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Thirteen Essential Poetry Collections Publishing During National Poetry Month

When thinking of social justice work and activist writing, nonfiction is likely the first place your mind goes. Since its invention, however, poetry has been used to produce just as (if not more) political work in powerful turns-of-phrase and lyrical poignancy. From spoken word to page poetry to rap, the diversity of voices coming through modern poetry is a beacon of light in a country divided.

National Poetry Month is always a great excuse to dust off all of your favorite old collections, but this year, why not try something new? We’ve compiled a list of thirteen poetry collections coming out this April, with an emphasis on poets of color, trans poets, immigrant poets, and other marginalized voices we should be listening to now more than ever. Give one (or all of them) a try—you might just find something you never knew you needed.

Bright Advent by Robert Strong (White Pine Press, April 11, 2017)

If you’ve memorized every line to The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter but long for a more nuanced, progressive discussion of colonial narratives, this is the poetry collection you’ve been waiting for. Strong’s work brings Puritan America into the twentieth century, melding archival texts with a contemporary tone. This collection creates a dialogue around Christian conversion of the indigenous peoples of North America, looking specifically at the relationship between the Massachusett man John Sassamon and the Puritan missionary John Eliot. Strong’s poetry feels at once intensely academic and incredibly accessible.


Hard Child
by Natalie Shapero (Copper Canyon Press, April 11, 2017)

Full of laugh-out-loud bleakness and self-deprecation, Hard Child is poetry for millennials. Shapero isn’t afraid to get intensely personal as she picks apart the territory of newfound motherhood and leaving her 20s behind. In Hard Child, she expertly navigates the line between the relatable and the too-macabre. Her writing is compulsively readable, and uses gentle turn-of-phrase to build thought-provoking stanzas. In one of the most memorable and hilarious poems from Hard Child, Shapero shines a nihilistic light on personality quizzes that determine what dog or inanimate object the reader might be, saying, “Actually it’s ridiculous to opine on what kind / of a dog I would be, were I ever a dog, as I don’t / contain within me half enough life to power / a dog. I WOULD BE A DEAD DOG, THAT’S / WHAT KIND.”

In Memory of An Angel by David Shapiro (City Lights Publishers, April 11, 2017)

David Shapiro’s poetry carries with it the tone of the New York School of poets, the generation of authors who came of age in the mid-60s and 70s and were influenced both by the Beatniks of the previous generation and the surrealist movement of their visual art peers. In Memory of An Angel balances avant-garde tributes to post-modernism with retrospectives on childhood and fatherhood. There’s a surprisingly heartfelt undercurrent through all of these poems, making you wonder if this book is, perhaps, one long love poem. With a fifty-year career under his belt, Shapiro’s writing has both shaped and been shaped by decades of poets, and he’s considered something of a maestro. In Memory of An Angel is his first collection in fifteen years, so get on it.

mary wants to be a superwoman by erica lewis (Third Man Books, April 4, 2017)

mary wants to be a superwoman pays homage to the works of Stevie Wonder and the power of music to trigger certain emotions and memories. Each poem is titled after a line of a Stevie Wonder song, and while the poems aren’t directly about the songs, they’re inspired by them, written about lewis’s emotive responses and associations with listening to pop artists from her childhood. lewis’s writing puts the “stream” in stream of consciousness. Her words tumble over one another like river rapid, constantly tugging you forward into the next line, and the next, and the next. Don’t mistake her smooth flow for a lack of power though; the ease of her words only makes for a more potent punchline.

Of Mongrelitude by Julian Talamantez Brolaski (Wave Books, April 4, 2017)

Reading Brolaski is like reading the David Foster Wallace of poetry (or rather, the work of David Foster Wallace’s cooler, less-pretentious sibling). Brolaski (whose pronouns are xe/xir/xem) dumps Latin, pop culture, etymology, politics, and sex into the melting pot of the page, creating a new linguistic experiment. Xir poetry is the kind that demands to be read out loud, so you can chew on all of the gooey consonants and sticky vowels. References to the fourteenth century, words like “maiden” and “agog,” swirl in with contemporary criticisms of corporations and the gender binary. Of Mongrelitude is a poetry collection for a digital age, where memes, emojis, and abbreviations create new vernaculars on a daily basis. It’s poetry like you’ve never read poetry before.

Patient Zero by Tomás Q. Morín (Copper Canyon Press, April 4, 2017)

This collection brings a classic genre (the love poem or, more accurately, the lost-love poem) into a fresh and fanciful new light. Morín’s writing uses the mundane details of everyday life—from pretzels to geese to blues music—as a jumping off point for creating fascinating and philosophical worlds. In Patient Zero, Morín looks at love not only from the perspective of the lovers, but from the places and things that surround a life sick with heartbreak. Morín has an uncanny knack for painting a scene that is rarely seen in poetry. Once the scene is established, he uses clever wordplay to reveal layers upon layers of new meaning. It’s poetry that keeps you thinking, that makes you want to go back and re-read each line to untangle the puzzles that Morín dangles before you.

A People’s History of Chicago by Kevin Coval, foreword by Chance the Rapper (Haymarket Books, April 11, 2017)

You can’t be a fan of the Chicago poetry scene (or any poetry scene, for that matter) without knowing Kevin Coval. Founder of Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival, the Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors, and a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, there’s no one better to write a history of the Windy City than Coval. The book contains seventy-seven poems, one for each of the seventy-seven neighborhoods of Chicago, from the perspective of those on the margins. A People’s History of Chicago centers the often-untold histories of the city’s workers, poor people, and people of color. Coval’s poems have the flow of rap verses, and you can practically hear the thumping bassline running just beneath his wordsIn case that wasn’t enough to woo you, the foreword was written by Chancellor Bennett, a.k.a. the one, the only Chance the Rapper. A poetry book endorsed by Lil’ Chano himself? You know it’s gonna be good.


a place called No Homeland
by Kai Cheng Thom (Arsenal Pulp Press, April 11, 2017)

a place called No Homeland takes the reader on a journey through memory and mythos to draw new maps of gender, race, sexuality, and violence. Stemming from her experiences as a Chinese-Canadian trans woman, Thom uses a characteristic lyricism (whose cadence is drawn from a strong spoken-word influence) to unpack complex ideas of what exactly “home” is, particularly in queer and diasporic communities. If Thom’s name sounds familiar, it might be because her work has been published on Everyday Feminism, Buzzfeed, xoJane, and other intersectional feminist-forward corners of the internet. Thom isn’t just a poet; she’s also an essayist, a novelist, a performer, and, in general, a verified Superwoman. She’s a rising star to watch, and there’s no better starting place than a place called No Homeland.

Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us by Noah Wareness (Biblioasis, April 11, 2017)

If you’ve ever wished that Tim Burton had directed an uncanny-valley version of The Velveteen Rabbit, this is the poetry book for you. Using The Velveteen Rabbit as a jumping off point, Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us is a collection of twenty-six poems and the unbelievably weird happenings that link them. Noah Wareness’s writing is grim, gripping, and more than a little creepy in all the right ways. Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us is a trippy philosophical exploration that feels less like reading a book and more like walking right out of reality and into someone’s dreamscape. It’s a delicious celebration of loss, vertigo, and wonder that’s sure to give you goosebumps.

Reaper by Jill McDonough (Alice James Books, April 11, 2017)
If you’re looking for political poetry, stop right here. Jill McDonough’s Reaper zooms in on America’s expanding drone program and the ever-blurring line of man and machine. McDonough examines the distancing of culpability and repercussions when there’s a computer screen and a continent between you and the dead. This is not a happy book; it’s a book to make you think, to shine a light on the darker side of American politics, and the warfare we often pretend isn’t happening. She swaps out flowery imagery for repetition of sparse, to-the point poetry that hammers home her message. McDonough’s writing is gritty and unapologetic, refusing to let even the reader off the hook. It never feels like an attack, though. Instead, McDonough is simply insisting that we look at the whole picture, not just the pretty, easy parts.

A Sand Book by Ariana Reines (Fence Books, April 11, 2017)

Reines’s work is lyrical and painfully relatable, her work resonating with a generational experience in lines like “Smoking crack after yoga / Swallowing vitamins with wine.” Speaking to Reines’s cultural relevance, Lena Dunham is one of the poet’s biggest fans, having posted multiple passages of Reines’s previous books on Instagram and that her “poems sing to my whole body.” Reines is also an accomplished playwright, and her scriptwriting talents bleed into her poetry, giving her verses a conversational quality and a natural flow.

The Trembling Answers by Craig Morgan Teicher (BOA Editions, April 11, 2017)

Teicher’s poems are largely confessional and autobiographical, and The Trembling Answers is no exception; this particular volume deals with explorations of family and fatherhood, and the role his poetry plays across each. One of Teicher’s great strengths is in his honesty. He frequently reveals his flaws and mistakes to the reader, laying bare intimate details about his wife, his son, and his marriage to illustrate his very humanity. His writing is full of lists and repetition, as if Teicher is searching for answers in real-time with the reader. Each poem is meaty and sprawling, providing plenty of space for interpretation and re-interpretation.

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen (BOA Editions, April 11, 2017)

Chen Chen’s work is versatile, skillfully adapting to different forms and functions; on one page, you’ll find a traditional poem, lines grouped together in rhythmic couplets. On another, lines run together into paragraphs, blurring the difference between poetry and prose. Chen Chen’s poems are odes and elegies, considerations of everyday life. In When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, Chen Chen muses his way through the idea of inheritance (specifically, what it means to inherit things like love and family) at the center of his identity as a queer Chinese-American immigrant. American Book Award Winner Jericho Brown gave When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities his seal of approval in his introduction to the book. NPR even named this book “Poetry to Pay Attention To” in their 2017 book preview on February 8, calling it “deeply serious and moving.” Plus, who could say no to such a catchy title?

Find out where to buy these great collections and more here on the Consortium website!

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Words, Words, Words: Our Poetry Publishers on Their Favorite Poetic Lines

In case you haven’t heard, April is National Poetry Month, and today, instead of highlighting the poets behind your favorite works, we’re turning to the ones who make it all possible: the publishers.

With an inundation of social media, chapbooks, and more, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of poetry that exists. That’s when we look to the publishers – the few, the brave, the mighty, who wade through lines upon lines to raise up the best and the brightest of voices. O! Those careful curators, who show us new poetry that crackles with potential and remind us of the old favorites we hold close in times of need. We are eternally grateful to the endless hours they spend examining word after word to feed our literary souls.

We reached out to a few of those helming modern poetry publishing to find outwhat moves them? What are their favorite lines of poetry?

boa logoPeter Conners, Publisher at BOA Editions:

“I loved you before I was born.”

Li-Young Lee, The Word from His Song (BOA Editions, 2016)

BOA Editions is located in Rochester, New York. Their latest book of poetry is The Black Maria by Aracelis Girmay.

 

Chris Fischbach, Publisher at Coffee House Press:

“In the Johannesburg minescoffeehouselogo
There are 240,000 natives working.

What kind of poem
Would you make out of that?

240,000 natives working
In the Johannesburg mines.”

Langston Hughes, from the poem “Johannesburg Mines” (1928)

Coffee House Press is located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their latest book of poetry is They and We Will Get Into Trouble For This by Anna Moschovakis.

 

copper canyon

Kelly Forsythe, Director of Publicity at Copper Canyon Press:

“Don’t listen to the words—

they’re only little shapes for what you’re saying,

they’re only cups if you’re thirsty, you aren’t thirsty.”

— Jean Valentine, from the poem “as with rosy steps the morn,” from Break the Glass (Copper Canyon, 2010)

Copper Canyon Press is located in Port Townsend, Washington. Their latest book of poetry is Alamo Theory by Josh Bell.

 

Rebecca Wolff, Publisher and Founder of Fence Books:fence

“Cosmic potential–and–actualization!”

Rodrigo Toscano, Explosion Rocks Springfield (Fence Books, May 2016)

Fence Books is located in Albany, New York. Their latest book of poetry is Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror 2 by Paul Legault.

 

manicdJennifer Joseph, Publisher and Founder of Manic D Press:

“It’s not how far you fall, but how you land.
Are you here for the sowing, reaping, or the dead?”

Justin Chin, from Gutted (Manic D Press, 2006)

Manic D Press is located in San Francisco, California. Their latest book of poetry is The Roots of a Thousand Embraces by Juan Felipe Hererra.

 

Brittany Dennison, Managing Editor at Wavewave Books (Seattle, Washington):

“Hell, I love everybody.”

James Tate, from Riven Doggeries (Ecco Press, 1979)

Wave Books is located in Seattle, Washington. Their latest book of poetry is Olio by Tyehimba Jess.

 

There you have it, folks. The most beloved lines of poetry from the people who’ve seen it all. Thank you, publishers, for all of your time, taste, and dedication!

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The BreakBeat Poets: Building a Legacy

One year ago today, just in time for National Poetry Month, Haymarket Books published a groundbreaking poetry collection called The BreakBeat Poets. Featuring the work of seventy-eight different writers, The BreakBeat Poets celebrates the new “BreakBeat Generation.” The BreakBeat Generation, as defined by editor Kevin Coval, is a new era whose style is fueled by the hip-hop and spoken-word movements of the Black Arts, Nuyorican, and Beat poets.

breakbeat

“Hip-hop,” Coval says in the introduction, “made poetry relevant. It was no longer this dreadful, dead-white-male-centered, highly dull piece to sleep through in English class. It was very much alive and in our Walkmen and notebooks.”

Hip-hop created a connection to an audience that most classic poetry lacked. It was an invitation to participate extended to a generation who wasn’t used to being invited. Hip-hop, by definition, is a civic discourse. Political in nature, if not in content, many poems take on social justice as their refrain. In its own kind of revolution, hip-hop gives a voice to an unheard generation,

The BreakBeat Poets is both a masterful stand-alone collection and a magnetic introduction to some crucial poets you might not have heard before. And many of these poets aren’t done. With a sample of three groundbreaking works from the past, and three exciting new titles for 2016, here’s a primer on the BreakBeat Poets’ legacy.

this is modern artThis Is Modern Art (Haymarket Books) by Kevin Coval and Idris Goodwin is a play which provides a glimpse into the lives of anonymous graffiti artists that asks us to question the true purpose of art. When one graffiti crew finishes the biggest graffiti bomb of their careers, the consequences get serious and spark a public debate asking, “Where does art belong?” The language of the play reflects Coval and Goodwin’s poetic backgrounds, using subtle imagery and turn-of-phrase to pack a heavy punch. The play was first staged at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago in early 2015. This Is Modern Art will be published on August 30, 2016.

Buck Studies (Fence Books) by Douglas Kearney is a poetic examinabuck studiestion of blackness and maleness in jaw-dropping, hard-cut language. Kearney complicates and exhausts common notions of form and style to create lyrics and ballads you never knew were possible. At the hub of Buck Studies is a long mash-up of the stories of Herakles, the Greek bad-man, and that of Stagger Lee, the black bad-man. Buck Studies will be published on July 12, 2016.

Dated Emcees (City Lights Publishersdated emcees) by Chinaka Hodge is a collection of 25 poems, meant to mirror the length of a classic double-album. Hodge’s writing is fiercely intelligent and emotionally packed. Each word is so specific and powerful that it feels as if Hodge has invented them just for each poem, just for each reader. Her work explores her own love life through the lens of hip-hop’s best known orators, characters, archetypes, and songs. Hodge has been featured in two seasons of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, as well as on PBS, NPR, and CNN – in other words, she’s kind of a big deal. Dated Emcees will be published on June 7, 2016.

vultureStarve the Vulture: A Memoir (Akashic Books / Kaylie Jones Books) by Jason Carney is a powerful account of the author’s criminality, drug addiction, and recovery. Starve the Vulture is an unflinchingly honest confession. The memoir uses the lyrical, mesmerizing tone that Jason Carney is known for in his poetry to describe his path to redemption and unlikely fame on the national performance poetry circuit, where Carney is a four-time finalist. Woven into Carney’s path to recovery is a powerful family story, depicting the roots of prejudice and dysfunction through several generations. Starve the Vulture was published January 6, 2015

The New Testamethe new testamentnt (Copper Canyon Press) by Jericho Brown is a reclamation of mythologies, from Frankenstein to Cain and Abel. The New Testament seeks not to revise these histories but to find the source of redemption. Brown uses lyric to tenderly examine race, masculinity, and sexuality. Don’t pick up this book unless you have at least two hours to spare – one to read it, and one to sit stunned at the beautiful ache of truth you have just witnessed. Poet Claudia Rankine said, “To read Jericho Brown’s poems is to encounter devastating genius,” and that’s not an exaggeration. NPR.org praised The New Testament, saying that Brown’s poems “are always beautiful, full of a music that is a cross between the sinuous sentences of Carl Phillips, the forceful descriptions of Mark Doty, and hip rhythms of Terrance Hayes.”

burymyclothesBury My Clothes (Haymarket Books) by Roger Bonair-Agard is a collection about art, and what it means when creation itself is an act of survival. Bonair-Agard uses a driving sense of rhythm and narration to bring the reader along on meditations of violence, race, and the place in art at which they intersect. National Book Award Finalist Patricia Smith praises Bury My Clothes as a collection of “unapologetically relentless stanzas [which] will slam their fists into places you have not yet discovered.” Bury My Clothes was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry.

Find out where to buy This Is Modern Art: A PlayBuck StudiesDated EmceesStarve the Vulture: A MemoirThe New Testament, and Bury My Clothes here on the Consortium website.

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