by Powell's Staff, April 14, 2022 8:52 AM
April — a month filled with unexpected snow showers and cherry-blossom-pink waterfronts — is National Poetry Month, and while we love celebrating poetry all year round, we also love any excuse to highlight one of our favorite forms. In that spirit, we reached out to some of our poetry-loving booksellers, the ones who know best, to recommend their favorite titles. They pulled together the 13 books below, collections filled with love and estrangement, solitude and desire, rattling bone-keys and Evil Noodles. It's a wonderful selection, and a perfect place to start when you're looking for your next great read.
Then the War
by Carl Phillips
Every new collection from Carl Phillips is a reason to celebrate! Then the War is a hybrid book: both a complete collection of new poems, and selections from the past fifteen years of his work, including the entirety of his chapbook, "Star Map with Action Figures," and an extended prose piece called “Among the Trees.” If you've never read Carl Phillips, this book is an excellent entry point, and if you're a fan, well, you already know what you're in for: queer lyricism, precise language, and penetrating self-exploration. — Adam P.
Music for the Dead and Resurrected
by Valzhyna Mort
In this award-winning collection, Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort invokes a harrowing reckoning with historical mass atrocities, bent through the keyhole of family memory. Her poems are precise and angular, tinged with ironies and bizarre details that leave a lasting imprint on the reader — a kind of spooky carousel of whispering chestnuts, rattling bone-keys, faces in household objects (purses, shovels), and ghostly bison. I hesitate to reduce the complexity of Mort's risk-taking book with a cliché about its “continued relevancy,” and yet extremely relevant, even prescient, it remains, speaking crucially to the ways that buried histories, like buried traumas, tend to haunt through repetition. — Alexa W.
by Neil Hilborn
This is a collection I have read over and over. It is beautiful and heartfelt and simultaneously funny and not too serious. Each poem lets you in on an aspect of Neil's life, from how much he loves his wife to how sometimes mental illness can take over our lives and it's terrible and hard, but on either end of the spectrum and every step in between, this collection makes you feel so understood and far less alone. It's the kind of book that you both want to keep all for yourself and share with the entire world. — Aster H.
Seeing the Body
by Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Rachel Eliza Griffith's hybrid poetry and photo collection, Seeing the Body, is a luminous exploration of grief, Black womanhood, somatic memory, and radical self-love. Written for her late mother, these poems and photos reckon with mourning and daughterhood through a tender, transformative lens. — Ariel K.
by Maja Haderlap (tr. Tess Lewis)
Haderlap is from a Slovenian-speaking minority in the part of Austria called Carinthia, and her themes range from love and estrangement to botany and geology to what it's like to speak a minority language and be pressured to abandon your mother tongue in the face of a dominant culture. Her poems are gorgeous and yet spare, not a word out of place; in their depth and timelessness, they reward re-readings. — Jennifer K.
The Collected Poems
by Sylvia Plath
Most people know of Sylvia Plath but so few have truly read her works; while her works will never fully explain who she was, they can give a glimpse. Plath was so much more than sadness and grief: she was also joy and beauty, which is just as important and very lovely to see and understand. — Aster H.
by Coleman Stevenson
Written by local tarot legend and artist Coleman Stevenson, this collection is steeped in magic and liminality. There is so much to relate to in these poems — meditations on solitude and desire — but what may perhaps resonate most deeply are the details left unsaid. Skillful leaps between images celebrate mystery, encouraging us to remain open and free-associate. This book is full of secrets, doors to shadowy places, and invitations to go deeper. — Ariel K.
by Roger Reeves
Reeves is in full command of his craft as he grapples with the issues of the day and their roots in slavery and the assumptions upon which America was founded and settled. This is gorgeous, poignant poetry in conversation with Baldwin, Sappho, Whitman, and others, as well as the author's dying father. Just one example of these poems' fierce beauty, from the conclusion of "Rat Among the Pines": "And my daughter hiding in the rose/Bushes, asking who, who the sirens/Have come to kill. And someone calling/It beautiful — summer, moon — /And someone dying beneath that beauty,/Which is America." — Jennifer K.
The Sea Needs No Ornament / El mar no necesita ornamento
Edited by Loretta Collins Klobah and Maria Grau Perejoan
This dynamic, ground-breaking arrangement of English- and Spanish-speaking poets from the Caribbean was gifted to me as a birthday present a few years ago and quickly became one of the most loved poetry books on my shelf. Featuring sensational contributions from the likes of Canisia Lubrin, Vahni (Anthony Ezekiel) Capildeo, and Safiya Sinclair, this collection radically redraws the boundaries of what a poetry anthology might be, with its proliferating conversations between languages, styles, diasporas, and revolutions. — Alexa W.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds
by Ocean Vuong
Though Vuong is now more known for his novel On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous, his poetry collection still remains my favorite work of his. His beautiful and utterly original poems weave stories both comforting and heartbreaking. The lines in these works will run through your head long after you read them, and reveal new meanings as you hold them over time. There is truly no other collection quite like this. — Aster H.
Meditations in an Emergency
by Frank O'Hara
Lines of this collection from Frank O'Hara bubble up in my brain almost daily as I make my way around the city, visiting record stores, riding the MAX, and finding other reasons to not totally regret life. I can't really imagine living without these poems, and I'm glad I don't have to. — Adam P.
Czeslaw Milosz: A California Life
by Cynthia L. Haven
Before he won the Nobel Prize for his poetry, Milosz was a defector from Soviet Poland whose works were samizdat, or banned by the government. Haven, who knew him, very sensitively explores his poetic evolution through estrangement as he progressively settled into his new home as a professor at Berkeley in the volatile 60s. This is a beautiful, deeply thoughtful study of landscape and culture through a poetic lens. — Jennifer K.
The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void
by Jackie Wang
Wang's debut poetry collection is a vivid swirl of poems, prose, and illustrations inspired by her dream journal. Drawing from psychoanalytic theory, as well as Wang's academic research on race, gender, and the prison industrial complex, its eerie microcosms are clever, haunted, Dali-esque, and darkly playful (see poem ft. an Evil Noodle), evoking the sense of having crossed a threshold into some higher, magical realm of linguistic possibility. — Alexa W.