Adroit’s Best of: Poetry 2018 / by Peter LaBerge

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2018 has been a standout year for Adroit and our engagement with new poetry and the poets who write it. This year, we featured over one hundred interviews and reviews in our issues and on our blog. Read on for a list of some of our favorite poetry collections illuminated in those features. Endless thanks to the poets, presses, and publishers we worked with this year!

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Eloisa Amezcua From the Inside Quietly (Shelterbelt Press)

As a poet, I think there’s a difference between airing one’s dirty laundry and in being honest to the spirit of the poem and in raising the emotional stakes for the reader. Of course there are boundaries I won’t cross, but that said, my poems aren’t entirely autobiographical, chronological, or “factual,” and I don’t think it’s my job as a poet to clarify that for readers.

Read the full interview with Eloisa here.

Fatimah Asghar If They Come For Us (Penguin Random House)

If They Come For Us gives readers lyrically beautiful but painfully true glimpses into a world we may not be familiar with and asks us to reckon with our place in it—whether that’s a place of commiseration, understanding, or of recognizing our own hand in upholding power structures that thrive off racism, xenophobia, and nationalism.

Read the full review of If They Come For Us here.

Mary Kovaleski Byrnes So Long the Sky (Platypus Press)

What happens to people when they have to leave their hometowns/countries out of necessity? What happens to their identities, their language, their family? These are central questions in the book and in our world right now, where more people are experiencing displacement than in any period in modern history.

Read the full interview with Mary here. Her piece, “How I Wrote ‘Whistling Language,’” is forthcoming on the blog in 2019.

Kristin Chang Past Lives, Future Bodies (Black Lawrence Press)

I feel like migration and mobility represent different things to me—there’s a kind of privileged mobility, where privilege and status allow you to move through the world with a certain ease and power and destruction, and then there’s migration, which demands sacrifice. There’s always a cost, emotionally and physically. It’s a kind of debt you pay off endlessly, generationally.

Read the full interview with Kristin here.

Jos Charles feeld (Milkweed Editions)

I had the thought that it would be cool to have some sort of language that didn’t seek to situate itself as corrective, nor did it ironically break into incorrectness. The very idea was to write not a world situated adjacent to ours that was speculative, but to have the language itself be speculative.

Read the full interview with Jos here. Read Jos’s piece, “How I Wrote ‘tonite i wuld luv to rite,’” here.

Leila Chatti Tunsiya/Amrikiya (Bull City Press)

When I first realized I was a poet, with the same certainty and absoluteness as the fact of my brown hair or the city of my birth, I was in early adolescence. I was a cliché in that I thought a lot, felt more than I could bear, and used poetry as a container for what I carried too much of.

Read the full interview with Leila here. Read Leila’s piece, “How I Wrote ‘Hometown Nocturne,’” here.

Jennifer S. Cheng Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems (Tarpaulin Sky Press)

…the speaker exists on Earth, but with a wound she carries with her through the streets. The wound’s round shape is reminiscent of the moon. She is displaced, but still, she blends in. In the blending there is still an aloneness, a theme that runs throughout this book. An exposure and a covering-up—an attempt to name and define and still, a blurry futility to this inclination. She is a part of the modern world and also a part of folklore. She is a walking myth.

Read the full review of Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems here.

Tiana Clark I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press)

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I’ve never had anything passed down to me. Growing up, my mom never had any surplus cash for a savings account—no inheritance or heirlooms, no security for her future or mine. Our life was mostly paycheck-to-paycheck, sometimes a money order and making a Papa John’s Alfredo Chicken pizza last a week. My poetics were built on this need for some slice of survival concerned with communicating not in the future and for all time, but trying to save myself right now because I’m hungry.

Read Tiana’s “How I Wrote ‘BBHMM’” here.

Forrest Gander Be With (New Directions)

The desert, like the blank page, humbles me like nothing else. No mark I make improves either the desert or the page, but both call to me. And maybe there’s something intrinsic to the human psyche that prompts it to project itself into spaces from which human presence is missing. Maybe there’s something both dreadful and hopeful about a terrain so indifferent to human beings that it manages to repel most traces of the world’s most aggressive species.

An interview with Forrest, from which the excerpt above was taken, will be featured in the next issue of Adroit in 2019!

Jasmine Gibson Don’t Let Them See Me Like This (Nightboat Books)

I think love is possible but [more so] has other possibilities of being different things outside of intimacy with the people you know—a kind of intimacy that can be felt with people who are not necessarily close to you. I navigated that throughout the book with different voices and experiences.

Read the full interview with Jasmine here.

Erin Hoover Barnburner (Elixir Press)

In political spheres, language is sometimes used to make the suffering of other people palatable to an audience. As someone who worked in communications for a long time, it is exhausting for me to listen to politicians and pundits because the obfuscation is so apparent. I believe in using language to articulate issues of authentic concern through the vehicle of story.

Read the full interview with Erin here.

Dorothea Lasky Milk (Wave Books)

There is something definitely frightening but potentially exhilarating about the way power displays itself in American English. […] Of course, I do feel any sense of grammar and all its formalities is possibly militaristic in any language, but I hesitate to make a generalization like that because I am (obviously, ha) not a linguist. I think the idea of grammar itself is violent, as it seeks to control new language. That’s why poets are so important, because we resist this violence with the beauty of our creations.

Read the full interview with Dorothea here.

Li-Young Lee The Undressing (W.W. Norton & Company)

For Lee, the work of a poet is to summon, say, wrestle with, dress and undress the divine. “An exile from the first word, / and a refugee / of an illegible past,” he continues to produce from the materials of his life love songs for the body and the soul. Listen to him.

Read the full review of The Undressing here.

Alicia Mountain High Ground Coward (University of Iowa Press)

Desire also pulses through this collection like a heartbeat. Queer folks, especially when they’re women (whose sexuality is imagined as passive, an afterthought or myth), are forced to thoroughly investigate their desire, and ultimately, come to a deeper understanding of it, given that they must weave it from whole cloth. As Mountain says in “The Book Is a Hungry Darkness,” “My desires are berries because they are small and many.”

Read the full review of High Ground Coward here.

Gala Mukomolova One Above / One Below: Positions & Lamentations (YesYes Books)

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I think the problem of aloneness in my work is a problem of alienness. I think it might be an immigrant problem, rootless and refusing to be solved, even when transplanted amongst companion species—plants that can copacetically grow alongside. Friendship is so powerful to me, so vital to my survival, I want to honor it at all costs—to crown my friend family in flowers. To be loved, to feel cared for and protected, is not paradoxical to the feeling of aloneness for me.

Read the full interview with Gala here.

José Olivarez Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Books)

Tenderness is hard. I love trying to write with tenderness in part because the risk is being corny, is being overly sentimental. That’s easy to fall into, and yet tenderness feels so urgent for me. I wake up and I could use some tenderness, so I try to craft that space into the poems. I try to do that not at the expense of the real world that we live in that is constantly showing us these images and reminding us of all the violence and pain that’s being inflicted here in the United States and all over the world. But tenderness feels like a way to interrupt that stream of violence.

Read the full interview with José here.

Emilia Phillips Empty Clip (University of Akron Press)

Phillips’s eye lingers on spaces where horror and beauty, trauma and trust, brutality and gentleness rub against each other, throwing sparks, as in “facesofdeath.com,” where the speaker notices “how the bullet / grooved clean into the skin below / her clavicle. A buttonhole, a baby's / mouth.” This speaker clings to the world even as it shifts and bucks away.

Read the full review of Empty Clip here.

Tommy Pico Junk (Tin House Books)

My community has always been lateral. They are all around you, just look out for them. Go to their readings, show up at their book parties, write them nice notes about poems. Show up for them when they need you, offer them help if you have the time, and court them like lovers.

Read the full interview with Tommy here.

Ben Purkert For the Love of Endings (Four Way Books)

I’ve been thinking recently about what we do when we finish reading books, how we tend to place them on bookshelves, which are usually found along the walls of a room. And so there’s this centrifugal thing that happens: we consume the books, and then they get relegated to the perimeter of our lives, in a way.

Read the full interview with Ben here.

Nancy Reddy Acadiana (Black Lawrence Press)

The many voices of Acadiana are tied to my interest in exploring different ways of knowing. The sibyls (women whom the ancient Greeks believed acted as oracles) speak with this absolute certainty that I’m rarely able to muster in my own everyday life.

Read the full interview with Nancy here. Read Nancy’s piece, “How I Wrote ‘Your Best Post-Baby Body,’” here.

Max Ritvo The Final Voicemails (Milkweed Editions)

Ritvo manages not only to escape himself, but he holds a mirror to the rest of us. What is it we’re hoping for out of someone else’s grave illness? Why do we lean so close and wait for a profound insight? Does that expectation put them (the sufferers) on the spot to sum up life in a brief morsel or two? I think the real question I’ve been forced to confront while locking horns with this collection: does this mining for meaning prevent us from living fully in the present, from savoring simple moments with our loved ones?

Read the full review of The Final Voicemails here.

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Justin Phillip Reed Indecency (Coffee House Press)

…this collection is an incendiary one, a work of joy as much as suffering, of celebration as much as tragedy, and of life as much as death. Reed’s wit and formal experimentation, quicksilver and luminous, shows the world as it is, while detailing how the very people that society most devalues, demeans, and seeks to destroy are its true visionaries.

Read the full review of Indecency here.

Diane Seuss Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press)

Seuss gets to the core of the daily violence of inhabiting the world; she gets to the daily maintenance and indignities of those bodies. She reminds us that “to belong to the land / and the people that made you is itchy / as hand-knitted wool.”

Read the full review of Still Life… here.

Carmen Giménez Smith Cruel Futures (City Lights)

Cruel Futures is an astonishingly present imagistic exploration of aging, familial bonds, and mothering in the context of late capitalism. Giménez Smith’s poems, sparkling with pop culture and gleaming with intelligence, unpretentiously welcome the reader into mortality, grief, and nurturing, while deftly highlighting how these human conditions are shaped by the race, gender, and class of those who experience them.

Read the full review of Cruel Futures here.

Tracy K. Smith Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press)

…the poems gaze outward and observe with an incredibly perceptive eye. The past presses up against the present, and empathy hums consistently below as a driving force behind the collection’s explorations of religion, history, prejudice, and environmentalism. While the future may loom like a “darkening dusk,” we are asked to watch, equipped with the past and a resoluteness of self. In Smith’s words, as it approaches, “let it slam me in the face— / The known sun setting / On the dawning century.”

Read the full review of Wade in the Water here.

Samantha Zighelboim The Fat Sonnets (Argos Books)

The bodies of the poems in The Fat Sonnets ultimately challenge and stretch the constrictions of their own forms and limitations, and—through their visibility on the page—contain the element of performance, inhabiting form as we inhabit our own human bodies, often imperfectly, but—at best—continuing to change and to take from each moment that which we need in order to thrive.

Read the full review of The Fat Sonnets here.

2019, here we come!

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