Books Noted, Spring-Summer 2018

In the Spring-Summer 2018 issue of American Poets, Major Jackson reviews eleven of the year's most anticipated poetry collections.


Cenzontle
Cenzontle
by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
(BOA Editions, April 2018)

The subject of crossing borders is central to understanding Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s debut collection, Cenzontle, a book that will fuel any reader’s desire to protest the terrorizing rhetoric undocumented Americans face along with the fear of deportation in today’s political climate. While the book launches from this crucial and poignant event—Castillo immigrated to the United States from Tepechitlán, Mexico, as a child—the poems reach far beyond mere current affairs.
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Be With
Be With
by Forrest Gander
(New Directions, August 2018)

“At which point my grief-sounds ricocheted outside of language” opens Forrest Gander’s poem “Beckoned” in his book Be With. In this volume, the poet, translator, and husband of the poet C. D. Wright, who died unexpectedly in 2016, staggers through his sorrow, marking in lines full of insight, at times astonishingly so, an entanglement of emotions, including enduring love and regret: “Though I also wear / my life into death, the / ugliness I originate / outlives me.”
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Cruel Futures
Cruel Futures
by Carmen Giménez Smith
(City Lights, April 2018)

In Carmen Giménez Smith’s Cruel Futures, it’s clear she is not interested in the kind of static attention one associates with William Wordsworth’s definition of poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquillity.” Instead Giménez Smith has places to go and then to take off from again, in the form, mainly, of social and political critiques.
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American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
by Terrance Hayes
(Penguin, June 2018)

Terrance Hayes is probably the most innovative poet addressing the complexities of race in America today. In all of his work, five poetry collections to date, he ferociously unearths the layers of racist thinking and its harmful effects, often using the poem’s form as his tool. And his new collection, American Sonnest for My Past and Future Assassin, is no exception.
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Extra Hidden Life, among the Days
Extra Hidden Life, among the Days
by Brenda Hillman
(Wesleyan University Press, February 2018)

Brenda Hillman’s taxonomic and fiercely independent Extra Hidden Life, among the Days is perhaps her most radical poetry collection yet. As with her previous books, Hillman aligns personal convictions about the environment, war, and human exploitation with an aesthetic of lyric experimentation. From the first poems in the book, which subtly acknowledge the sanctity of forests and all things living, Hillman does more than take formal and rhetorical risks.
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Milk
Milk
by Dorothea Lasky
(Wave Books, April 2018)

The poems in Dorothea Lasky’s fifth poetry collection, Milk, tackle a range of dark subject matter, but these are not typical poetic narratives of loss. Instead Lasky abandons the notions of linearity and coherence, introducing possibilities of renewal out of instances of trauma by reaching for a musical phrasing all her own.
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The Undressing
The Undressing
Li-Young Lee
(W. W. Norton, February 2018)

Li-Young Lee’s fifth book of verse, The Undressing, unequivocally aims for passionate, pure, and enchanted speech, taking the lyric poem as more than a vessel for perfunctory, manufactured feeling; rather, the form serves the sentiment, as the emotions emerge from the urgency of their saying.
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Not Here
Not Here
Hieu Minh Nguyen
(Coffee House Press, April 2018)

Any reader who encounters Hieu Minh Nguyen’s second collection, Not Here, will likely be struck by the intense sense of longing and hunger that pulses at the center of his poems—the search for human companionship and raw, physical encounters as a means to self-love and social acceptance....
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Light Wind Light Light
Light Wind Light Light
Bin Ramke
(Omnidawn, April 2018)

Disjunctive, probing, and frequently solemn, the poems in Bin Ramke’s book Light Wind Light Light aim to reckon with the speaker’s past and origins. The alternative is unacceptable given our social and political climate: “late in life / from within where / the hand manipulates / the dummy mouth / comes sly silence. / / Speak up like vapor / rising from the candle.”
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Wade in the Water
Wade in the Water
Tracy K. Smith
(Graywolf Press, April 2018)
Wade in the Water finds Tracy K. Smith, our current U.S. poet laureate, entering into a new phase of attention. Where the poet’s previous books turned to global cultures or looked to the galaxies—with all of their transnational and metaphorical heft—to explore themes of loss, desire, and identity, in this collection Smith owns her displeasure with the world and captures the social and political unrest of the age.
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Brown
Brown
Kevin Young
(Alfred A. Knopf, April 2018)

In the poem “History,” Kevin Young quotes a dedicated, aging teacher from his high school: “Listen to what I’m telling you, he’d say, / / synthesize, don’t record.” In Brown, Young’s tenth collection, he does both, fusing memories of childhood friends, concerts, and the cultural landscape of his youth by honoring a personal canon of black heroic figures....
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