Books Noted, Fall-Winter 2017

In the Fall-Winter 2017 edition of American Poets, Stephanie Burt reviews twelve of the year’s most anticipated poetry collections.


A Doll for Throwing
A Doll for Throwing
by Mary Jo Bang
(Graywolf Press, August 2017)

Coldly beautiful and relentlessly quotable, this eighth collection from Mary Jo Bang (who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Elegy, published by Graywolf Press in 2007) is also her first to consist wholly of prose poems, and her second, after The Eye Like a Strange Balloon (Grove Press, 2004), to take its bearings from modern art.
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 Barbie Chang
Barbie Chang
by Victoria Chang
(Copper Canyon Press, November 2017)

Those amused, or shocked, by Victoria Chang’s The Boss (McSweeney’s, 2013)—an almost giddily unified book in which every poem used metaphors from an oppressive workplace—should like Chang’s new work. But they won’t be the only ones—and not even they will expect Chang’s grander scope, her greater nuance, and her more generous attention to its characters’ adult lives.
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Beneath the Spanish
Beneath the Spanish
by Victor Hernández Cruz
(Coffee House Press, October 2017))

Victor Hernández Cruz began his celebrated career in the 1970s in Puerto Rican New York City; he now resides in Morocco, and his latest assembly of poems and prose—exuberant, spontaneous, fast-paced—looks back over several seas and centuries at the broad gauge of Caribbean history....
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Don't Call Us Dead
Don’t Call Us Dead
by Danez Smith
(Graywolf Press, September 2017)

Danez Smith has become one of a generation’s most noticed poets, and for good reason: at once a stunning performer and a tersely effective arranger of words on the page, Smith can address the Black Lives Matter movement, the erasure of black humanity by malign police, and then pivot to vivid, sexy, or scary records from a complex queer sexuality.
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Half-light: Collected Poems
Half-light: Collected Poems 1965–2016
by Frank Bidart
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2017)

Frank Bidart remains one of the very rare poets whose work attracts plaudits from highbrow critics while carrying—not occasionally but always—raw, painful, violent emotional weight. He’s been in that position since the 1970s, when his early work outlined his troubled parents and childhood in Bakersfield, California....
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I Know Your Kind
I Know Your Kind
by William Brewer
(Milkweed Editions, September 2017)

Opioids have left trails of disaster across America, but few places have been hit harder than West Virginia, few communities harder than rural white ones. William Brewer’s pitch-perfect, tightly focused first full-length collection builds on his chapbook Oxyana (Poetry Society of America, 2016), named for the town of Oceana, whose new nickname comes from its opioid casualties.
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Ordinary Beast
Ordinary Beast
by Nicole Sealey
(Ecco, September 2017)

Nicole Sealey’s debut feels like a debut, in the best sense: a clever poet with a lot to say will try everything once, or more than once, in order to see what works, from centos, to poems that critique her own earlier poems (“In Defense of ‘Candelabra with Heads’”), to a sestina in which all six end-words are some form of “pit”—“Pity,” “pulpit,” “Eliot Spitzer”) to straightforward first-person reactions....
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Silencer
Silencer
by Marcus Wicker
(Mariner Books, September 2017)

The Michigan-based Marcus Wicker’s second collection, after Maybe the Saddest Thing (Harper Perennial, 2012), might at first seem to place him comfortably—and proudly—in a register cocreated by Terrance Hayes. Wicker makes witty yet serious, encyclopedically allusive work whose excitable energies and wide range of diction belie the gravity of their topics: structural injustice, familial loyalty, uneasy adulthood, and institutional racism.
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Some Say the Lark
Some Say the Lark
by Jennifer Chang
(Alice James Books, October 2017)

The ambitious and heartfelt second volume from Jennifer Chang gives many kinds of readers many ways in. At its start it’s an almost mystical collection of rural and nature-based poems, its earnest registers reminiscent of Galway Kinnell: “Were I more horse than rider,” Chang muses, “I would better understand the beast I am.”
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To Whitey and the Cracker Jack
To Whitey and the Cracker Jack
HAUNTIE
(Anhinga Press, September 2017)

This debut from HAUNTIE (the nom de plume of the Hmong American writer May Yang) puts its performance of outrage at center stage and justifies its stances thoroughly too. At once a revenger, a ghost, and an auntie, helping younger women kept down by powerful men, Yang’s HAUNTIE persona attacks patriarchy and racism in very general terms.
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We're On
We’re On: A June Jordan Reader
by June Jordan, edited by Christoph Keller
and Jan Heller Levi
(Alice James Books, September 2017)

“I am black alive and looking back at you,” June Jordan announced in 1969. She kept looking, and protesting, and advocating, and clarifying her life, and setting examples for radical activists, until her death in 2002. This first posthumous volume to hold both her verse and her prose puts her back near the center of conversations where—with Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich—she clearly belongs.
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While Standing in Line for Death
While Standing in Line for Death
CAConrad
(Wave Books, September 2017)

CAConrad is known in some quarters—and rightly so—for “(Soma)tic poetry rituals,” physical, social, and mental exercises—somewhere between yoga and performance art—that lead Conrad, and might lead you, to compose new poems. Like some of Conrad’s other collections—but starkly with more tragic overtones—this one mixes prose about the rituals and their occasions with the sets of poems that follow from them.
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