I’m taking a brief break from reccing fiction this week and instead I’m going to do poetry collections. I really did try hard to keep to five actual recs here, but there are so so many other poetry collections I could have included (and, in fact, I cheated again, right at the end). So, in trying to keep to only five, these recs are five of the less popular (by Goodreads ratings) choices (about 150-200 ratings or less).
Thief in the Interior
Phillip B. Williams
Content Warnings: discussions of racism, homophobia, addiction
Phillip B. Williams investigates the dangers of desire, balancing narratives of addiction, murders, and hate crimes with passionate, uncompromising depth. Formal poems entrenched in urban landscapes crack open dialogues of racism and homophobia rampant in our culture. Multitudinous voices explore one’s ability to harm and be harmed, which uniquely juxtaposes the capacity to revel in both experiences.
Over the Anvil We Stretch
Content Warnings: violence
Over The Anvil We Stretch contains swampy, powerful poems that are as exciting as the pocket knife you got for your birthday, the three legged frog on the lawn and the jar of marbles your mother kept in the kitchen. Mojgani’s poems are the sound of the river and the stars burning above. He manages to capture the axe in the stump with blood still on the handle. Anis Mojgani has drawn a map of the country in the shape of his wild dreams. These are memories of a life, captured through the blue green filter of the bayou. Mojgani’s latest poems are tinged with the sound of crickets spying on us in the darkness. They move forward honestly, brutally and sweetly. The reader will be led into briar patches as well as the moonlight just on the other side.
Content Warnings: discussions of racism
Translating as ‘initiation’, kumukanda is the name given to the rites a young boy from the Luvale tribe must pass through before he is considered a man. The poems of Kayo Chingonyi’s remarkable debut explore this passage: between two worlds, ancestral and contemporary; between the living and the dead; between the gulf of who he is and how he is perceived.
Underpinned by a love of music, language and literature, here is a powerful exploration of race, identity and masculinity, celebrating what it means to be British and not British, all at once.
Wanting in Arabic
Content Warnings: discussions of homophobia, transphobia and racism
“Wanting in Arabic” is a refusal of convenient silences, convenient stories. The author dwells on the contradictions of a transsexual poetics, in its attendant disfigurations of lyric, ghazal, l’ecriture feminine, and, in particular, her own sexed voice. Without a memory of her father’s language, the questions her poems ask are those for a home known through photographs, for a language lost with childhood.
Braiding theoretical concerns with the ambivalences of sexed and raced identity, with profound romanticism, “Wanting in Arabic” attempts to traverse the fantasies of foundational loss and aggressive nostalgia in order to further a poetics of a conscious partiality of being, of generous struggle and comic rather than tragic misrecognition.
This Way to the Sugar
Hieu Minh Nguyen
Content Warnings: discussions of homophobia, racism
A Midwest Asian-American poet beautifully captures the queer American experience. This bruising collection of poems puts a blade and a microscope to nostalgia, tradition, race, apology, and sexuality, in order to find beauty in a flawed world. His work has been described as an astounding testament to the power and necessity of confession.
And, finally, because I can’t resist, and I did have to leave out some faves in this list, special mention goes to: Live for a Living by Buddy Wakefield, Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, Counting Descent by Clint Smith, Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith, Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar, Sonetos del Amor Oscuro by Federico García Lorca, and Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns by Andrea Gibson.
What are some of your favourite poetry collections?