A Contemporary Celebration of National Poetry Month

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A Contemporary Celebration of National Poetry Month

Six books that show contemporary poetry's range

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I've compiled a brief list of six (roughly) contemporary books of poetry that help display the range of styles, content, and ambitions that poetry offers readers today. With more poets writing now than perhaps any preceding age, it's literally impossible to read and enjoy all that the last couple of years have produced, let alone the last few decades. But never fear! There are poems to satisfy just about any reading appetite, and the DC Public Library has an excellent collection to choose from. 

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Citizen: An American Lyric is a continuation of Rankine’s groundbreaking book of 2004, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric. But while it shares the preceding book’s experimentation with form, Rankine’s latest draws its particular power from its momentous resonance: Citizen was published in 2014, a year perhaps like few others in recent memory that called to the forefront the many ways in which racial tensions still pervade American culture. The speaker in Citizen explores acts of everyday racism and how such small but significant moments gradually accrue to the point where there is no separation between the personal and the political.

Descent of Alette by Alice Notley 
Alice Notley has been redefining what poetry can do for decades. She’s fearless, visionary, and endlessly prolific, each book expanding her use of narrative and taking it into new territory.

In Descent of Alette --- part feminist retooling of the historically masculine epic, part allegorical poem -- she makes the quotation mark not only an identifier of voice and identity, but a measure of breath and rhythm. The eponymous character is a woman confined to the underground subways, and like her fellow inhabitants, unable to live in the world above. She ultimately confronts the Tyrant and undergoes notable transformations, calling into question everything she knows as she descends ever deeper “underground.”

Pinholes in the Night: Essential Poems From Latin America selected by Raúl Zurita; edited by Forrest Gander
An anthology of 20th-century Latin American poetry, Pinholes in the Night takes readers through 15 poems by 15 different poets. Editor (and renowned poet) Raúl Zurita’s selection favors the expansive, with a portion of Neruda’s groundbreaking "From the Heights of Macchu Picchu" and Vicente Huidobro’s "Altazor." But there’s also Ernesto Cardenal’s  tragicomic "Prayer for Marilyn Monroe" and Alejandra Pizarnik’s haunting, piercing, “Diana’s Tree.” This an exhilarating introduction to the vast, essential body of work produced by some of Latin America’s greatest poets.          

Nox by Anne Carson
Anne Carson’s extraordinary poetics meets New Direction Press’s innovative book-making in this exquisite elegy for the author’s deceased brother. At first glance, Nox is simply a box, but upon opening, Carson’s prose, verse, letter fragments and photographs remembering her brother and exploring the meaning of loss and grief literally unfold one after another in one continuously folded sheet of paper. Nox is a profound physical and emotional reading experience, a reminder that great poetry rarely stays put between the covers of a physical book.

Ecodeviance: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness by C.A. Conrad
Ecodeviance continues C.A. Conrad’s blazingly original mission to re-acquaint the work of poetry with the world it occupies. Each (soma)tic exercise (and the resulting poem) guides the reader through wild, unorthodox activities in order to uncover and unleash more open creative possibilities and make possible a more empathetic and just world. This is poetry that refuses to be simply read, but demands to be lived.

Patter by Douglas Kearney
These poems scrawl across the page, bleed into one another, expand and contract in a visual performance that translates Kearney’s powerful performances on stage. Patter concerns itself with fatherhood, manhood, and miscarriages and the space such words and their attendant meanings inhabit. But you’ll be surprised by where Kearney’s sharp wit, impeccable craft, and innovative imagination take readers, from bar jokes and Oedipus to Minstrel shows and Genghis Khan. Kearney shows that a poet’s tools go far beyond line breaks and alliteration to the realm of written performance.