Scratching My Poetry Itch

New Year's Sale 2021


I reviewed poetry for a number of years with a few literary websites, but other time commitments have pulled me away from that reviewing. But I’m still reading poetry, writing it, and loving it, even if I’m not writing about it quite as much as I’d like to. So, to scratch my own poetry itch, here are some relatively new works of poetry that I think you should read.


Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis

Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste LewisThis debut collection of poetry deservedly won the National Book Award. Anchored by the groundbreaking titular long poem, Lewis explores race, identity, politics, the meaning of the body, the weight of the past, and many other ideas and images. The style is daring and inventive and somewhat astonishing in a debut. With one collection Robin Coste Lewis has established herself as one of poetry’s most important voices.


Blue Laws by Kevin Young

Blue Laws by Kevin YoungKevin Young is one of our great poets. Whether he is exploring the life and work of a mercurial artist (To Repel Ghosts), riffing on the noir genre (Black Maria), exploring his cultural  (Ardency, Jelly Roll, For the Confederate Dead) and personal past (The Book of Hours) he makes words, images, and ideas sing with the depth of a classic blues song. Blue Laws is the first retrospective collection of Young’s work and a must have for all fans of his work and American poetry in general.


Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean VuongA lot of the readers I respect on social media are excited about this book and with good reason. I’ve read it one time through and can feel that I need to spend more time with it. But even on that initial, somewhat shallow reading, there are a couple of monster poems in this collection, formaly inventive, stylistically bold, emotionally jarring.


Citizen Poets of Boston edited by Paul Lewis

The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems 1789-1820 edited by Paul LewsThere was a time when there were dozens of newspapers and magazines circulating through all walks of life and quite often their pages would include poems. These poems were often anonymous and/or written by amateurs and provide a different perspective on daily life in the early part of our nation’s history. Paul Lewis’s anthology of poetry from the early citizens of Boston is both a great poetry anthology and a rare snapshot of a time, place, and culture.


I Must Be Living Twice by Eileen Myles

I Must Be Living Twice by Eileen MylesWith this collection of poetry and the re-issue of her classic autobiographical novel Chelsea Girls, Eileen Myles finally took her place in the pantheon of American letters. Though it wouldn’t be quite right to describe the work in this collection as a female, queer, post-modern update of Charles Bukowski, it wouldn’t be quite wrong either. Myles’s poems are as sharp and direct as a bar fight, but have the intelligence and perspective to laugh amongst the ruins while the fighters pick each other up.


The Pitch of Poetry by Charles Bernstein

The Pitch pf Poetry by Charles BernsteinI’ve always enjoyed Bernstein’s poetry, but I think his criticism is where he truly shines. His essays in Attack of the Difficult Poems are rallying cries I often return to and think about when grappling with a poem that feels particularly difficult to me. Though this is not a poetry collection, I think Bernstein’s essays are great tools for anyway who wants to spelunk deeper into poetry.


And because I’m a bookseller, I’m always looking ahead to the next season. So, here are a couple forthcoming collections I’m particularly excited about.


Blackacre by Monica Youn

Blackacre: Poems by Monica YounSo far, Blackacre is an act of homesteading. Monica Youn, who makes her living as an attorney, stakes out a plot of conceptual land and goes through the progressive and difficult labor of transforming barren ground into a place. Titles are repeated as she persistently tills the ground, styles are explored, phrases are tossed like uprooted weeds. I’ve still got about half of the collection to read, but I’m already excited for this.


My Private Property by Mary Ruefle

My Private Property by Mary RuefleSometimes I think there is an informal cult of poetry readers for whom the name “Mary Ruefle” is the password. Her intelligence, her sharp sense of humor, her kaleidoscopic perspective on the world and the images it generates, and her ability to, somehow, take all of that and make it approachable, make her one of my favorite living poets. Whether there is one scheduled for publication or not, I am always looking forward to a new Mary Ruefle book.