In her new memoir, Rebecca Solnit writes of a particular joy: the “pleasure of meeting new voices and ideas and possibilities, having the world become more coherent in some subtle or enormous way, extending or filling in your map of the universe.” All literature has the potential to achieve such enormously lofty goals, and poetry, we’d argue, is at the top of that list. These new poetry books, our most anticipated of the year, manage to simultaneously distill and expand language and emotion; they bring to light buried histories and intimate truths and wild speculations. Read them to fill in your map of the universe—a map that grows richer with each addition.
Featured Image: Kevon Nicholas
In the Lateness of the World
Carolyn Forché’s 2019 memoir, What You Have Heard Is True—the story of a naïve young poet’s journey to activism—was a critically acclaimed National Book Award finalist. Now she returns with her first new poetry collection in 17 years, a stunning work that crosses borders and landscapes, unearths global histories, and takes its view from the end of the world.
For the Ride
Anyone who thinks poetry can only be one thing is in for a reawakening with Alice Notley’s latest. Known for bending genres and eschewing formal rules of poetry, Notley breaks all the rules once again in For the Ride, a book-length, sci-fi poem in which a group of disaster survivors flee to another dimension, taking language with them.
Stranger by Night
Edward Hirsch’s last collection, Gabriel, was an elegy for his son. With Stranger by Night, Hirsch turns again to the elegy, memorializing friends who have begun to die as he reaches his seventieth year. And yet the collection is also full of joy as Hirsch looks back on his life’s experiences with gratitude.
Working on a Song
Hadestown, the Tony Award–winning Best Musical and breakout success of 2019, is reconstructed here by its creator and songwriter, Anaïs Mitchell. A modern retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice—and a passion project of Mitchell’s that consumed her for more than a decade, details of which she annotates in the text—Hadestown is poised to become a Broadway classic.
Say Something Back & Time Lived, Without Its Flow
Philosopher, feminist theorist, and celebrated British poet Denise Riley combines two volumes of work in both poetry and prose. The book opens with Say Something Back, poems written in response to losing her adult son, followed by Time Lived, Without Its Flow, a prose meditation on grief in all its many cycles.
Broadway for Paul
In Broadway for Paul, Vincent Katz charts a course through New York City, simultaneously highlighting the city’s undefinable qualities and rich history while also reckoning with its divisive culture—which is illustrative, Katz writes, of the country’s larger civic discourse. Through soulful portraits, he advocates for graciousness and the seeking out of shared humanity.
How to Love a Country
Barack Obama appointed Richard Blanco as the fifth presidential inaugural poet in 2012; Blanco, who grew up in Spain as a Cuban exile, was the first Latino, immigrant, and queer poet to serve in the role. In his newest book of prose poetry, Blanco addresses the tragedies and brutalities of our nation while also reaching for hope. Patricia Smith writes that How to Love a Country shows us “all the right ways there are to love a country that so often forgets how to love us back.”
Shifting between the devastating wildfires that struck British Columbia in 2015 and 2017 and the Japanese internment camps of WWII, Michael Prior’s sophomore collection explores generational trauma, mixed-race identity, and the erasure of both personal histories and natural wilderness. Prior’s language is hauntingly beautiful and undeniably resilient.
Lean Against This Late Hour
This is the first work by renowned Iranian poet Garous Abdolmalekian to appear in English—in a dual-language edition, in fact—and readers of English are all the more fortunate for it. There is grief here, in the aftermath of trauma, and censorship from above, but the speakers of Abdolmalekian’s nuanced poems remain open to life’s pleasures and insistent on being heard.
A novel in verse about a young Muslim woman’s crisis of faith as she falls deep into a romantic relationship with a married man, Noor Naga’s Washes, Prays defies genre and stereotypes, and manages to be both melancholy and humorous at once. Coocoo, an immigrant in Toronto, lonely and reckless, is a heroine after all of our hearts.
Grit, Grace, and Gold
Kit Pancoast Nagamura
This collection of haiku celebrates the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and explores the inherent beauty of athleticism and the elegance of each sport. The collection features work from award-winning haiku poet Kit Pancoast Nagamura as well as 30 poets from Japan and around the world.
The Periodic Table of Poems
For something cheeky yet educational, check out Peter Davern’s The Periodic Table of Poems. Across 93 brief poems, Davern, a professor of chemical sciences in—ahem—Limerick, Ireland, waxes poetic on the history and unusual nature of each scientific element.
What Hurts Going Down
Nancy Lee’s first two books were novels about the hand-in-hand nature of female adolescence and pervasive violence; in What Hurts Going Down, she returns to those themes with a collection of poems set in the grey area between pre– and post–#MeToo. In “Fame,” an aspiring actor is directed to take off her top and pose like a schoolgirl. “Outside the door,” Lee writes, “a hallway of other doors, and behind each one, a man calling action.”
Jane Hirshfield is among the greats of contemporary poetry, and her newest collection puts her talents and inimitable voice on display. An ecological and political reckoning, Ledger calls for awareness and action regarding climate change, the refugee crisis, and justice. What do we owe this planet? And how much do we owe each other?
Nate Marshall’s Finna examines the lived experience of Black Americans and other oppressed people during an era of freshly emboldened white supremacy. Marshall asks crucial questions about erasure and violence, uses hip hop as a critical lens, and celebrates Black vernacular as a language of resilience, community, and hope.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins returns with his thirteenth collection, the first since his bestselling volume, The Rain in Portugal. Whale Day features Collins’s trademark wit and playfulness, even as he delves into thoughts on mortality.
Laurie Halse Anderson
A TIME Best Book of the Year, Laurie Halse Anderson’s poetry memoir—newly released in paperback—has been widely praised for its powerful vulnerability and reclamation of trauma. Author of the cult classic YA novel Speak, Anderson pens a love letter to fellow survivors and shouts for the crucial necessity of major systemic change.