Nathan's Top Ten Poetry Collections of 2017

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2017 has been an amazing year for new poetry and, since I never think it gets its proper due, I decided to compose my Top Ten list from my favorite collections from the past twelve months. Many of these books are timely in topic and current to our particular moment, and each of them are beautifully lyric in one way or another. Most are at least a little experimental in style, since that’s what I tend to gravitate toward, but you’ll find just as much pleasure as challenge in these pages. Here are my ten favorite books of poetry of 2017, presented in alphabetical order because ranking them would just be too hard:

Calling a Wolf a Wolf Cover Image
ISBN: 9781938584671
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Alice James Books - September 12th, 2017

Kaveh Akbar’s poems feel like they’re always moving, as they spiral from image to image rendered with the utmost attention. The main premise of this collection is dealing with alcoholism and addiction, but the scope is way bigger: language, identity, family, and faith are present in every poem. Akbar gives every idea and object in his poems the full weight of his attention, to the point that a sense of wonder is brought back into the world. Nothing is taken for granted here, and the poems are dripping with song.

Precis Cover Image
ISBN: 9781632430304
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Omnidawn - February 7th, 2017

PRECIS is born from the U.S./Mexico border and its relation to American identity, and those that are bound by its arbitrary existence. Alvergue’s poetic style is lyric, experimental in form and content, and somehow manages to turn theoretical language into song. Much of the book is rooted in uncertainty, refusing to lay down definitive claims about the body or the narratives around its identity. Fragmented, meditative, and precise, PRECIS challenges modern poetics and politics, with its oversimplified slogans and chants, alike.

While Standing in Line for Death Cover Image
ISBN: 9781940696553
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Wave Books - September 5th, 2017

CAConrad’s newest collection continues his process of (Soma)tic poetry rituals—exercises paired with resultant poems—by attempting to write through grief and depression. Conrad’s poems begin with the murder of his boyfriend in 1997 and branch out from there, touching on his primary concerns around our relationships to the earth and to each other, and how to live holistically. Tumbling, stream-of-consciousness poems are paired with straight descriptions of each ritual, which are often humorous and admirably absurd.

The Happy End / All Welcome Cover Image
ISBN: 9781937027735
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Published: Ugly Duckling Presse - June 20th, 2017

The poems of THE HAPPY END / ALL WELCOME are set in the middle of a job fair where there’s an open position for anyone who wants to be an artist. Here the poems appear as wanted ads, interviews, office gossip: whatever serves as generally accepted in the structured workplace. This collection is full of a deadpan humor that is wry but never overly ironic, and the poems deconstruct the power dynamics present in any office. De la Torre offers in this book an escape or upward mobility that sadly is becoming less and less of a reality in the corporate setting.

Fast: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062663481
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Published: Ecco - May 2nd, 2017

I don’t think there’s a poet writing today whose work is as dense, cerebral, or monolithic as Jorie Graham. Every single poem of her newest collection, FAST, completely floored me. The scope of this book is huge, ranging from Graham’s own cancer treatments to ecological concerns at the bottom of the ocean to bots and the post-human in our technological age. The music in her dense, prose-like style is so strong, and I feel like I learned something new on each page. Graham continues to take risks late into her career and presents a collection that is contemporary, collective, and her most personal to date.

Whereas: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977672
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - March 7th, 2017

This collection takes its title from a single word often used in political language present in the treaties, apologies, and other statements from the United States government to Native American tribes. Long Soldier takes that official language and strips it down into something more lyric and subversive, and she creates a poetics that is structurally inventive and staggeringly beautiful. The poems of WHEREAS explore the doubleness of language and dual citizenship, motherhood, and the nature of apology. At once cerebral and beautiful, this book was my personal pick for this year’s National Book Award (nothing against Frank Bidart).

The Blessing of Dark Water Cover Image
ISBN: 9781938584336
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Alice James Books - April 11th, 2017

THE BLESSING OF DARK WATER is the debut collection from local Houston poet Elizabeth Lyons, and it explores mental illness through the life and works of artist Walter Anderson. Lyons’ voice is subsumed into Anderson’s 70 years later, plumbing the depths of his manic states and the suffering they bring on. These poems are wild, compassionate, and give new voice to Anderson, his wife, and his doctors by using their own words and quotations in the poems themselves. In the process, the speaker in Lyons’ poems also finds the strength to communicate her own emotional reality.

Late Empire Cover Image
ISBN: 9781556595189
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Copper Canyon Press - October 10th, 2017

Lisa Olstein’s latest collection of poetry feels timely in its political and personal commentary on the American empire, with appearances by Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Kurt Cobain, and the enduring signs of global warming, among plenty others. LATE EMPIRE is driven by its observational wit and meditative considerations. The poems are approachable and welcoming, yet intelligent in their construction, and create an almost dreamlike atmosphere in which the poet and reader can muse together on our contemporary condition. Another Texas poet, Olstein is based in Austin.

Don't Call Us Dead: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977856
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - September 5th, 2017

Danez Smith is one of those rare poets that can make you laugh out loud and, three lines later, shatter your heart into several pieces and leave you broken on the floor. His newest collection, DON’T CALL US DEAD, explores race and sexuality in an America where it’s still dangerous to be anything but the norm, but these poems are so full of hope in spite of that. Smith doesn’t turn his gaze away from history or its horrors, and rather confronts them through lyric. Erotic, funny, and fierce. Bonus points if you watch Smith read these poems out loud, as he’s a hell of a performer to boot.

The New York Editions (Poets Out Loud) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780823278152
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Fordham University Press - November 7th, 2017

The latest collection from another Houston local. THE NEW YORK EDITIONS is inspired by Snediker’s love of Henry James and the re-releases of several of his works by Scribners in 1907-1909. The poems in this collection are wildly lyric, exuberant even, and explore our relationships through temporal links that tie us to our past selves and drag us into the future. Identity, sexuality, and music fly out of every one of these poems at a pace that will dizzy you. Don’t be afraid to grab a dictionary for this one; the only thing more impressive than Snediker’s lexicon is his song.

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