Teaching for Change’s Busboys and Poets Bookstore, or for all your poetry-loving (and soon-to-be-poetry-loving) family and friends.

We also know this list is by no means comprehensive. Please "comment" below to help build the e-library of essential 2013 books. Thank you!

Yvette Neisser Moreno and Sarah Browning compiled the list this year.

Split This Rock Recommended Poetry Books of 2013

Calling Home: Praise Songs and IncantationsCalling Home: Praise Songs and Incantations, Naomi Ayala (Bilingual Review Press)
“Ayala does the best that poetry can do. She is the poet to whom things speak, no matter how they are called. . . . Simply put, Calling Home is the best book of poetry you’ll read in a long time, by a Latina or any other.” –Lorna Dee Cervantes
The Switching/Yard, Jan Beatty (University of Pittsburgh Press)
“One of Pittsburgh’s most dynamic poets ‘juxtaposes lyricism with brutality’ as she navigates the human heart. … Beatty mixes the real and the unreal in her portraits of life in Pittsburgh, her search for her birth family, and her musing on the gods that guide and torment us." –Hester Kamin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
What We Ask of Flesh, Remica Bingham (Etruscan Press)
“[F]ew crimes are as consequential as those committed to our bodies, and this is the great weight of Remica L. Bingham’s powerful new book What We Ask of Flesh. Bingham profiles many women and girls, all victims of rape or other physical abuses, to revive them (and her audience, I suspect) to consciousness.” -Marianne Kunkel, Prairie Schooner
Star of David, Rick Black (Poetica Magazine Chapbook Contest Winner, Poetica)
“Rick Black writes with the honed elegance of a poet so in command of lyric sentiment and the efficient evocative use of language that what results is indeed as urgent and vulnerable as true prayer ... There is something profoundly human and completely necessary about Star of David.” - Kwame Dawes
Icarus in Love, Antoinette Brim (Main Street Rag)
“Antoinette Brim's Icarus in Love is a stellar collection full of the mythology of living. Utilizing vibrant, recurring images that braid their way through our hearts and memories, Brim raises hard questions of survival and offers hope to us all.” -Jacqueline Jones LaMon
After This We Go Dark, Theresa Davis  (Sibling Rivalry Press)
“I felt like this book was written for me. [Davis] tackles everything I process as a Queer Black single mother dealing in love, politics, transitioned loved ones, sensuality, missed opportunities, and reclaimed empowerment.” -Wise Edits
\blak\ \al-fe bet\: Poems, Mitchell L. H. Douglas (Persea)
“Haunted by questions of contemporary blackness, this second book by Douglas is packed with risk and conflict, but also beauty.” -Publishers Weekly
Unpeopled EdenUnpeopled Eden, Rigoberto González (Four Way Books)
“The latest from the energetic and versatile Gonzalez (Black Blossoms) has a tight focus with potentially a broad appeal: its four long poems look hard at the victims and the antiheroes of the U.S.–Mexico border troubles … He also never limits himself to one subject, working hard to let in all the readers he can.” –Publishers Weekly

Autogeography, Reginald Harris (Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Prize Winner)
“In Autogeography, Harris gives us the gift of quickening the treasure of black culture in poems that touch the enduring spirit of black people. … The poet celebrates black life and the way it connects to humanity, the bright woven cloth of all our lives.” –Afaa Michael Weaver
Hemming the Water, Yona Harvey (Four Way Books)
“There is no rest in this extraordinary debut book by Yona Harvey. It is a book in which the devastation is still very much alive. … We are taken to dizzying uncertainties, a place between what’s real and what isn’t, what’s intimate and what’s strange, between evil and good.”
–Toi Derricotte
Kohl and Chalk, Shadab Zeest Hashmi (Poetic Matrix Press)
“The bride who contemplates her half paralyzed face on the eve of marriage … is emblematic of the larger story of Pakistan: an ancient culture fractured by new and divergent identities. The poet, like the bride whose face is divided into ‘lit’ and ‘dim’ halves, gazes into the mirrors of history and politics to make sense of the disjunctive parts that refuse to come together as a whole.” (Publisher’s synopsis)
Senegal Taxi, Juan Felipe Herrera  (University of Arizona Press)
“This [is a] startling new collection of poems in prose and verse in which [Herrera] adopts the voices of those suffering through or perpetrating the violence that has racked Sudan.  … Herrera has the unusual capacity to write convincing political poems that are as personally felt as poems can be.” –NPR
Pitch Dark Anarchy, Randall Horton (TriQuarterly/Northwestern University Press)
“These are poems of breakage and re-assemblage, dislocation and re-affirmation… I admire the verve and the intellect, a voice poised on the edge of a precipice, speaking what is new.”
Mead Magazine
The Only Thing That Matters, Kim Jensen (Syracuse University Press)
“In a time when the ordinary and the predictable prevail in poetry, this collection by Kim Jensen gives us a truly original poetry of witness. … Finely crafted and marvelously inventive, these poems sing and hiss and howl. They enliven and push and love.” –Naomi Ayala
Darktown Follies, Amaud Jamaul Johnson (Tupelo Press)
“Poses as a kind of mock minstrel show, one that records the ways in which blackness and black Americans have been exploited for the sake of entertainment.” – Slate
Render, Collin Kelley (Sibling Rivalry Press)
“An autobiography in verse, Render ... is one of the best, if not the best, poetry book I have read this year.  ... [T]he poems in Render give readers a good idea of what it is like to grow up gay in America.” –Helen Losse, Wild Goose Poetry Review
Black Stars, Ngo Tu Lap, trans. from Vietnamese by Martha Collins (Milkweed)
“Reading Ngo Tu Lap’s poems, terrible nostalgia wells up in me— nostalgia for a lost time and a far-gone country, nostalgia for people I’ve loved, and for creatures of forests and rivers. … I feel gratitude too. War is over. Peace arrives with these beautiful poems.” –Maxine Hong Kingston
The Big Smoke, Adrian Matekja (National Book Award Finalist, Penguin)
“Jack Johnson, the first African-American world heavyweight champion, is a figure of mythological proportions; in this new collection, poet Adrian Matejka gives the boxer a voice that's wholly human. The poet examines race and racism from Johnson's singular perspective.”
Hum, Jamaal May (Beatrice Hawley Award Winner, Alice James Books)
“Linguistically acrobatic, these poems render the violence of a body’s undoing—by war, by drugs—and the mind’s in ways that are beautifully crafted … This book relentlessly explores power and forgiveness, love and fear.” -Publishers Weekly
SHE HAS A NAME, Kamilah Aisha MoonShe Has a Name, Kamilah Aisha Moon (Four Way Books)
“The opening pages of She Has a Name identify the collection as a ‘biomythography,’ a term created by Audre Lorde to describe a narrative based on myth and history, fact and fiction. Kamilah Aisha Moon’s biomythography tells the story of a young woman with autism from multiple points of view.” (Publisher’s synopsis)
The Light of the Storm/La luz de la tormenta, Carlos Parada Ayala (Zozobra Publishing)
“Carlos Parada Ayala’s inventive and even startling language makes new the immigrant tale, the worker’s struggle, the lover’s terror. I would follow this poet anywhere.” – Sarah Browning
Kind, Gretchen Primack (Post Traumatic Press)
“Everything is intentional in the landscape of this well-structured volume. For Primack, the rights of animals are human rights, and vice versa.” - Pank
Gospel of Dust, Joseph Ross (Main Street Rag)
“As with all burnt offerings, in Joseph Ross’ poems something is also rising. We are offered again the stark choice: ashes or bread?” - Rose Marie Berger
Calendars of Fire, Lee Sharkey (Tupelo Press)
“An extended elegy whose grief is political as well as personal. Across barriers of tribe, history, and mortality, her poems carry us home with their music to a dwelling place in our own resonant bodies.” Common Good Books

The Forage House, Tess Taylor (Red Hen Press)
“Every so often there is a book of poetry that reminds us how well verse can speak history.  Taylor, a white descendant of Thomas Jefferson … patches quotations, blanks, and context into a carefully tessellated structure.” – Oxford American

Tenuous Chapel, Melissa Tuckey (Winner of the ABZ Press First Book Contest)
 “Tuckey is a pacifist poet who has given the world she'd like to save the gift of beauty. The poems of Tenuous Chapel exist in order that our existence might become a little more humane and a touch more tender as we reflect on the meaning of our brief stay on earth.” The Journal

Speaking Wiri Wiri, Dan Vera (Winner of the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press Poetry Prize)
“Full of longing and bittersweet humor, these poems are lyrical, narrative, poignant, and always powerful. In his own search for who and what he really is, Vera has given us a true portrait of the confused and often contradictory place that is modern America.” Linda Rodriguez Writes

No, Ocean Vuong (YesYes Books)
“Honest, intimate, and brimming with lyric intensity, these stunning poems come of age with a fifth of vodka and an afternoon in an attic, with a record stuck on please, with starlight on a falling bomb.” Traci Brimhall

Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers, Frank X. Walker (University of Georgia Press)
“In these beautifully crafted poems, Walker conducts an unusual choir. This choir sings history, sadness, hatred, and hope…These voices skillfully offer the reader a picture of Mississippi’s culture of racial hatred.” Joseph Ross

The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish, Joshua Weiner (University of Chicago)
“Explores how consciousness can be consumed by war, illness, and work… Weiner, in cataloguing what 'the pastoral cannot contain,' uncovers the sharpest lyrics in this masterful book, at once poised and relentless.” Publishers Weekly

Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, and Other Poems, Ghassan Zaqtan, trans. from Arabic by Fady Joudah (Griffin Poetry Prize winner, Yale University Press)
“[Zaqtan’s] poetry awakens the spirits buried deep in the garden, in our hearts, in the past, present and future. His singing reminds us why we live and how, in the midst of war, despair, global changes.” – Griffin Prize Judges’ Citation

The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, ed. Deborah Ager and M.E. Silverman (Bloomsbury)
“It is fascinating to see just how our younger poets make their way through language and history, their own heritage, a digital world that has changed all of us in how we communicate, and has condensed history in ways that are new. Let us learn from them.” –Myra Sklarew

Flicker and Spark: A Contemporary Queer Anthology of Spoken Word and Poetry, ed. Regie Cabico and Brittany Fonte (Lowbrow Press)
“We sometimes can browse the world but sometimes we need detail. We need to know the ugly why and the beautiful why. The poetic Queer why is often neglected. I believe this anthology will go some way to uncover and decorate our eclectic and diverse wheres and whys.”
–Gerry Potter
This Assignment Is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on Teaching, ed. Megan Volpert (Sibling Rivalry Press)
“[T]hese poetic works serve as a beacon, a lighthouse of sorts, not just for the LGBTIQ community but for anyone who has ever been seen as ‘other.’” –Shellie McCullough, World Literature Today

Some 2014 books we eagerly anticipate:
Difficult Fruit, Lauren K. Alleyne
Shadow Play: A Novella in Verse, Jody Bolz
Split, Cathy Linh Che
The Love Project: A Marriage Made in Poetry, Wanda Coleman & Austin Straus
Day Unto Day, Martha Collins
Mexican Jenny and Other Poems, Barbara Brinson Curiel
Thieves in the Afterlife, Kendra DeColo
Seam, Tarfia Faizullah
We Didn't Know Any Gangsters, Brian Gilmore
I Am the Beggar of the World, Eliza Griswold, ed.
Zion, TJ Jarrett
Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones
Patter, Douglas Kearney
Hustle, David Tomas Martinez
The Heart of a Comet, Pages Matam
Haiti Glass, Lenelle Moïse
Once, Then, Andrea Scarpino
Nude Descending an Empire, Sam Taylor
The Fateful Apple, Venus Thrash
Comprehending Forever, Rich Villar
Abide, Jake Adam York
Day of the Border Guards, Katherine E. Young


Collin Kelley said...

Thank you, Yvette Neisser Moreno, Sarah Browning and Split This Rock for recommending Render!

Beixo Pau said...

Try Sarah Pemberton Strong'sTour of the Breath Gallery. As Stephen Burt says, "Strong is the real thing."