Monday, December 3, 2012

Split This Rock Recommended Poetry Books of 2012

Looking for great holiday gifts? Look no further! For the third year, Split This Rock brings you its list of notable books published in the past 12 months or so. 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 were frustrated to see The Washington Post once again include no collections of poetry in their favorite books of the year. We’ve registered a protest with the book editors and we urge you to do so as well. Meanwhile, we urge you to read the blogs and journals that are reviewing poetry, and doing it well. Where we could find such a review of a book we loved, we quote from it, below, and link to the site.

The list is by no means comprehensive. So much is happening in poetry these days – even in poetry of provocation and witness – in every corner of our country and from presses small, medium-sized, and scrappy as hell, that we can’t possibly wrap our minds around all of it. A remarkable problem to be having! Send us your additions and suggestions and we’ll keep the list rolling. Email us at

Happy reading!
Split This Rock Team


Split This Rock Recommended Poetry Books of 2012

Looking for the Gulf Motel, Richard Blanco (Pitt Poetry Series)
“A collection of highly crafted poems that offer a compelling meditation on how one family’s legacy has shaped and continues to shape a poet’s Latino identity, sexual identity and his understanding of the issues that make of life a rich and complex experience.” – Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas

Double Agent, Michelle Chan Brown (Kore Press)
“There is a lot to absorb, digest, and chuckle at here. Overall, the seriousness of every situation lends itself to double meanings by a Double Agent poet, who works with and against the grain of love and life with honesty and irony.” – Diane Sahms-Guarnieri, The Fox Chase Review

In the Company of Spirits, Carmen Calatayud (Press 53)
“Offers us a contemporary poet working to weave narratives of testimonio that blur the line between the political and the spiritual.” – Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas

Collected Poems, Lucille Clifton (BOA Editions)
“Like Neruda, [Clifton’s] poems traverse everything from oceans to stars, from birthdays to deaths, from Atlas to Superman, from cancer to visions, from Lucifer to God. And like Neruda, she has an affinity for celebrating all the wear, wounds and tragedies that befall every human life.” – Edgar Gabriel Silex, Little Patuxent Review

White Papers, Martha Collins (Pitt Poetry Series)
“The forty-three poems or ‘papers’ that fill this collection follow her—and our—education in and about a world of white privilege. Collins deftly lifts and prods, unearthing suspicions, stereotypes, and power plays that have existed through centuries of systematic racial oppression.” – Valerie Duff-Strautmann, The Journal

Slow Lightning, Eduardo C. Corral (Yale Series of Younger Poets)
“The sophistication of Slow Lightning… is that its stunning imagery, its serious treatment of craft, as well as its homage to a Southwestern culture and landscape that predates its life as a U.S. territory, will endow the book with a timeless quality. This is indeed a classic in the making.” – Rigoberto González, El Paso Times

Clangings, Steven Cramer (Sarabande Books)
“Schizophrenia may be characterized by a surfeit of language, a refurbishment of our used up words with musical connections every day speech and sense cannot provide. These riffs are ‘clangings,’ and Cramer imagines them into a poetic narrative that exults in both aural richness and words’ power to evoke an interior landscape whose strangeness is intimate, unsteady, and stirring.” – New Pages

When My Brother Was an Aztec, Natalie Diaz (Copper Canyon)
“There is a poetics-infused prosodic wonder at work here, wrangling [Diaz’s] family mythos like a Homeric pro… Laying out long form after long form in original syntax that neither regrets nor defends, Diaz chronicles her brother’s meth-fueled ravages from an unsafe distance with tragicomic aplomb, direct lyricism and glistening irony.” – Susan Lynch, Conium Review

Red Army Red, Jehanne Dubrow (Triquarterly/Northwestern University Press)
“Those who liked [Dubrow’s] last book Stateside will not be disappointed.… Her flashpoint is how the material world reflects the spiritual climate— objects, goods, and services, all characters on a political stage…. The integrity of form, attention to image, along with poetic transfiguration, create perceptions and poems that are a contribution.” – Grace Cavalieri, Washington Independent Review of Books

Time of Useful Consciousness, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (New Directions)
"Ferlinghetti’s first book since Poetry as Insurgent Art, the fierce and immediate Time of Useful Consciousness presents poetry written ‘in ways that those who see poetry as the province of the few and educated had never imagined.’” – The New York Times Book Review

Horse in the Dark, Vievee Francis (Northwestern University Press)
“Horse in the Dark is the long version of Philip Larkin’s line ‘What will survive of us is love.’  … The circumstances are harsh. The poems are excruciatingly beautiful.” – Scott Hightower, Fogged Clarity 

me and Nina, Monica Hand (Alice James Books)
“This emotionally complex volume, with highly innovative forms, includes poems about Nina Simone’s life… Hand loves her, finds the door in her voice, her songs and her life and makes herself a fitful home.…The two are connected by experience as black women in America.  Simone is transformed into a surrogate lover, a real muse and real angel.” – Ellen Miller-Mack, The Mom Egg

Engine Empire, Cathy Park Hong (W.W. Norton)
Though Hong’s message, inasmuch as she can be pinned down to one, involves the moral peril of crossing frontiers, she never gives in to easy answers, instead insisting on the way in which we need something to push forward or past. … Engine Empire is … a sustaining book, one that believes in the value of being moved by words—the value, that is, of being human.” – Jonathan Farmer, Slate

Drift, Alan King (Aquarius Press)
Drift is a fun journey full of wise voices and sensuality. King is not a brooding artist, but a brilliant and down to earth brother who stands sober in the cipher, awake and engaged, eagerly consuming life with a vivid, unpretentious hunger.” – James Cagney,

mystic turf, Quraysh Ali Lansana (Aquarius Press)
“In this reflective, starkly personal book, this daring exploration of memories both melancholy and revelatory, Quraysh Ali Lansana has shattered that insistent barrier that often separates us from our own histories. These melodic, unflinching vignettes chronicle a search for a definitive root, and the poet's journey mesmerizes, entertains, surprises and inspires.” – Patricia Smith

Grip, Yvette Neisser Moreno (Gival Press)
“[T]he poems let themselves evolve without manipulation. Maybe the translator’s art has softened her ground so language is not worried onto the page. Her lines move without fear, and light up something inside us ...” – Grace Cavalieri, Washington Independent Review of Books

Public Figures, Jena Osman (Wesleyan University Press)
“Part photo album, part nonfiction, part poetry, part appropriated radio language (wartime voice procedure is detailed with appalling clarity), Public Figures is a compelling read from every and any angle.” – Seth Abramson, The Huffington Post

Speed Enforced by Aircraft, Richard Peabody (Broadkill River Press)
“In a voice witty and poignant, these poems address aging. Peabody embraces the indignities of fatherhood, rails against the lessons of war, and outgrows his own father—and in the process, he drags himself memorably into maturity. In his distinct and unforgettable style, Peabody embraces ‘the complicated software of the heart.’” – Kim Roberts, editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly

Later Poems Selected and New: 1971-2012, Adrienne Rich (W.W. Norton)
“What Rich drew out of the shadows, and put into practice, was that deeply democratic, beautifully mixed alloy practiced by Whitman … In her time, quite simply, she re-united the public poem with the political one. It is an enormous achievement.” – Eavan Boland, The New Republic

Meeting Bone Man, Joseph Ross (Main Street Rag Press)
“Joseph Ross' Meeting Bone Man is a ruminative journey through the violence and hope of what it means to be human in the 21st century. … Thank you, Joseph Ross, for your persistence, your clarity, your hope.” – Philip Metres, Behind the Lines

Fast Animal, Tim Seibles (Etruscan Press, National Book Award Finalist)
“Tim Seibles chronicles his evolution from innocence to adulthood in Fast Animal… [E]ach experience is keenly observed and shapes his growing sense of identity and an exquisite awareness of the things all humans share.” – Elizabeth Lund, The Washington Post

The New Black, Evie Shockley (Wesleyan University Press)
"Shockley’s poems about race are more than clichéd harangues that focus on white people’s perception and reaction to color; her gaze includes gender, includes the body, includes lives broken and braved in letters, in Carolina, in experiment and in sonnet. Through a sharp eye and tuned ear, Shockley has crafted an accomplished collection that signifies, puns and riffs its way to a nuanced perspective on contemporary America." - R. Dwayne Betts, Post No Ills

Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, Patricia Smith (Coffee House Press)
“Motown saturates the language and weaves itself into Smith’s narratives. Focusing on the stinging memories of growing up black and a woman during the 1960s, one could overlook Smith’s mastery of rhyme, rhythm and form, but it runs like an electric current throughout the collection.” – Publishers Weekly

Thrall, Natasha Trethewey (Houghton Mifflin)
“Trethewey examines the conflicting feelings of resentment and gratitude a biracial woman harbors toward her white father. … [She] continues important work toward internalizing and making tangible for today’s readers large swaths of racial legacy.” – Diego Báez, Booklist

Wild in the Plaza of Memory, Pamela Uschuk (Wings Press)
“Pamela Uschuk fearlessly and skillfully [writes herself and her politics into a story], whether she is writing about meeting Vietnam vets on the anniversary of the TET offensive or she is addressing contemporary issues such as immigration laws or the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords.” – Bill Wetzel,

Nostalgia, My Enemy, Saadi Youssef, translated by Sinan Antoon and Peter Money (Graywolf)
“In direct, penetrating language …Youssef’s poems dwell on the casualties of the war, the loss of his country, the role of the writer in exile, the atrocities of Saddam Hussein, and the inhumane acts perpetrated by American military at Abu Ghraib. What emerges is the powerful voice of a writer for whom ‘Poetry transforms in that intimate moment which combines the current and the eternal in a wondrous embrace.’ – Prairie Schooner


Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5th, 2007, Bombing of Baghdad's "Street of the Booksellers, ed. Beau Beausoleil & Deena Shehabi (PM Press)
Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here looks squarely at what was lost five years ago when a bomb destroyed the bookseller's street in Baghdad. Thirty people died and at least 100 were wounded. While acknowledging the deep loss, the anthology seeks to rekindle and celebrate the spirit of writing, art and the creative, enduring human spirit.” – Deborah Stambler, The Huffington Post

Before There Is Nowhere to Stand: Palestine/Israel: Poets Respond to the Struggle, ed. Joan Dobbie, Grace Beeler, Edward Morin (Lost Horse Press)
“A stunning new anthology… Many of the poets between these covers mourn and/or rage against the violence that continues between their two peoples; many work at trying to understand; still other poets offer cherished memories.” – National Council of Teachers of English

Chorus: A Literary Mixtape, ed. Saul Williams, Dufflyn Lammers, Aja Monet (MTV Books)
“Instead of creating a traditional anthology of poetry, where pieces are presented formally by author and spaced out so that they can be analyzed individually, a free flowing compilation [has been] put together without author and title boldly separating each poem. This allows ideas and emotions to connect one poem to the next… Some voices are angry, some are loving, some are confused … but this all just adds up to the human experience, and therein lies the beauty of Chorus.” – Scratched Vinyl

The Forbidden: Poems from Iran and Its Exiles, ed. Sholeh Wolpé (Michigan State University Press)
“Courageous and gripping accounts from inside the struggle for democracy in Iran... The political revelations are explosive, but there's a lot more here as well: love, humor, mystic ecstasy, giving us a sense of the full range of the humanity and the tragedy of the Iranian people.” – Dan Veach

Voices of the Future, ed. Etan Thomas (Haymarket Books)
“So necessary a book that it truly deserves the term fantastic.” – Chuck D of Public Enemy

Among the many 2013 books we eagerly anticipate are these titles:

Calling Home: Praise Songs, Incantations, Naomi Ayala (Bilingual Review Press)  

Icarus in Love, Antoinette Brim (Main Street Rag)

The Scabbard of Her Throat, Bernadette Geyer (The Word Works)

Pitch Dark Anarchy, Randall Horton (TriQuarterly/Northwestern University Press)

Render, Collin Kelley (Sibling Rivalry Press)

Hum, Jamaal May (Beatrice Hawley Award Winner, Alice James Books)

Mezzanines, Matthew Olzmann (Kundiman Poetry Prize Winner, Alice James Books)

The Light of the Storm / La luz de la tormenta, Carlos Parada Ayala (Zozobra Publishing)

Tenuous Chapel, Melissa Tuckey (ABZ Press Poetry Prize Winner)

Speaking Wiri Wiri, Dan Vera (Letras Latinas Poetry Prize Winner, Red Hen Press)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for including me on your list for 2013!

Collin Kelley said...

Thanks for mentioning "Render" for 2013. Very excited about the book!

Anonymous said...

Sarah, thanks for the mention. It definitely lifted my spirits. I'm excited about the reading with Reuben Jackson. I can't wait to read from DRIFT and some new work! Thanks!

Anthony Hopper said...

I might have to look into one or two of them. Very detailed list.