Five book recs for National Poetry Month

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April is National Poetry Month, and we are big fans of poetry here at the Center. How about you?

While not everyone appreciates it, poetry persists throughout the ages because we reach for it when we need to understand our shared humanity. Using techniques like metaphor, symbolism, and imagery, it endeavors to say what many deem unsayable. Poetry is a multisensory marriage of form and function. It can be playful or serious, narrative or lyrical, straightforward or complex, and about any topic conceivable.

If you want to start or continue reading poetry, here are five recommendations for recent releases by some incredible contemporary verse-makers.

Time is a Mother, by Ocean Vuong

One of the most anticipated second collections (via Penguin Press) by one of the most unique and important voices of our time, Ocean Vuong’s latest book is about dealing with grief in the aftermath of his mother’s death. His experimental language and form highlight the complexity of the human experiences he so boldly explores, but he also manages to remind us that we need simply observe, name, and feel to be. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, and raised in Connecticut, Vuong is the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, winner of the 2016 Whiting Award, the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize, and a 2019 MacArthur fellow.

Zoom Rooms, by Mary Jo Salter

The word stanza means “room” in Italian, and Mary Jo Salter has created a group of stanza-rooms to show the unprecedented moment we all find ourselves in. How many gatherings—from major life events to yet another work meeting—have we conducted on Zoom in the last several years? How many are yet to come? Salter explores our lonely connections, our communal solitude, in this collection from Knopf Doubleday. She is co-editor of The Norton Anthology of Poetry and a professor in the Writing Seminars program at Johns Hopkins University. She has been an editor at the Atlantic Monthly and The New Republic, and she is on the editorial board of the literary magazine The Common, based at Amherst College.

The Hurting Kind, by Ada Limón

One of the most well-known contemporary poets returns next month with a sixth collection that employs nature and natural imagery to explore cycles and what it means to be “too sensitive, a weeper / from a long line of weepers…the hurting kind.” This book isn’t even out yet (it will be a May release from Milkweed Editions) and it’s already being hailed as a top 10 poetry book of the year. A former Guggenheim fellow, Limón is a National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry winner and host of the critically acclaimed poetry podcast The Slowdown. Put it on your must-read list.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, by Warsan Shire

From the young British-Somali poet who brought us the gut-punch lines, “No one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark” comes this debut full-length collection via Random House. According to The Poetry Foundation, Shire has written two chapbooks, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth and Her Blue Body. She was awarded the inaugural Brunel International African Poetry Prize and served as the first Young Poet Laureate of London. She is the youngest member of the Royal Society of Literature and is included in the Penguin Modern Poets series. Shire wrote the poetry for the Peabody Award–winning visual album Lemonade and the Disney film Black Is King in collaboration with Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. She also wrote the short film Brave Girl Rising, highlighting the voices and faces of Somali girls in Africa’s largest refugee camp. In short, this poet is getting things done. Read her, know her, follow her.

How to Love the World, edited by James Crews, with foreword by Ross Gay

James Crews has curated an incredible collection of uplifting poetry by some of the best and brightest voices of the contemporary literary landscape. Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, American Life in Poetry columnist Ted Kooser, and more are gathered in the pages of this necessary volume from Storey Publishing LLC. Ross Gay, a National Book Critics Circle Award and Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award-winner and the poet who wrote the unforgettable tribute to Eric Garner, contributed the foreword. In addition to editing this anthology, Crews is the author of four prize-winning collections of poetry and teaches at the University of Albany. If you want to start reading poetry, start here, with Naomi Shihab Nye, Tracy K. Smith, and more. You can’t go wrong, and you might even feel a little more hopeful about the world when you’re finished.

Have you or will you read any of these book recs during or after National Poetry Month? Which one intrigues you the most? Share with us in the comments.

Related reading: Read more in 2022? 4 genres, 4 books recs

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