A 2019 Mid-Year Poetry Review

We’ve left June behind, which means 2019 is half-way over. We’ve featured dozens of interviews and reviews in our pages already this year, and we want to highlight them! Yes, that means that those poets and collections published in 2018 aren’t mentioned here, but their interviews and reviews are waiting for you now on the blog. Below, read excerpts from poets and readers—and poets in conversation with their readers.

Here’s our mid-year poetry review!

Diannely Antigua
Ugly Music (YesYes Books)

…in my MFA program at NYU, another Latinx poet in my workshop asked me, “Why are you italicizing the Spanish words in your poems?” She explained how italicizing the Spanish words made them inferior to the English, marking them as other. It wasn’t until then that I began to understand. From that moment, I stopped italicizing the Spanish words in my poems. As someone who identifies as bilingual, I want to make sure that I always honor and respect my mother tongue.

Read Stephanie Trott’s conversation with Diannely here. Read about how Diannely crafted “Diary Entry #4: Ghazal” here.

Francesca Bell
Bright Stain (Red Hen Press)

My advice is this: Write what you want to write, about what you can’t turn away from, in the style that best serves your intentions, in the voice that you have.

Read Lisa Higgs’s conversation with Francesca here.

Mary Biddinger
Partial Genius (Black Lawrence Press)

My poems…want to defy the definition of what is wild, and what is tame. Sometimes I am sitting in a boring academic meeting and I look out the window and see a squirrel in the scruff of a pine tree and feel like that’s where I actually belong. Squirrels have never been asked to use Microsoft Excel.

Read Erica Bernheim’s conversation with Mary here.

Jericho Brown
The Tradition (Copper Canyon Press)

I want my poems to talk about this whole mess of a life, known through language. Its complexities, the great big ups and downs. That is my job, that is what I do. I am very much a poet of witness.

Read Darshita Rjanikant Jain’s conversation with Jericho here.

K Ming Chang
Past Lives, Future Bodies (Black Lawrence Press)

Past Lives, Future Bodies gives readers access to a new, queerer world that sears with self-knowledge and becoming. The magic conjured in this collection—lyric intensity coupled with sharp political intellect—is utterly singular, as Chang says in “Midas,” ”I ate myself out of the womb, slurped / my umbilical cord like a noodle.”

Read Luiza Flynn Goodlett’s review of Past Lives, Future Bodies here.

Franny Choi
Soft Science (Alice James Books)

Whenever someone asks how I wrote something, I get a little moment of panic. Did I write it? Was I there when I wrote it? What if, in retracing my steps, I spook away the magic, and no poem ever comes to me again? Though of course, it’s not magic, exactly. At least, it’s not any more magic than the moment your computer screen goes from black to gray, or the moment when you call someone’s name and watch them return from a daydream, back to your conversation, back to you.

Read about how Franny wrote “Turing Test” here.

S. Brook Corfman
Luxury, Blue Lace (Autumn House Press)

These poems map out the creation and transformation of a self and a body, and Corfman’s language does not shy from the difficult necessity of that. […] Corfman understands that for a self-aware speaker the making of a self is never complete.

Read Jennifer Saunders’s review of Luxury, Blue Lace here.

Melissa Crowe
Dear Terror, Dear Splendor (University of Wisconsin Press)

If life is a river, then Melissa Crowe’s Dear Terror, Dear Splendor is the boat crashing along through every torrent and floating atop the calm shallows. Crowe’s poetry collection, which starts with a splash of a poem titled “The River,” is truly a rumination on life itself and the terrifyingly splendid ways love ushers each of us along for the ride.

Read Addey Vaters’s review of Dear Terror, Dear Spendor here. Bianca Glinskas’s conversation with Melissa will be published on July 9, 2019. Stay tuned!

Marwa Helal
Invasive species (Nightboat Books)

Candid and confident about its ecosystems of influence, at times wildly omnivorous and polylingual, purposefully pedestrian at others, the lyrical avatar of Invasive species is one whose existential impulse seems to be rabid availability—to the poet’s multitude of peoples and places—negotiated crossways by a slick, uppercutting investment in infiltration rather than naturalization, divergence (not “diversity”), and didacticism as a form of information smuggling.

Read Justin Phillip Reed’s review of Invasive Species here.

Wayne Johns
Antipalsm (Unicorn Press)

I don’t know if I consider myself a religious poet as much as I just consider poetry a kind of religious project.

Read Heidi Seaborn’s conversation with Wayne here.

Deborah Landau
Soft Targets (Copper Canyon Press)

In a poem, I would never set out to offer a solution. I’m just tracking the way my mind is moving—what I’m feeling and what I’m seeing, hearing. I don’t have a plan. I’m only writing from my own subject position, and these are the things that I’ve witnessed.

Read Heidi Seaborn’s conversation with Deborah here.

Grace Shuyi Liew
Careen (Noemi Press)

Liew’s images are charged with wind and water, which bring the reader towards essential questions of self and its fluid relation to nation(s). There is an intense investigation of this relationship, and undergirding, an interrogation of how nation, as a system, prefigures how we relate to one another.

Read Phil Spotswood’s review of Careen here.

Ada Limón
The Carrying (Milkweed Editions)

Rather than reducing the size and complexity of our world or the universe, Limón embraces its complexity, the beauty in a simple truth that “we are not unspectacular things.” She pairs these profound connections deftly with a divine clarity of image, positing questions and desires in one poem she returns to and explores further later in the collection.

Read Matty Layne Glasgow’s review of The Carrying here.

Kenji C. Liu
Monsters I Have Been (Alice James Books)

I wanted to look at every cultural artifact as a potential textual archive and have them haunt each other. Achille Mbembe has said that “the destroyed archive haunts the state in the form of a spectre.” I did not really start with destroyed archives, but I did in one sense destroy archives by smashing them together to see what would happen.

Read Christina Orlando’s conversation with Kenji here.

Sally Wen Mao
Oculus (Graywolf Press)

Visibility is not enough—we need actual complexity. Visibility can quickly turn into invisibility when the stories that make us visible actually reduce our humanity and complexity.

Read Aline Dolinh’s conversation with Sally here.

John McCarthy
Scared Violent Like Horses (Milkweed Editions)

Silence is a space for reflection and that comes out in the bookending praise that “Flyover Country” begins and ends with, but it also manifests as fear, guilt, shame, and confusion. And once those things take root in the psyche and in the body, they often spill outward, sometimes in violence. I don’t think we are naturally violent. Violence springs from fear and insecurity.

Read Lisa Higgs’s conversation with John here.

Tanya Olson
Stay (YesYes Books)

One of my favorite things about country music is the way that institution looks backwards as well as it looks forward. Country music award shows often feature numbers where old and new musicians perform pieces together and concerts often feature a segment where the musician covers a song by an earlier artist who influenced them. I’m determined to introduce this to poetry.

Read Erica Charis-Molling’s conversation with Tanya here.

Emilia Phillips
Hemlock (Diode Editions)

By stripping away anything mannered, Phillips’s work gives an impression of spontaneity and intimacy. It seems perfectly natural then, that her eye turns to intimate, domestic spaces, to “my naked body in its easy / labor of making / coffee and sighing heavily” (“Crowd Crush”).

Read Luiza Flynn Goodlett’s review of Hemlock here.

Ariana Reines
A Sand Book (Tin House Books)

The world may be a desert, whose physical appearance is beginning to match its spiritual condition, but Reines’s poetry reminds the reader that there are oases everywhere, “human places.”

Read Michael J. Emmons’s review of A Sand Book here.

Paisley Rekdal
Nightingale (Copper Canyon Press)

…even as there’s the impulse to give voice to the traumatic experience, there’s a fear of losing control, of giving the story over to others to interpret, to judge, to picture: “my silence, then, is not a revision but an invitation to imagine, to remember, this violence for yourself.”

Read Luiza Flynn Goodlett’s review of Nightingale here.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico
LIMA :: LIMÓN (Copper Canyon Press)

I participate in a very heteronormative relationship with the world that is steeped in cultural values that I have to actively question if I don’t want to lose myself as a woman. In this way, despite feeling like I was “lucky” to not have to live charged with a fear of femicide in the way that maquila workers do, this violence still came to find me through the deaths of those close to me due to narco-violence. So, as much as I thought I was removed from it, safe from it, it found me when I was least expecting it.

Read Maria Esquinca’s conversation with Natalie here.

Chad Sweeney
Little Million Doors (Nightboat Books)

…poetry is for the living, not the dead, and in the powerful central section of the book, Sweeney’s protagonist spirit chooses to suffer. “I let myself want something,” the spirit says. Without suffering, the poem would have less gravitas, less duende. So the poet breaks and breaks the language, the expectations, the narrative, and even the accrued clarities of the journey so far.

Read Mary Ann McFadden’s review of Little Million Doors here.

Heidi Seaborn
Give a Girl Chaos {see what she can do} (C&R Press/Mastodon Books)

In the past year+ that I’ve been reading and now editing for Adroit, it’s given me exposure to what’s being written by the very young, as well as the very talented. And in some cases they’re one and the same, and it’s really impressive. It’s really helped me become a better reader and a better writer. You up your game because you have to. You realize what people are doing, and you’re like, “That is really good.”

Read Wayne Johns’s conversation with Heidi here.

Emily Skaja
Brute (Graywolf Press)

I guess if you boil it down, a pep talk is just a story you tell yourself about yourself in order to keep going. I wrote these poems as a means of working through trauma to make sense of it for myself. I wanted to take back some of the agency of that story in the telling, and so in a lot of the poems I am talking to myself, or talking to a friend who helped me learn to see the past in a different way.

Read Ross Nervig’s conversation with Emily here.

Arthur Sze
Sight Lines (Copper Canyon Press)

Poetry, for me, is language at its most intense, and I believe its concentrating power is uniquely suited to magnifying the resonance of surprising juxtapositions. In Sight Lines, I was interested in moving beyond the cultural parallax of differences between East and West and exploring a much larger, wider arena where incidents in varying space and time still exert influence or pressure on each other.

Read Jordan Nakamura’s conversation with Arthur here.

See you soon enough, December,
when we’ll spotlight poetry from the second half of the year!


No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply