The best Poetry Books of 2018

Continuing on with National Poetry Month, I’ll be giving you some reading material to indulge in! I’m basing myself on the Goodreads list of 2018 Poetry Books.

The best Poetry Books of 2018 1

Whiskey, Words, and a Shovel I by R. H. Sin

Whiskey, Words, and a Shovel, Vol. 1, is about reclaiming your power on the path to a healthy relationship. It is a testament to choosing to love yourself, even if it means heartbreak. Originally released in 2015, this re-rerelease packs the same punch as the first version, but makes an even greater connection with the soul of the reader. Each piece has been re-seen and revamped to reflect the author’s continuing journey with his partner, Samantha King, without whom this book would not exist. Samantha is the muse, the “she” the writer speaks of; she is every woman who has felt like she wasn’t good enough, and every woman who struggles to find love. 

Gabriel: A Poem by Edward Hirsch

Never has there been a book of poems quite like Gabriel, in which a short life, a bewildering death, and the unanswerable sorrow of a father come together in such a sustained elegy. This unabashed sequence speaks directly from Hirsch’s heart to our own, without sentimentality. From its opening lines—“The funeral director opened the coffin / And there he was alone / From the waist up”—Hirsch’s account is poignantly direct and open to the strange vicissitudes and tricks of grief. In propulsive three-line stanzas, he tells the story of how a once unstoppable child, who suffered from various developmental disorders, turned into an irreverent young adult, funny, rebellious, impulsive. Hirsch mixes his tale of Gabriel with the stories of other poets through the centuries who have also lost children, and expresses his feelings through theirs. His landmark poem enters the broad stream of human grief and raises in us the strange hope, even consolation, that we find in the writer’s act of witnessing and transformation. It will be read and reread.

The Doubtful Guest by Edward Gorey

A vaguely sinister comedy of manners by beloved artist Edward Gorey. Told in a set of fourteen rhyming couplets, The Doubtful Guest is the story of a solemn, mysterious, outdoor creature, dressed rather ordinarily in sneakers and a scarf, who appears on a winter night at a family’s Victorian home and never leaves again. Gorey’s eerie and charming illustrations accompany the verses, making this an enjoyably strange (and strangely enjoyable) read for all ages.

Distant Mandate: Poems by Ange Mlinko

In Distant Mandate, Ange Mlinko moves between the tormented southern landscape, with its alternately arid and flooded scrublands, and the imaginative landscapes of Western art. Guided by her spiritual forbears―Orpheus, Mallarmé, Pound, Yeats, and others―Mlinko deftly places herself within the tradition of the poet in protest against the obduracy of the real. Myth is central to these poems; some are based on the story Cupid and Psyche, others serve as odes to Aphrodite or as explorations of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. In Distant Mandate, Mlinko has given us a shimmering and vibrant collection, one that shows us not only how literature imagines itself through life but also how life reimagines itself through literature.

Still Life with Mother and Knife: Poems by Chelsea Rathburn

In this powerful collection, Chelsea Rathburn seeks to voice matters once deemed unspeakable, from collisions between children and predators to the realities of postpartum depression. Still Life with Mother and Knife considers the female body, “mute and posable,” as object of both art and violence. Once an artist’s model, now a mother, Rathburn knows “how hard / it is to be held in the eyes of another.” Intimate and fearless, her poems move in interlocking sections between the pleasures and dangers of childhood, between masterpieces of art and magazine centerfolds, and―in a gripping sequence in dialogue with Delacroix’s paintings and sketches of Medea―between the twinned ferocities of maternal love and rage. With singular vision and potent poetic form, Rathburn crafts a complex portrait of girlhood and motherhood from which it is impossible to look away.

We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress by Craig Morgan Teicher

“The staggering thing about a life’s work is it takes a lifetime to complete,” Craig Morgan Teicher writes in these luminous essays. We Begin in Gladness considers how poets start out, how they learn to hear themselves, and how some offer us that rare, glittering thing: lasting work. Teicher traces the poetic development of the works of Sylvia Plath, John Ashbery, Louise Glück, and Francine J. Harris, among others, to illuminate the paths they forged―by dramatic breakthroughs or by slow increments, and always by perseverance. We Begin in Gladness is indispensable for readers curious about the artistic life and for writers wondering how they might light out―or even scale the peak of the mountain.

Be With by Forrest Gander

Drawing from his experience as a translator, Forrest Gander includes in the first, powerfully elegiac section a version of a poem by the Spanish mystical poet St. John of the Cross. He continues with a long multilingual poem examining the syncretic geological and cultural history of the U.S. border with Mexico. The poems of the third section―a moving transcription of Gander’s efforts to address his mother dying of Alzheimer’s―rise from the page like hymns, transforming slowly from reverence to revelation. Gander has been called one of our most formally restless poets, and these new poems express a characteristically tensile energy and, as one critic noted, “the most eclectic diction since Hart Crane.”

A Raft of Grief: Poems by Chelsea Rathburn

Winner of the 2012 Autumn House Poetry Prize, Chelsea Rathburn’s second collection, A Raft of Grief, travels through literal and emotional landscapes, charting memory and loss, culpability and blame, and the storylines we create from our lives. A Raft of Grief begins in an unhappy marriage, journeying through the loss and reclamation of the self and exploring sexuality, addiction, grief and, ultimately, joy. In settings as varied as Krakow, Paris, St. Lucia, and the recent and distant pasts, Rathburn turns an unsparing eye to the nuances of love, prompting poet Stephen Dunn to write, “I love how she’s able to affirm what can happen between two people, while asking if a story-teller sometimes has to ‘sacrifice lovers and selves to the narrative arc?’ She’s willing to, which is one reason why her narratives are so persuasive – her allegiance throughout is to the poem as a whole. She will not let her fine moments overwhelm, as lesser poets often do; her limpid, yet complicated phrasing is always part of the poem’s fabric.”

Redstart: An Ecological Poetics by Forrest Gander & John Kinsella

The damage humans have perpetrated on our environment has certainly affected a poet’s means and material. But can poetry be ecological? Can it display or be invested with values that acknowledge the economy of interrelationship between the human and the nonhuman realms? Aside from issues of theme and reference, how might syntax, line break, or the shape of the poem on the page express an ecological ethics?

Steal Away: Selected and New Poems by C. D. Wright

Steal Away presents C.D. Wright’s best lyrics, narratives, prose poems, and odes with new “retablos” and a bracing vigil on incarceration. Long admired as a fearless poet writing authentically erotic verse, Wright—with her Southern accent and cinematic eye—couples strangeness with uncanny accuracy to create poems that “offer a once-and-for-all thing, opaque and revelatory, ceaselessly burning.”

A Wild Surmise: New Selected Poems Recordings by Eloise Klein Healy

A Wild Surmise: New & Selected Poems & Recordings is Eloise Klein Healy’s seventh book of poetry and the first that includes an audio component. Included are poems from all her previous collections, including her award-winning first collection, Building Some Changes, as well as Artemis In Echo Park and The Islands Project: Poems For Sappho. Healy’s work is immediately recognizable as poetry written by a woman under the influence of feminism, freeway traffic, wilderness (especially in the city), and a uniquely tuned sense of craft. Her work travels easily across time zones, mythologies, the politics of love, and the inevitable loss of family and friends. She searches for a lesbian tradition in literature, lamenting the erasure of lesbian writers and the fragmented history of their work. But Healy’s poetry is not without humor, nor does it shy away from such topics as baseball and the companionship of canines. Like life, poetry to her is “a wild surmise”―—never totally translatable, but always worth the attempt.

One by Sarah Crossan

Tippi and Grace share everything—clothes, friends . . . even their body. Writing in free verse, Sarah Crossan tells the sensitive and moving story of conjoined twin sisters, which will find fans in readers of Gayle Forman, Jodi Picoult, and Jandy Nelson. Carnegie Medal–winning author Sarah Crossan gives us a story about unbreakable bonds, hope, loss, and the lengths we will go to for the person we love most.

blud by Rachel McKibbens

McKibbens’s blud is a collection of dark, rhythmic poems interested in the ways in which inherited things―bloodlines, mental illnesses, trauma―affect their inheritors. Reveling in form and sound, McKibbens’s writing takes back control, undaunted by the idea of sinking its teeth into the ugliest moments of life, while still believing―and looking for―the good underneath all the bruising.

Blue Horses by Mary Oliver

In this stunning collection of new poems, Mary Oliver returns to the imagery that has defined her life’s work, describing with wonder both the everyday and the unaffected beauty of nature. At its heart, Blue Horses asks what it means to truly belong to this world, to live in it attuned to all its changes. Humorous, gentle, and always honest, Oliver is a visionary of the natural world.

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

A short, powerful, illustrated book written by beloved novelist Khaled Hosseini in response to the current refugee crisis, Sea Prayer is composed in the form of a letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey. Watching over his sleeping son, the father reflects on the dangerous sea-crossing that lies before them. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Homs, Syria, before the war, and of that city’s swift transformation from a home into a deadly war zone.

Old Soul Love by Christopher Poindexter

OLD SOUL LOVE is a combination of new, never-before-seen poetry, mixed in with some of Christopher’s most popular Instagram pieces, all of which explore the many shapes and forms of love. Unrequited love. Platonic love. Lost love. Self-love. And, for a lucky few humans: old soul love that seems to transcend even death.

It’s a Lonely Love by Hunter Summerall

Cataloguing the rise and fall of an ill-fated relationship, It’s a Lonely Love explores the vulnerability one must feel before moving on from a lost love. Styled as  entries from a journal, Hunter Summerall’s poetry takes the personal and constructs a universal story about unrequited love and anguish. 

I Am her Tribe by Danielle Doby

Positive and powerful, I Am Her Tribe is a collection of poetry drawing on the viral Instagram handle and online hashtag that serves to create moments of connection through empowerment and storytelling. Focusing on inspiration, Doby’s poetry invites its reader to “Come as you are. Your tribe has arrived.  Your breath can rest here.”

Ordinary Misfortunes by Emily Jungmin Yoon

Korea continues to grapple with the shared memory of its Japanese and US occupations. The poems in ORDINARY MISFORTUNES incorporate actual testimony about cruelty against vulnerable bodies–including the wianbu, euphemistically known as “comfort women”–as the poet seeks to find places where brutality is overcome through true human connections. Emily Jungmin Yoon asks, Why do we write poems amid such violence? What can I, and what can poetry, do? Her response to those tough questions is a sequence of reverberating poems that blend documentary precision with impassioned witness, bringing to bear both scholarship and artistry.

Walking to Martha’s Vineyard by Franz Wright

In this radiant new collection, Franz Wright shares his regard for life in all its forms and his belief in the promise of blessing and renewal. As he watches the “Resurrection of the little apple tree outside / my window,” he shakes off his fear of mortality, concluding “what death . . . There is only / mine / or yours,– / but the world / will be filled with the living.” In prayerlike poems he invokes the one “who spoke the world / into being” and celebrates a dazzling universe–snowflakes descending at nightfall, the intense yellow petals of the September sunflower, the planet adrift in a blizzard of stars, the simple mystery of loving other people. As Wright overcomes a natural tendency toward loneliness and isolation, he gives voice to his hope for “the only animal that commits suicide,” and, to our deep pleasure, he arrives at a place of gratitude that is grounded in the earth and its moods.

Happy reading,

Loes M.

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