6 New Poetry Books That Will Remind You You’re Alive
The poems in these books will make you feel things. They will open some doors inside you. They’ll make you want to reread them or copy-paste from your Kindle app into an email to a friend. I don’t know what else to say except that they are so good. So honest, fearless and free.
1. Brand New Ancients by Kate Tempest
Glory ran away from home when she was 17,
he was supposed to be the man of her dreams:
he had a smile like a jewel in a sewer,
knuckles like an open tool box,
eyes like Kahlúa —
he made her feel like he was the only one who ever knew her
and when he told a lie nothing ever seemed truer.
An epic poem, meant to be read aloud — a story about two half-brothers who grow up in London, an illustrator and a criminal. Read it to yourself — or to a group of people — and you’ll start to feel the feels around page 40. This is the first long, narrative poem I’ve read since I was forced to read The Fairie Queene in high school or whatever, and the words just pile on each other until there’s that spoken word momentum that’s so rare and so right. There are so many tiny moments, elevated by rhyme and line breaks, that remind you why poetry is such a great storytelling medium. The characters are vivid, the plot is cinematic. You’ll want to memorize a few stanzas for the next time you’re uninspired.
2. Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones
Four nights in, I still don’t know his name. And each kiss
is the aftertaste of pills, a white cloud on the tongue. He hates
the names I give him: Tantalus, Orestes, Ganymede. I don’t
need a name he says, sky-high in the shower, the birds leaking
into stains on his stomach. Orange bottle in hand,
I answer Hyacinth and Vicodin. I answer Xanax and Zephyr.
Stillness, watery past, and the sound of Saeed Jones growing up. There’s dancing in Nashville, drowning in Mississippi, and waking up next to buildings that are falling down. Saeed writes about blackness and gayness, fierce and thick and brave in every poem. Many of these poems are written in couplets, or isolated words spotted across the page — the kind of word arrangement with enough white space to make each word feel like its own poem. These poems are so fearless, they make you want to just swallow all your fucks. Here’s Saeed reading a few aloud.
3. Mouthful of Forevers by Clementine von Radics
When he asks me to describe fear
I say my mother smelling vodka
on my breath at seventeen. I say grief
is a firework of blue left on the collarbone.
Superheroes always have broken hearts
and tragic backstories, so maybe I’m doing okay.
Clementine von Radics’ poems are quiet and aching, like bruises in different colors. Tracing your signature on someone’s scar, wrapping your mouth around their mistakes. Almost every poem is in second-person, addressed to an unnamed you. Clementine writes about her father teaching her to play guitar. A few pages later, there’s fear that the past will keep ruining the future, and then she’s trying to quit smoking. There’s a poem in here called “The Poet Finally Drops the Bullshit,” which kind of makes the book. These poems are clear and honest, like lonely emails you get at 2 a.m. from someone who just needs to get it out.
4. Fantasy by Ben Fama
The Internet is my home
Where it’s easy to be beautiful
And seen and new
In the glow
In the spell
I thought I was better
I guess I won’t ever be
These poems feel like one huge retina display. An eighty-page K-hole that feels oddly pleasant. Most of these poems are written in short lines with minimal punctuation, and many are about a near-future where tech and pop culture are just a little more -intense- than they are now. Angelina Jolie has replaced her body’s cells with something called accellate, an “artificially intelligent organic cell compound capable of regenerating major tissues.” Court-ordered chemical castration is legalized. Thin piles of lines about dystopia — these would be the perfect poems to read on your phone, in bed at night, when you can’t go to sleep and just need something to make you wonder. A really chill font, too.
5. Digest by Gregory Pardlo
I finally friended my brother.
It may be we will never
speak again. Why speak
when we have this crystal ball
through which to judge one another’s lives?
I imagine this is what
the afterlife will be like.
I’m ghost, we say
Instead of goodbye.
Poems about email attachments, fatherhood, and growing up in an America full of conflict, doubt, and relationships that repeat patterns set by other relationships. There are stanzas here that move so quickly and sound so beautiful, the consonants twisting into each other like candy. At times these poems are academic — ideas about ideas, and Gregory is a teacher so he mentions his students a lot. The writing is measured and reflective — long stanzas with multi-clause sentences. You get the sense that Gregory is hyper-aware and trying to be as candid with himself as possible. And it just won the Pulitzer Prize, so there’s that.
6. No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay
This is what fireworks underwater feels like. Making out while eating Pop Rocks. Dynamite in a tin can, this is that time you left the popcorn in too long. There is a rodeo going on in your stomach, someone has started a pillow fight, and there are feathers everywhere. Eating cereal with no milk. Bumble bees in the dining room. Lightbulb wars. Someone is playing electric air guitar with the amp turned way up. Tongue on a battery. Socket sex. Lightning confetti. Ice cube Jawbreakers. Tinder lust.
Gahhhh, these poems are so honest and clear and kind. Every poem’s intent comes straight through, and you know you’re feeling what Sarah wants you to feel. Sarah grew up in New York City, and many of these poems are about her youth. Preschool and subway grates and summers in Montauk. No tricks, nothing flashy or ~experimental~. Just honest reflection on growing up. Those moments when you’re alone on a Sunday night and you start to think about your family, your dinosaur costume in the Kindergarten play, and all the things you should’ve said to your brother but never did. These poems will make you fall in love with the poet and want to meet her and give her a hug. These poems are bright green and tea-like. All of these books are wonderful, but I have to say this one’s my favorite.