Best Poetry of 2023

Discover verse with style and substance, unsettling proclamations, and contained majesty in the best poetry collections of 2023.


Graham, Jorie. To 2040. Copper Canyon. ISBN 9781556596773.

“How do I/ find sufficient// ignorance. How do I// not summarize/ anything,” Graham writes in the first pages of her coruscating new work, then proceeds to show readers how to look with pitiless honesty at a damaged world, now and in the future, as even rocks burn, winds stir, and the end nears. A wondrously unsettling read.

Hacker, Marilyn. Calligraphies: Poems. Norton. ISBN 9781324036463.

As Hacker captures the scents and sights of Beirut, Paris, and the French village of Montpeyroux, probing what makes a good life, her deft verse reminds readers of the isolation of pandemic and the suffering of exiles, refugees, and anyone else balancing precariously on life’s knife edge. “History trundled// beneath, gravel on a barge,/ ground down to its origins.”

Hayes, Terrance. So To Speak. Penguin Bks. ISBN 9780143137726.

Though politics is never far from his mind, Hayes is more meditative in his latest, quietly glowing collection. These poems vary widely, from George Floyd and Stevie Wonder to talking dogs and tree frogs. “If your momma was fine as half a bottle of honey wine/ Or your daddy cool as a coin tossed in a wishing well/ Well, yeah she might compliment your style.” Plenty of style here, and substance too.

Hutchinson, Ishion. School of Instructions: A Poem. Farrar. ISBN 9780374610265.

In a single poem rendered in packed, gorgeous, near-biblical language, charged and ringing like a ship’s bell, Hutchinson memorializes the West Indian soldiers who served during World War I. Few poets could sustain such ardor over 100 pages: “Furies/ combed into heads, pressed into lines of boys/ shouting ‘here, sir’ and ‘not here, sir’/...their names interred in the same roster,/ fidgeting with oceanic sorrow.”

McCrae, Shane. The Many Hundreds of the Scent: Poems. Farrar. ISBN 9780374607197.

McCrae’s writing is often epic, but here it shifts to an intimate urgency as he reconstructs his kidnapping, as a biracial child, by white-supremacist grandparents who raised him in ignorance of his heritage. Classical allusion only heightens the awful immediacy: “To live and not to understand/ My body, who it lives.”

McLane, Maureen N. What You Want: Poems. Farrar. ISBN 9780374607258.

Taking readers to deserted shorelines and snowy landscapes, through moments of quiet self-reflection, McLane gauges shifting moods and wants, then lifts them into the world (“Thoughts swell and pulse a mood of mind/ I never notice/ except when stilled”). The results aren’t melancholic but quietly celebratory, rendered as always in McLane’s engaged, engaging voice.

Rekdal, Paisley. West: A Translation. Copper Canyon. ISBN 9781556596568.

Commissioned in 2018 to write a poem commemorating the 150th anniversary of the completion of the U.S. transcontinental railroad, Rekdal turned out a fluid, striking blend of poetry and essay that limns the railroad workers, the treatment of Chinese immigrants, environmental devastation, and the fate of immigrants everywhere: “What is freedom/ butthe power to choose/ where you won’t die?”

Shaughnessy, Brenda. Tanya: Poems. Knopf. ISBN 9780593535936.

As she surveys women artists as friends, mentors, and influencers (“my fire handed down to me by cauldron witches”), Shaughnessy probes the act of creation, what art can do—its catching “a cross section of a skipped stone mid-skip”—and what the artist’s responsibilities and limits really are. A study of ideas that becomes probing, luscious poetry.

Shockley, Evie. suddenly we. Wesleyan Univ. ISBN 9780819500458.

“we are the sailors/ we are the ships/ we are the stars/ we are the night,” declares Shockley as she embarks on a journey to discover who we might become to ourselves, to others, together. There’s a contained majesty to this work, a grandeur to the perfectly pared lines, which nevertheless exude a brimming anticipation that points to the volume’s final embrace of community.

Youn, Monica. From From: Poems. Graywolf. ISBN 9781644452219.

In a volume whose title is drawn from the question so often asked of Asian Americans—“Where are you from...? No—where are you from from?”—Youn confronts issues of race and self in brave, crisp, pointed lines that will leave readers pondering. “The tourist and the artist are allowed to pass for White.// The tourist and the artist are not contained.”

Zhadan, Serhiy. How Fire Descends: New and Selected Poems. Yale Univ. tr. from Ukrainian by Virlana Tkacz & Wanda Phipps. ISBN 9780300272468.

Among Ukraine’s most distinguished writers, in prose as well as verse, Zhadan has borne expert witness to Russia’s fire-blasted impingement on his country since the 2014 invasion of Crimea. This volume collects poems dating from 2016 onward, with the most recent reflecting the 2022 invasion (“mutilated landscape,...slashed by moonlight”) while proclaiming that “pain and hope unite us.”

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