BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Here they are (and unlike many lists, this one has a lot of poetry, because poetry is not dead):
1. All My Heroes Are Broke - Ariel Francisco (C&R Press)
"A poetry collection written from the perspective of a first generation American coming to terms with the implicit struggles and disillusionment of the "American Dream." The first section takes place in New York, both implicitly and explicitly, and serves to introduce the speaker and reveal aspects of his family's history. The second section takes place in Florida, and continues to further exemplify the speaker's growing cynicism towards the circumstances of his life, and the peculiar atmosphere of solitude that it creates. ALL MY HEROES ARE BROKE primarily uses two forms: short, image driven poems inspired by the works of Robert Bly and Po Chu-I; and longer narrative poems that reveal more personal information about the speaker, in the manner of Li-Young Lee and Frank O'Hara, allowing the speaker to project his own life onto the surroundings and the people of those larger communities."
2. Scar On / Scar Off - Jennifer Maritza McCauley (Stalking Horse Press)
"McCauley confidently narrates how a body, a black body 'big as God and filled with all kinds of delicate weather' navigates through this world while also inhabiting a brown body within. It is difficult to be in a bar alone, men beckoning. It is difficult to say Beyonce videos make us teary-eyed. It is difficult to admit I am this, despite looking like this, and sounding like that. These poems ring all the sides of McCauley's Afro-Latina experience as she writhes discomfort into deft introspection. McCauley's work displays how black/brown skin has limits, complexities, a multiplicity of fears and joys. SCAR ON/SCAR OFF is a brave and necessary debut."
- F. Douglas Brown, author of Zero to Three
3. Calling a Wolf a Wolf - Kaveh Akbar (Alice James Books)
"The struggle from late youth on, with and without God, agony, narcotics and love is a torment rarely recorded with such sustained eloquence and passion as you will find in this collection."
- Fanny Howe
4. Ordinary Beast: Poems - Nicole Sealey (Ecco)
"In this brilliant debut, clarity is ushered through form, strutting its way into life, into our lives."
- Claudia Rankine
5. They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us - Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib (Two Dollar Radio)
"Abdurraqib bridges the bravado and bling of praise with the blood and tears of elegy."
- Terrance Hayes
6. Blud - Rachel McKibbens (Copper Canyon Press)
"Chicana poet, activist, and witchy folk hero of the disenfranchised. . . . [McKibbens] creates these spaces of witness with her feral and boundary-pushing poems that speak unflinchingly of topics often swept under the rug: rape, domestic violence, body shaming, mental illness, prejudice."
7. Reversible - Marisa Crawford (Switchback Books)
"Marisa Crawford's poems give me a kind of ecstatic pleasure, as all the sensory and social strangeness of 90s youth come flooding back. I will never understand how she can remember all these details and evoke them with such feeling—she must have an off-the-charts EQ, and also an off-the-charts whatever the 'Q' is that measures the ability to remember every outfit you ever wore. 'E' is also for empathy: in Crawford's poems, everything that happens to her friends happens to her. And then I'm in their glow, and everything that happened to Crawford and her friends happens to me. Her poems also know, better than any I've ever read, that fashion is imagery; ditto for friendships and stickers and backyard pools and the things girls do to their bodies in their bedrooms late at night. It doesn't matter that the box of old cassette tapes that you hope will be in your parents' basement might not be findable: all we want to do is go searching alongside her, following her flashlight beam as it lights up the feelings inside the objects we put away or gave away or forgot we ever had."
- Becca Klaver
8. Theia Mania - Dallas Athent (AntiSentiMental Society)
"Fresh, feminine, feisty, young: A new poetic voice echoed visually in delicately scrawled thread-like drawings that seem to mimic the internal landscapes described and experienced in these poems."
9. Dust Bunny City - Bud Smith & Rae Buleri (Disorder Press)
"My heart swelled to three times its size reading DUST BUNNY CITY. Set against the backdrop of a drunk, pulsing city and shimmering with youthful rapture, Bud Smith captures the singular joy of love with a voice as authentic as the feeling. Complimented by his wife Rae Buleri's dreamy line drawings, this book is a sweet celebration of tenderness in a harsh world."
- Meredith Alling, author of Sing the Song
10. Lost City Hydrothermal Field - Peter Milne Greiner (The Operating System)
"Peter Milne Greiner's poems range widely across space, time, and cultural history—from the Magna Carta to The Little Mermaid, from the pyramids to the astronomical observatory at Mauna Kea—and catch up in their full-throttle trajectory a universe of detail about the nature of things. Indeed, the poet's brooding over the fate of Geena Davis as well as that of 'lame dystopias' suggests nothing so much as Lucretius's epic enterprise: 'I mine human doing,' Greiner declares, 'for all its garish hyper objects.' By deploying a language alert to figurative provocation that's sharpened by a tautly disjunctive syntax, Greiner uncovers the apocalypse in the quotidian and raises everyday life to fearsome implication."
- Albert Mobilio
11. Starshine & Clay - Kamilah Aisha Moon (Four Way Press)
"Grief and sorrow cannot prevail where there exists such sympathetic and empathetic forces as those summoned in the poems of Kamilah Aisha Moon. The formal dexterity and range of this work cannot be conveyed so briefly, nor the joy and beauty of the words themselves..."
– D. A. Powell
12. Genevieves - Henry Hoke (Subito Press)
"In GENEVIEVES, Henry Hoke conjures up a beautiful yet broken America haunted by lost dreams and childhood secrets, but most of all haunted by language. The lyrical stories explore a space somewhere between Anne Carson and David Lynch. Written largely in crystallized fragments of prose, the stories are strung together like glittering and strange necklaces. When you look closely, you realize what you thought were plastic beads are actually bits of Halloween candy and the bones of birds. Try these stories on and see the world in a new way."
- Lincoln Michel
13. The Truth is Told Better This Way - Liz Worth (BookThug Press)
“The Truth is Told Better This Way is a masterpiece of a weary, determined battle to survive circumstances and memories. It is far and away one of the best poetry collections of 2017.”
- Glass Poetry Journal
14. Before Isadore - Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick (Sundress Publications)
"Shannon Hardwick's Before Isadore gives insight into the softest spaces and the harshest regrets, creating a book 'birth-sick' with its own existence. These poems are a waking dream, a dream of lovers and rivers and piles of bones. Hardwick creates a mythos of life and love inseparable from death, asking her readers to ask where the border lies between hope and suffering, if it really exists at all. Hardwick's invitation is also a prayer 'about touching / the untouched again.'"
- Amy King, author of The Missing Museum and I Want to Make You Safe
15. Her Body and Other Parties: Stories - Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf)
“Machado’s debut collection brings together eight stories that showcase her fluency in the bizarre, magical, and sharply frightening depths of the imagination. . . . The fierceness and abundance of sex and desire in these stories, the way emotion is inextricably connected with the concerns of the body, makes even the most outlandish imaginings strangely familiar. Machado writes with furious grace. She plays with form and expectation in ways that are both funny and elegant but never obscure. . . . An exceptional and pungently inventive first book.”
- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
16. Electric Arches - Eve L. Ewing (Haymarket Books)
"In this stunning debut, poet and sociologist Ewing brings to bear a variety of forms and mediums--including the prose poem, the lyric, mixed media collage, handwritten notes and ephemera, and the verse play--on set of related questions about the nature of art and politics. Ewing ponders what the "big fireworks" of the imagination make possible for social justice, asking how "the places we invent" can change the ways we negotiate a broken system in which the realities of a city block's crumbling infrastructure and economic destitution can limit the potential of the individual and collective alike. As the book unfolds, Ewing further refines her lines of inquiry; her subtle, provocative exploration of the boundaries between self and world allows a striking and visionary topography to take shape."
- Publishers Weekly
17. fitting a witch//hexing the stitch - Jacklyn Janeksela (The Operating System)
“Like all good poetry, Jacklyn Janeksela’s poetry is a straddler – occupying the future and the past, the earthly world of pigtails and red dresses as well as the other world of the devil and astral plane. If you read this book, you will become a straddler too, a person who is both enchanted and possessed.”
- Juliet Escoria
18. Landscape with Sex and Violence - Lynn Melnick (YesYes Books)
"Lyrically complex and startling—yet forthright and unflinching—these poems address rape, abortion, sex work, and other subjects frequently omitted from male-dominated literary traditions, without forsaking the pleasures of being embodied, or the value of personal freedom, of moonlight, and of hope. Throughout, the topography and mythology of California, as well as the uses and failures of language itself, are players in what it means to be a woman, a sexual being, and a trauma survivor in contemporary America."
19. A Long Curving Scar Where the Heart Should Be - Quintan Ana Wikswo (Stalking Horse Press)
“Quintan Ana Wikswo’s novel is of this year’s big amazements for me. It feels gigantic, a world torn to shreds and vivified by unsparing prose whose beauty is letter-perfect.”
- Dennis Cooper
20. The Amputee's Guide to Sex - Jillian Weise (Second Edition, Soft Skull Press)
“Readers who can handle the hair-raising experience of Jillian Weise’s gutsy poetry debut . . . will be rewarded with an elegant examination of intimacy and disability and a fearless dissection of the taboo and the hidden.”
- Los Angeles Times
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016) and the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.