I Reviewed 99 Recent Poetry Collections—Here’s What I Found

Matthew Buckley Smith looks past the trees and maps a forest

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WHEN C.S. LEWIS took Richard Baxter’s expression “mere Christianity” as the title of his 1952 work of apologetics, he was using ‘mere’ in the old sense. Apart from the winking modesty it suggested, the adjective announced an effort to describe Christianity in its nakedness: not Catholic Christianity or Lutheran Christianity or Anglican Christianity, but mere Christianity. Every time I write about poetry, I feel a foolish urge to make a parallel account, a description of ‘mere’ poetry. The breadth of the task and the narrowness of most occasions for critical writing tend to discourage such an undertaking. Most, but not all.

This winter I read 99 single-author collections of contemporary poetry in a little over six weeks. Quality varied. So did my feelings about the vast and trunkless piles of books on my desk. The idea was to choose a small handful of these collections for an omnibus review, but as I made my way through their seven-or-eight-thousand pages, another plan took shape. When reviewing any book of poems, one makes claims about the larger health of Poesy at one’s own risk. It is hard, after all, to say much about the forest when you are only looking at one tree. But the more of these books I read, the more the stack on my desk seemed like a chance to map the forest.

This winter I read 99 single-author collections of contemporary poetry in a little over six weeks. Quality varied.

Though not strictly representative of all poetry written in English today, this 99-book sample has furnished a few meaningful generalizations all the same. For instance, author photographs have not at all gone out of fashion and explanatory endnotes are quite in vogue. Meter remains unpopular, rhyme may be enjoying a revival, and the small corner of the poetry demimonde populated by those I consider friends is even smaller than I thought. Most troubling: I found evidence that, properly speaking, there’s no such thing as poetry.


FIRST I SHOULD say where these books came from. They were review copies sent by presses, universities, and poets to the small, respectable poetry magazine that originally commissioned the omnibus. (At the end of this essay is a complete list.) But first—data analysis being the Dutch elm disease of intellectual discourse today—I have compiled some figures to describe this particular stack of books:

THE NUMBERS:
99        Books in all
50        Presses represented
94        American presses represented
89        Books representing American presses
2          British presses represented
5          Books representing British presses
3          Canadian presses represented
5          Books representing Canadian presses
24        Presses represented by a single book
4          Presses represented by 5 or more books:
8          University of Pittsburgh Press
6          Sarabande Books
5          New Issues Press
5          Persea Books
19         Books published in 2015
10         Books published in 2014
35        Books published in 2013
23        Books published in 2012
5          Books published in 2011
3          Books published in 2010
2          Books published in 2009
2          Books published in 2008
3          Hardcover books
6.42     Mean price per book, USD
80        Mean number of pages per book
14         Books with more than 100 pages                   
9          Books with fewer than 60 pages
39        Books published in conjunction with a prize
54        First books
25        Second books
41         Books by male poets
58        Books by female poets
83        Books by white poets
16         Books by poets of color
75        Books with author photographs
61         Books with explanatory endnotes
10         Books making use of rhyme with regular meter
16         Books making use of rhyme without regular meter
0          Books making use of regular meter without rhyme
0          Books representing the press that published my first collection
18         Books by poets I had previously heard of
5          Books by poets I had previously met
0          Books by friends
4          Books by Facebook friends
1           Book I had already reviewed

And just as these books varied in objective dimensions, so the poems inside varied in the sensations they afforded. There were plainspoken poems. There were mysterious poems. There were obvious poems. There were confusing poems. There were poems of a single line. There were poems of many pages. There were poems that stood alone. There were poems that demanded context. There were starchy poems of high avant-garde seriousness. There were cute poems snugly patted into received prosodic forms. There were lecturesome poems strung together in book-length chains of prosy, right-thinking historical narrative. There were a few poems of perverse, deliberate inhospitality. There were more than a few poems from bashful good-grade-getters masquerading as secret geniuses masquerading as nubile banshees. There were lots of poems from what I think of as the Neat Facts School of Zany Inclusion and Gotcha Pathos. There were poems I remembered keenly after the first hurried skim. There were poems I forgot no matter how many times I reread them. There were funny poems. There were infuriating poems. And there were a few poems, very few, that genuinely moved me.

The root of ‘poetry’ is a Greek word for ‘making,’ so, taken one way, ‘poetry’ can be understood to mean the whole of art. But what about the way we use the term today? One might propose that poetry is necessarily a verbal art—rather than a visual, plastic, or performative one. Even this restriction fails, however, as some of the collections I encountered, including Nathan Hoks’ The Narrow Circle and Monica Ong’s Silent Anonymities, include photographs and illustrations as components of their poems, sometimes as accompaniments, sometimes as inextricable elements. And a book like Kathleen Flenniken’s Plume uses redaction and other typographical conventions to augment the visual effect of her work, as in the title poem:

For                    
years
it    may    be   locked
in        the       matrix
of    silt    and    sand
like        a        photo-
graphic            image
still                      and
untransported

So it may be fairer to say that while poetry is a verbal art, it can also incorporate elements traditionally associated with the visual, plastic, and performative arts. How then to define the genre that includes these 99 collections, but not, say, De Rerum Natura or King Lear or Madame Bovary? The use of broken lines would be one traditional answer. Even though only a small number of these collections make regular use of meter, nearly all use line breaks as indicated typographically, if not aurally. But line breaks also appear in De Rerum Natura and King Lear. And many of these collections—Matthew Minicucci’s Translation, Idra Novey’s Exit Civilian, and Mihaela Moscaliuc’s Immigrant Model, among others—contain poems that are printed as paragraphs, so that the end of the line is determined neither by meter nor by authorial fiat, but by the breadth of the margins. So something other than broken lines must define the thing that we call poetry today.

There were lecturesome poems strung together in book-length chains of prosy, right-thinking historical narrative. There were a few poems of perverse, deliberate inhospitality...There were lots of poems from what I think of as the Neat Facts School of Zany Inclusion and Gotcha Pathos.

Maybe it isn’t form at all. Maybe it’s purpose. King Lear and Madame Bovary tell stories, and De Rerum Natura presents a scientific lesson. Questionnaires question. Instruction manuals instruct. So what do poems do? Some tell a story—either straight through or in disconnected episodes. Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke, Bill Tremblay’s Magician’s Hat, and Suzanne Parker’s Viral tell stories about public, historical episodes. And books like Délana R. A. Dameron’s How God Ends Us contain poems that tell tidy, personal stories, like the one about family loyalty in “It Is Written,” which itself depicts the art of poetry as a type of storytelling:

He begins to cry    Maybe you’ll write
a poem about
    but I know he means,
soon there will be no one to tell the story.
He dictates    It’s funny, Mom never wanted to die
in a nursing home
.    She spent weeks
in his house and he washed her, fed her.
She always said ‘you’re a man
once but a child twice.

 He grabs the air. My baby brother
is a child twice. He cannot live
in his own house. 

I don’t mention karma or God’s vengeance,
how Grandma couldn’t spend her last days
at home because the same brother refused
to care for her. He is going
I fill the blank with: to die?
But the space is: to a nursing home.

Other collections, like Brian Russell’s The Year of What Now, Erin Mouré’s The Unmemntioable [sic], and Chloe Honum’s The Tulip-Flame, respond each to a single course of events—an illness, a pilgrimage, a suicide—over the length of the book, but don’t quite provide a narrative. They’re more like diaries than novels, and more like scrapbooks than diaries. Take the loose villanelle that gives Honum’s book its title:

        My sister’s painting this: a hill, a lane
        that winds around the hill, and a wide field
        of tulips with a centered tulip-flame.

She rolls her brush through gray and adds the rain
in tiny flicks, glinting arrows of cold.
My sister’s painting this: a hill, a lane.

Last year our mother died, as was her plan.
It’s simpler to imagine something could
have intervened. The centered tulip-flame

startles the scene; the surrounding ones are plain
pastels, while this one’s lit with a crimson fold.

The story here is hinted at, not told. The speaker doesn’t explain or dramatize the events behind the poem. She juxtaposes three lines of exposition with sixteen of description in a received form that uses repetition to produce a growing dread. (Unlike most poets in this sample, Honum employs traditional meter and rhyme throughout her book. But the villanelle form turned up with surprisingly frequency in other collections as well, often appearing in the work of poets who otherwise seemed to reject received prosodic forms.) To the extent that “The Tulip-Flame” succeeds, it does so by inspiring emotion, not by narrating a sequence of actions and reactions. Its motion is lyric.

And a term as tidy as ‘lyric’ is appealing to someone struggling to unify the many divergent movements in poetry today. It’s certainly a good word for the historical tradition from which these movements descend. But while many poems today seem designed to stir emotion, almost as many do not. In Adam Dickinson’s endlessly (relentlessly!) clever book, The Polymers, the apparent purpose is often simply to play with language, as in the palindromically titled “Cigar? Toss it in a can. It is so tragic,” a poem made up almost completely of deliberate misquotations, malapropism, and other linguistic muddles. This is how it ends:

It is perhaps a blessing in the skies that the hewn cries
sound like flaws in the ointment as we cease the day,
udderly disappointed by the ludicrust bowl in a china shop
and its new leash on life.

This is fun stuff, but it’s hardly lyric. Then again, one might claim that such language play is the true common purpose of poetry today. And, however unsatisfying this claim might be, it’s hard to dismiss. One can’t exactly prove that any given poem doesn’t at least attempt to play with language, whether or not it succeeds. But one needn’t bother with such a proof when one can simply identify a different, more obvious agenda.

Take Dan Taulapapa McMullin’s “Fa’a Fafine Poem Number Twenty-Four,” which describes in lucid but not especially lovely words a personal experience unfolding in a public moment:

At the Opening Ceremonies at Sydney Stadium, all
               the other queer teams marched
                                                                    in formation
               wearing regulation uniforms for their countries

Team Samoa was the only team at the Gay Games                                                                                                  in drag

The local Aboriginal, Maori, and Pacific Islander families in force gave us spontaneous
haka
     tributes from the stands

The young fa’afafine dressed me up as the lo’omatua, pushing me ahea
                 a fine mat around my chest and
                 some feathers knocking against my forehead

When I walked on the field there was a Samoan cameraman waving
                I waved back
On the giant screen amid the cheering crowds
                an older fa’afafine in close-up was nodding quaintly
                Oh gawd, I thought, she’s
                                                           me

‘Fa’afafine’ denotes a person born male but dressing and living as female in fulfillment of a non-binary gender role in Samoan society. ‘Lo’omatua’ is a stereotype of an old Samoan woman. And ‘haka’ is a traditional Maori war chant performed in exaggerated postures, which is also used to mark important social occasions. That I must define these expressions in order to discuss the poem illustrates part of Taulapapa’s implicit intention. His use of these culturally specific, non-English terms is consistent with the poem’s larger celebration of things that might otherwise remain unfamiliar, unfamilial, compromised, or compromising. By putting on drag, the Samoan fa’afafine reveal and assert their true identities. And by embracing the teasing role of lo’omatua, the speaker joyfully displays her age, her social role, and her cheerful vanity. Celebration, acceptance, and pride seem to be the forces turning the flywheel at the center of the poem. So although one might argue that language doesn’t go un-played-with in these lines, pure language-play doesn’t seem to be their defining ambition.

Still, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that by introducing foreign words into an English-language poem, Taulapapa is—if not playing with the language—at least attempting to expand it. So maybe this is actually modern poetry at its essence: an ongoing test of language’s limits. Such an experimental spirit clearly seems to motivate the poems in Steven Cramer’s Clangings, Amanda Nadelberg’s Bright Brave Phenomena, and Michael Teig’s There’s a Box in the Garage You Can Beat with a Stick.

But what about a poem like “Song,” from Cody Walker’s Shuffle and Breakdown?

Who loves who and where and why?
Dizzy in this lullaby,
Questions spin and come to rest
As you lie against my chest.

I don’t think I’d previously heard someone apply the subject “questions” to the verb “spin” (though that line does read a bit like an unconscious revision of Elliott Smith’s, “Crooked spin can’t come to rest”). Even so, this is a textbook love poem, a textbook aubade, a textbook tetrameter croon de coeur, reminiscent of Auden’s “Lullaby” among scores of others poems. The rhymes are conventional, the meter is conventional, the stanzas are conventional. The arguments, too—embrace the present, don’t ask too much about tomorrow—are as conventional as the moon. And the poem is called “Song,” which may be an even more conventional title for a poem than “Poem.”

But listen to it. It’s pretty. It sounds good. Sure, it probably won’t change anyone’s life, and it probably doesn’t bring anything new to the language or the genre. But there’s pleasure in reading it aloud.

So is it pleasure that defines poetry? Perhaps, though some collections suggest otherwise, including J. David Cummings’ Tancho, dg nanouk okpik’s corpse whale, and Myron Hardy’s Kingdom, which seem to have distinct moral, social, and political aims far removed from readerly enjoyment. More critically, there’s nothing unique to poetry about the provision of pleasure. Plenty of other forms and genres do the same thing, maybe better. Pleasure—like language-play and a dozen other possible criteria—might be a goal of poetry, but cannot be its defining purpose. What, then, defines poetry today? Maybe the answer will become more obvious if we ask the question backwards. 

 

HAVING TAUGHT POETRY to elementary school kids, undergraduates, and adults, I can say with some authority that, no matter what your mother told you growing up, there are stupid questions. But in my experience these aren’t the ones that most students are afraid to ask. Instead, most students are afraid to ask questions about basic principles, the principles everyone else somehow seems to understand already without ever having discussed them. When these questions come up, they’re often disguised in a formulation such as Does this count as poetry?

Well, one might ask, count toward what? These days—as Ira Sadoff has boasted, Dana Gioia has bemoaned, and Nicholson Baker has gently sighed—poetry doesn’t ‘have to’ rhyme. Neither does it ‘have to’ demonstrate regular meter. Nor, as I’ve written elsewhere, does it even ‘have to’ make sense. And, as high school poètes maudits everywhere would have us remember, poetry is ultimately ‘subjective.’ Curiously, what all of these claims share is the premise that somewhere there exists an arbiter of the bounds of poetry, even if he has a rather laissez-faire jurisprudence. So, where is he? If not the Academy or Capitol Hill or Mount Olympus, then where? Well, nowhere, of course. Because the whole matter of ‘counting as’ or ‘having to’ is just a prescriptive way of addressing the same question I’ve been asking in descriptive terms throughout this essay. Does this count as poetry? is the schoolboy’s pronunciation of What is the nature of poetry?

Having taught poetry to elementary school kids, undergraduates, and adults, I can say with some authority that, no matter what your mother told you growing up, there are stupid questions.

In an author’s note for The Only Thing That Matters, Kim Jensen describes her collection as “a set of serial poems that represent an extended creative engagement with the poetic works of Fanny Howe. By using a random but mathematical formula, I selected words from the following books…” Random, mathematical, or otherwise, such a formula, one fears, cannot be reconciled with the quotation from Wallace Stevens that Beth Bachmann cites in the notes for her book Do Not Rise: “A poem need not have a meaning and like most things in nature does not have.” And if by chance these claims can somehow be married, then it’s still difficult to imagine uniting them with an apologia such as the following, from Kenneth Waltzer’s foreword to Laura Apol’s Requiem, Rwanda:

Normally poems in poetry books stand alone; they are offered by the writer unmediated. Here a brief prologue provides important background and context; notes on the poems plus an epilogue explore the process by which the poems came to be. A reader who studies the poems, reads the notes and commentary, and then returns to the poems again will be twice rewarded.

And even if one drafted an ars poetica that brought all three of these views into blissful polygamy—let alone the raisons d’être of the other 96 collections—it’s difficult to imagine the wedding vows extending past Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. And if there is indeed no final authority to issue a prescription for poetry’s essence (besides Aleister Crowley), then one is again reduced to asking what exactly lines like these, from Jeff Dolven’s Speculative Music,

This is a city of bridges
though the water is mostly fled;
a city of ambitious span
and empty bed…

share with a passage like this, from Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent,

I learned lower than blue in the public vestige where
several minute species congregated the velvet stere-
opsis when temperature loosened it was a half-uttered
sentiment in which even the tree bristled a proxy for
the sheltered evening slept it marrow in husk…

apart from the words “a,” “the,” and “of.” To be clear, I don’t mean to suggest these examples represent opposing schools or factions, or that one is acceptable while the other is not. Clearly, broad prescriptions for poetry falter as surely as broad descriptions of it, regardless of any trendy clash of styles.

The honest answer is that the poems these excerpts come from—like the poems in all 99 collections—share nothing. They have nothing in common. There are clusters and patterns and pluralities, but there is no single ubiquitous element. There is no common ground.

[Poets] are working so hard, with so much hope and encouragement and training, and yet one cannot help thinking they have made a terrible mistake. They touch pen to paper the way a proton touches a lead ion in a particle accelerator. The product isn’t gibberish. It’s whimsy.

That statement, though, feels insufficient. There may be no content, form, or purpose that ties these books together, but there’s a shared premise. I first identified it in Averill Curdy’s collection, Song & Error, and upon reflection I found it in all 98 other books as well. A couple of years ago, I reviewed Song & Error in the online journal Innisfree. The book had plainly been written with intelligence, craft, and care, and yet it was a bit like a chaperone at a slumber party. It was as if the poems didn’t require the presence of a reader in order to achieve their aim—and might well achieve it better if they were kindly left alone. The second time around, my sense of this quality was both altered and confirmed. The poems are armored like a bank truck, yes, but they are still capable of tenderness—as in these lines from the title poem, set at an ailing mother’s bedside:

     What hid you so that at every hour’s dusk
I startled on you where you lay, nearly resigned
     In the talons of your most personal shape?
Still obdurate, still wild as the horned lark
     Rising from its nest at the hunter’s feet.
I didn’t allow you to speak what I didn’t know
     To ask


Here the reader is invited to stand witness between speaker and spoken-of, taking part intimately in their failure to know each other. Here the reader’s presence is—quietly, subtly—called for. Oddly, then, I first remarked in Song & Error an assumption that only became fully clear to me upon rereading the book and finding it less in evidence than I’d thought.

This assumption is, however, perhaps all that unifies poetry today. Apart from the English language and the genre designation over the barcode, the one thing every book of poetry has in common is the belief that there is such a thing as poetry. And that belief might very well be mistaken.

Over and over in contemporary poetry, the subject of poetry itself comes up, thumping faintly like a heart beneath the floorboards. Some poets speak of poetry not as meaning’s vessel but as its source. Elizabeth Bradfield does just this in “Bowditch as First Discovery, First Exploration,” which appears in Approaching Ice: “I hoped a book would offer pattern / to my own haphazard points.” Other poets laugh poetry off, like Adam Vines in the oddly poignant “Tulips and Pigs,” from The Coal Life: “I said, ‘Want-to-be writers / and pork people all / in the same hotel— / we’re all pitching slop.’” And some poets subject poetry to a one-sided round of the Dozens, as Fleda Brown does in “The Purpose of Poetry,” from her ninth collection, No Need of Sympathy:

                          the poem is getting to be
about as sturdy as a spaceship made out of eyelashes.
It acts more and more like people trying to make love
after too much to drink, the climax always ahead
until the blank moment when it’s gone.

When I started paging through these collections, I expected the process to make me so cynical that by book 99 I’d be carrying a lantern in the daylight and living out of a barrel. Instead, I was humbled by the number of books that had obviously been written by smart, skilled, knowledgeable people. Poetry may have outlived its golden youth, but it does not lack for capable, educated writers willing to give their lives to the practice of it. We are as a culture rich in poets. It’s a shame so few of them know what they’re doing.

Reading these poets—most poets—is not like watching someone have a seizure. It’s like watching someone doodle.

I mean this literally. I don’t mean that many of these poets are not doing the thing they ought to be doing. I mean the thing they are doing is not a thing they themselves know. They are working so hard, with so much hope and encouragement and training, and yet one cannot help thinking they have made a terrible mistake. They touch pen to paper the way a proton touches a lead ion in a particle accelerator. The product isn’t gibberish. It’s whimsy. Reading these poets—most poets—is not like watching someone have a seizure. It’s like watching someone doodle. And as with doodling, factors other than mere momentary impulse contribute to the result. Allowances are made for preference, for precedent, and often for some poetic project (decided upon and laboriously carried out regardless of anyone’s interest or enjoyment). I have no desire to say that any one of these books doesn’t count as poetry or doesn’t meet some standard of quality that we should all agree on. Poetry today, as we have seen, will not tolerate definition. So, in place of any absolute criterion for identifying the poetry-ness of poetry, what I propose instead is a thought experiment.

Imagine, for a moment, there is no such thing as poetry. No genre, no vocation, no half-shelf by the bathrooms in the corner of the bookstore. No poetry unit in your fifth-grade Language Arts class, no poem as lovely as a tree, no unacknowledged legislators of the world, no poem read by Garrison Keillor every morning on The Writer’s Almanac. No slam, no Def Jam, no Spoken Word, no National Poetry Month.

Imagine this. And then go back and reconsider the poems quoted throughout this essay. Don’t reconsider them as poems. They’re not poems. Poems are not a thing. If you had just come upon these lines—jotted in the margins of a novel, carved into a tree, scrawled on a scrap of paper somebody dropped on the floor—what would you assume you had found? A diary entry, a private letter, a crib sheet? Would you finish reading it, try to return it, keep it? Would you make a copy? Would you commit it to memory, or have it tattooed on your chest, or cut into your headstone? Would you bring it to the person you most cared about, and say, listen to me, right now, you absolutely have to hear this…? This thing you had found, on its own, without any of the fanfare of a literary category, what would this piece of writing do to you? Would it remind you of some other nameless, genre-less passage you read once in a Waffle House in high school? Would it inspire you? If so, would it have the same effect tomorrow, or a year from now, or twenty? You can put the question any way you want, but the basic idea goes like this: If there were no such thing as poetry, what would you make of the words you are reading? Now imagine this is how you look at every poem you read.

Here’s one possible consequence of reading this way: a few things stick, the rest disappear, the end. When I think over the 99 books I read for this review, I don’t remember specific collections, I remember specific poems. A year from now, when I’ve scrapped my notes and dropped off a few very full liquor boxes at the used book store and moved on to other reading and writing altogether, I imagine that almost everything I read in these collections will be, by me at least, totally forgotten. And if I remember anything, it will be one of the following poems:

“Black Hole Owner’s Association” by Sean Bishop
“Ward” by Karen Holmberg
“How to Kill a Rooster” by Rebecca Gayle Howell
“My Father Explains the History of Sugar, the Middle Passage, and Slavery
             to My Brother, Age 5, over Breakfast” by TJ Jarrett
“Zen Heaven” by Hailey Leithauser
 “niggaicouldhavebeen #1” by Nate Marshall
“The Lecture” by Manuel Paul López
“The Silo” by Austin Smith
“Unfinished Letter to Death” by Connie Voisine


Each is worth reading, and in a world without copyright laws, I’d include the full text of each in this review. But hardly any two are alike. “Zen Heaven” comprises a series of pronounless koans on the theme of emptiness, while “niggaicouldhavebeen #1” is a jaunty, laconic statement of biographical experience. “Ward” is a rambling meditation on beauty and language and the fragility of life, whereas “Black Hole Owner’s Association” is a tongue-in-cheek self-help guide from a science-fictional universe. “Unfinished Letter to Death” contains neither a single complete sentence nor any thought that continues longer than a line, and “How to Kill a Rooster” makes so much literal sense it almost works as practical instructions for the act named in the title, meanwhile “The Silo” is a plodding, bleak description of a vehicle in ominous need of a tenor. “My Father Explains the History of Sugar, the Middle Passage, and Slavery to My Brother, Age 5, over Breakfast” is eleven lines long. “The Lecture” is five pages. What do these nine pieces of writing have in common? Only this: if poetry did not exist, they would make me wish it did.

 

THE COLLECTIONS
Laura Apol – Requiem, Rwanda, Michigan State University Press, 2015
David Axelrod – What Next, Old Knife? Lost Horse Press, 2012
Beth Bachmann – Do Not Rise, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015
Jeff Baker – Whoop & Shush, Lost Horse Press, 2015
Hadara Bar-Nadav – The Frame Called Ruin, New Issues Press, 2012
Rick Bardot – Chord, Sarabande Books, 2015
Catherine Barnett – The Game of Boxes, Graywolf Press, 2012
Stella Beratlis – Alkali Sink, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2015
Sean Bishop – The Night We’re Not Sleeping In, Sarabande Books, 2014
Elizabeth Bradfield – Approaching Ice, Persea Books, 2010
Fleda Brown – No Need of Sympathy, BOA Editions, Ltd., 2013
Kara Candito – Spectator, The University of Utah Press, 2014
Catherine Carter – The Swamp Monster at Home, Louisiana State University Press, 2012
Olivia Clare – The 26-Hour Day, New Issues Press, 2015
Steven Cramer – Clangings, Sarabande Books, 2012
Laura Cronk – Having Been an Accomplice, Persea Books, 2012
Lorna Crozier – The Wrong Cat, McClelland & Stewart, 2015
J. David Cummings – Tancho, The Ashland Poetry Press, 2014
Averill Curdy – Song & Error, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013
DéLana R. A. Dameron – How God Ends Us, University of South Carolina Press, 2009
Jazzy Danziger – Darkroom, The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012
Carol V. Davis – Between Storms, Truman State University Press, 2012
Adam Dickinson – The Polymers, House of Anansi Press, 2013
Katy Didden – Glacier’s Wake, Pleiades Press, 2013
DJ Dolack – Whittling a New Face in the Dark, Black Ocean, 2013
Jeff Dolven – Speculative Music, Sarabande Books, 2013
Thomas Fink – Joyride, Marsh Hawk Press, 2013
Kathleen Flenniken – Plume, The University of Washington Press, 2012
Elton Glaser – The Law of Falling Bodies, The University of Arkansas Press, 2013
Kathleen Graber – The Eternal City, Princeton University Press, 2010
Myronn Hardy – Kingdom, New Issues Press, 2015
Jennica Harper – Wood, Anvil Press, 2013
Tom Healy – What the Right Hand Knows, Four Way Books, 2009
Rick Hilles – A Map of the Lost World, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012
Karen Holmberg – Axis Mundi, BkMk Press, 2013
Nathan Hoks – The Narrow Circle, Penguin Books, 2013
Chloe Honum – The Tulip-Flame, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2014
Chris Hosea – Put Your Hands In, Louisiana State University Press, 2014
Liz Howard – Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent, McClelland & Stewart, 2015
Rebecca Gayle Howell – Render: An Apocalypse, Cleveland State University Poetry
     Center, 2013
Peter B. Hyland – Out Loud, The Sheep Meadow Press, 2013
TJ Jarrett – Ain’t No Grave, New Issues Press, 2013
Kim Jensen – The Only Thing That Matters, Syracuse University Press, 2013
Kasey Jueds – Keeper, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013
Joan Kane – The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, University of Alaska Press, 2012
Genevieve Kaplan – In the Ice House, Red Hen Press, 2011
Peter Kline – Deviants, Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2013
Nate Klug – Anyone, The University of Chicago Press, 2015
Matthew Ladd – The Book of Emblems, Waywiser Press, 2010
Hailey Leithauser – Swoop, Greywolf Press, 2013
Manuel Paul López – The Yearning Feed, University of Notre Dame Press, 2013
Jennifer Maier – Now, Now, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013
Mary Makofske – Traction, The Ashland Poetry Press, 2011
Nate Marshall – Wild Hundreds, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015
Adrian Matejka – The Big Smoke, Penguin Books, 2013
Susan McCabe – Descartes’ Nightmare, The University of Utah Press, 2008
Catherine McDonald – Rousing the Machinery, The University of Arkansas Press, 2012
Dan Taulapapa McMullin – Coconut Milk, The University of Arizona Press, 2013
Matthew Minicucci – Translation, Kent State University Press, 2015
Trey Moody – Thought That Nature, Sarabande Books, 2014
Mihaela Moscaliuc – Immigrant Model, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015
Erín Moure – The Unmemntioable, House of Anansi Press, 2012
Rick Mullin – Coelacanth, Dos Madres Press, 2013
Amanda Nadelberg – Bright, Brave Phenomena, Coffee House Press, 2012
Kathryn Neurnberger – Rag & Bone, Elixir Press, 2011
John A. Nieves – Curio, Elixir Press, 2014
Kate Northrop – Clean, Persea Books, 2011
Idra Novey – Exit, Civilian, The University of Georgia Press, 2012
dg nanouk okpik – corpse whale, The University of Arizona Press, 2012
Monica Ong – Silent Anatomies, Kore Press, 2015
Suzanne Parker – Viral, Alice James Books, 2013
V. Penelope Pelizzon – Whose Flesh is Flame, Whose Bone is Time, Waywiser Press, 2014
Brittany Perham – The Curiosities, Parlor Press, 2012
Luc Phinney – Compass, Truman State University Press, 2013
Vanesha Pravin – Disorder, The University of Chicago Press, 2015
Ethel Rackin – The Forever Notes, Parlor Press, 2013
Lisa Erin Robertson – The Orbit of Known Objects, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2015
Iliana Rocha – Karankawa, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015
Brian Russell – The Year of What Now, Graywolf Press, 2013
Morty Schiff – A Taste, Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press, 2013
Glenn Shaheen – Predatory, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011
Lauren Shapiro – Easy Math, Sarabande Books, 2013
Anne Shaw – Dido in Winter, Persea Books, 2014
Leslie Shinn – Inside Spiders, Persea Books, 2014
Austin Smith – Almanac, Princeton University Press, 2013
Bruce Snider – Paradise, Indiana, Pleiades Press, 2012
Michael Teig – There’s a Box in the Garage You Can Beat with a Stick, BOA Editions, Ltd.,
     2013
Amber Flora Thomas – The Rabbits Could Sing, University of Alaska Press, 2012
D. H. Tracy – Janet’s Cottage, St. Augustine’s Press, 2012
Bill Tremblay – Magician’s Hat, Lynx House Press, 2013
Seth Brady Tucker – Mormon Boy, Elixir Press, 2012
Adam Vines – The Coal Life, The University of Arkansas Press, 2013
Connie Voisine – Calle Florista, The University of Chicago Press, 2015
Mark Wagenaar – Voodoo Inverso, The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012
Cody Walker – Shuffle and Breakdown, Waywiser Press, 2008
Sara Wallace – The Rival, The University of Utah Press, 2015
Jillian Weise – The Book of Goodbyes, BOA Editions, Ltd., 2013
Sasha West – Failure and I Bury the Body, Harper Perennial, 2013
Kathleen Winter – Nostalgia for the Criminal Past, Elixir Press, 2012

 

MATTHEW BUCKLEY SMITH is the author of Dirge for an Imaginary World. He lives with his wife and daughter in Carrboro, North Carolina.


WHAT TO READ NEXT: "Published texts strike me not so much as art, but as ground-up ideas wrapped in imperfect phrasings with the string of their revisions still showing. Wonder and awe are harder to come by."