Best Poetry 2019

Pure artistry on the page. The best poetry published in 2019.

See all of our 2019 Best Books lists.

Belcourt, Billy-Ray. NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field. House of Anansi. ISBN 9781487005771.
Winner of Griffin and Indigenous Voices honors, Canadian poet Belcourt seems nearly to fling his startling and broken-glass-sharp phrases on the page. Yet for all the ferocious energy and one-two punch of language here, this is also a focused, beautifully managed work demanding to be read.
Brown, Jericho. The Tradition. Copper Canyon. ISBN 9781556594861.
Pure artistry imbues nearly every line of this unsparing yet subtly delicate third collection from the masterly Brown, fusing the personal, political, erotic, and philosophical. Indeed, “the poem is a gesture toward home.”
Craig, Michael Earl. Woods and Clouds Interchangeable. Wave. ISBN 9781940696812.
Surprises abound in this wholly distinctive fifth collection from former Montana poet laureate Craig, blending humor and affection while limning the seemingly ordinary, from scenes of everyday life to inanimate objects to a cunning who’s who of history—from the sun to Catullus to Mrs. Butterworth.
Daniels, Kate. In the Months of My Son’s Recovery. Louisiana State Univ. ISBN 9780807170359.
A mother grown older, a son turned heroin addict and struggling to break free—this is the stuff of news stories or personal headlines turned into poetic gold by the accomplished Daniels. The story floods down the page with thriller-like propulsion, leaving readers both shaken and moved.
Jacobs, Jessica. Take Me With You, Wherever You’re Going. Four Way. ISBN 9781945588266.
In language limpid, forthright, and involving, Jacobs relates the story of a life: growing up different in swampy Florida; discovering one’s sexuality and self; learning that finding and sustaining real love is both wondrous and hard. Her voice is immediately captivating and remarkably variable.
Kaminsky, Ilya. Deaf Republic. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555978310.
Conceptualizing elements of his own life—he’s Odessa born and hard of hearing—Kaminsky takes us to the fictional town of Vasenka, where harsh military occupation leads to a gunshot blast that kills a child at a puppet show and renders the entire town deaf in a show of resistance. The story is gut-wrenching, the telling unadorned, the imagery memorable.
Kondrich, Christopher. Valuing. Univ. of Georgia. ISBN 9780820355702.
In this quietly penetrating, rewarding new work, Kondrich sees us not as isolate beings but as defined (and ever changed) by our interaction with the world and especially others, and he’s particularly interested in how we arrive at our values and negotiate them. The result is a stunning poetry of ideas with a one-of-a-kind feel.
Mao, Sally Wen. Oculus. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555978259.
This spine-tingling sophomore collection from Mao investigates a technology-subjugated world in take-no-prisoners language. Carried along magnetic fields in Wuhan, China, she contemplates “Who has the nerve/ to breathe that ghostly air?” Elsewhere, a stunning series of poems center on the life of film star Anna May Wong.
Robin, Valencia. Ridiculous Light: Poems. Persea. ISBN 9780892554966.
Permeating this debut collection from poet/artist Robin is a hard-earned radiance and infectious, affirmative hunger for—and arrival at—the title’s “ridiculous light.” In 1968, “we marched up and down the streets/ singing ourselves into brand-new people,” and later, in Paris, connecting with a Brazilian, “the right man opening/ a jar and handing it back to you, smiling.”
Shaughnessy, Brenda. The Octopus Museum: Poems. Knopf. ISBN 9780525655657.
In a heightened conversational tone, utterly accessible yet with a punch of ideas so swift and rich as to make multiple readings a necessary pleasure, this new collection from James Laughlin winner Shaughnessy investigates identity, human hunger for what we maybe can’t have, and how we see and feel the world differently when we have children.
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