Here are six notable books of poetry publishing in June.
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes
“I wanted to have my form and explode it too,” said Wanda Coleman of sonnets. Hayes names her with gratitude in this book. Athletic, punchy, sardonic, and swift, Hayes delivers his sonnets with a smirk—and also some sadness. Penned during the administration of the “failed landlord,” his poems are immediate, and though they are all titled the same as the book, they are varied. “I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison, / Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.” Our feelings and our fears bound in the box of a sonnet. “I make you a box of darkness with a bird in its heart. / Voltas of acoustics, instinct & metaphor. It is not enough / To love you. It is not enough to want you destroyed.” We get the sense Hayes absolutely loves poetry, and yet: “In a second I’ll tell you how little / Writing rescues.” Poems, especially sonnets, suffocate. “My problem was I’d decided to make myself / A poem. It made me sweat in private selfishly. / It made me bleed, bleep & weep for health.” There’s blood in American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, but Hayes reminds us: “Still, I speak for the dead. You will never assassinate my ghosts.”
The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward
A memoir in verse, powered by the strains of family separation, sexuality, and dreams. Daley-Ward grew up West Indian and West African in largely white Chorley, England—where her grandparents raised her in the Seventh-day Adventist faith. She longs for her mother’s love—“Mummy was soft. Warm-milk soft / and everything written in our paperworlds/ made hot, small sense”—but her mother needs to work nights, so she falls into a world of stern faith and high expectations. Grandma “is short and round, always cleaning the house to perfection.” Granddad “is ever so particular.” He “spends an hour deliberately washing his face and trimming his beard each night after dinner. His copper shaving kit is gleaming, his routine precious.” Their love is strict, and she wishes to be with her mother again. Daley-Ward is also beginning to be noticed for her appearance: by men, by teachers, by women. She knows from both Disney and the Song of Solomon that “beauty makes people stay…beauty makes people listen to you.” She loses control over her body, as she is photographed and judged and coveted. The Terrible unfolds as a verse drama: a feverish tale of the perils of modeling, of how our bodies get away from us. A reminder: “You may not run away from the thing that you are / because it comes and comes and comes as sure as you / breathe.”
The Body Ghost by Joseph Lease
“You can play self-consciousness, the way you can play the violin or the cello. Sincerity, for me, is emotion made actual. As Creeley said, a primary language—a rollercoaster ride, not a description of a rollercoaster ride.” Joseph Lease’s description of his poetic technique is doubly accurate: It captures his own mode and method but also makes clear his connection to Robert Creeley. Perhaps possession is the better term, borrowing Susan Stewart’s idea of how there is a haunting of meter, rhythm, and feeling to lyric poetry that transcends the poet’s own hand. Lease’s poems, centered and evenly spaced, feel strangely eternal. There are peculiar and precise phrasings here like “the elegies / are taking off their clothes,” capturing the feeling of arising from mourning, but Lease’s most powerful poetic touch is his recursive energy. Lines and words overlap, their meaning turning as if they are a water wheel: “one story—the boy and the wren—the / wren and the night—the face in the / house—your lips slip the night—your / face slips your eyes—your eyes slip / your yes—love like flying—.” Esoteric in its essence, Lease’s poetry is flesh without the bone, a welcome, curious escape.
Of Marriage by Nicole Cooley
The routes and ruts and rewards of marriage live in Cooley’s new book. “Marriage,” she writes, “over and over a re-telling. A dress to wear for days on end. A dress to shuck off, stuff under the bed.” Her long lines feel like stabs of perseverance: “When we fight. I make and unmake the bed, fold on the sheets with small blue flowers / in the shapes of stars to imitate the sky, unmake a space for us to slide inside.” In Cooley’s vision of marriage, memories are constant. The present is a reel of the past. To be married is to be bonded: “We’re roped // We’re stitched // with loose, looped yarn. We’re threaded. We’re the quilt still / unfinished, unbacked, unraveling, batting loosening.” Her play with language doesn’t neuter the word, nor does it diminish the beauty and surprise of its gift. Of Marriage moves from humor to sentiment, as in “Marriage, the Museum of Papermaking”: “Last glass case: here is a card composed of small dark windows. // Look into the stereoscope to see the future: / the light was cool and loose that day. My hands on your back. // Our old selves still unlocatable, written and crossed out.”
Her Mouth as Souvenir by Heather June Gibbons
“Etched into each fallen leaf is a diagram of a bare tree.” A line such as that, direct and new, sits me up—and Her Mouth as Souvenir is filled with similar precision. From “Event”: “During the flood, I was robbed / in the church parking lot. / The monofilament bobbed / to the surface, but not before // I saw myself facedown in the river. / Before we lost our phone chargers, / but after the excommunication.” Confusion, corralled for the reader: “You used to think those lights / were signal mirrors flashed // by angels until you learned / they were just protein particles / suspended in the vitreous.” A little strange, a little surreal, these poems are moments of struggle. Some scenes exist without resolution. A sequence of love poems offers a little salve without salvation. The narrator of “Origami” laments, “I can pinpoint the exact moment / I become boring, but only in retrospect.” She thinks of other people, other windows—like the one an astronomer looks out, how “turbulence / makes stars shiver and wink.” Her poems often bound from place to space and back again, as in “Do Not Leave This Box,” which begins with a warning to avoid “heat and sunlight,” moves to a stockroom, where a woman “unbinds the plastic-bound / boxes from pallets that arrive in trucks,” the type of boxes that were “expertly assembled / in the Zhejiang Province.” There, a world away but connected by cardboard, a woman’s hidden ornamental boxes under her mattress: “On the lid of the smallest / is a woodcut of a crane, for luck.”
Stranger on Earth by Richard Jones
Gentle, conversational, introspective: Jones’s biographical, narrative poems exist without artifice and pretense. In “The Biscuit Tin,” he recalls his father’s Kodachrome slides: “I remember him sitting in the dark / behind the projector, the beam of light / shooting across the room, / the white screen filling with image after image, / the sound of locks opening.” Among an “audience of ghosts,” his father explains the photos. A genuine, earnest sense of wonder permeates Stranger on Earth. Melancholy and moving, “The Hidden Meadow” tells the story of how a boy would lie in high grass and “disappear completely.” There, “I made sorrow’s shape.” Jones is the type of poet to send readers outside, or even to look within ourselves for emotions that we’ve taken for granted. In “Nocturne,” “when the children / have gone to bed,” his wife sits at the piano and plays Satie, “the melody / a serene flowering / so quietly intense, / so lucidly palpable / the children in their beds / hold their breath.” A calming poet of family and feeling and optimism.
Out this week: Kudos by Rachel Cusk; There There by Tommy Orange; The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward; Days of Awe by A.M. Homes; The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong; Upstate by James Wood; Half Gods by Akil Kumarasamy; Sweet and Low by Nick White; Sick by Porochista Khakpour; The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut; Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson; Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt; and Florida by Lauren Groff.
We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments, and get excited for the GREAT SECOND-HALF PREVIEW, which we will roll out in the second week of July.
(Also, as Millions founder and publisher C. Max Magee wrote recently, you can help ensure that these previews, and all our great books coverage, continue for years to come by lending your support to the site as a member. The Millions has been running for nearly 15 years on a wing and a prayer, and we’re incredibly grateful for the love of our recurring readers and current members who help us sustain the work that we do.)
Kudos by Rachel Cusk: When I first encountered Cusk’s writing in the mid-aughts I wrote her off as an author of potentially tedious domestic drama. I was woefully wrong. It’s true Cusk is a chronicler of the domestic: she is as known for her memoirs of motherhood and divorce as she is for her novels, but her writing is innovative, observant, and bold. The New Yorker declared that with the trilogy that her latest novel Kudos completes, Cusk has “renovated” the novel, merging fiction with oral history, retooling its structure. Cusk has said: “I’ve never treated fiction as a veil or as a thing to hide behind, which perhaps was, not a mistake exactly, but a sort of risky way to live.” (Anne)
There There by Tommy Orange: Set mostly in Oakland, Orange’s polyphonic novel describes the disparate but connected lives of group of Native Americans, many of them self-identified “urban Indians,” who come together for the Great Oakland Powwow. There, personal and communal and national histories propel events–and his cast of characters–toward a shocking denouement. Orange’s novel has been called a “new kind of American epic” by the New York Times; read more here. (Lydia)
Florida by Lauren Groff: After collecting fans like Barack Obama with her bestselling novel Fates and Furies, Groff’s next book is a collection of short stories that center around Florida, “the landscape, climate, history, and state of mind.” Included is ”Dogs Go Wolf,” the haunting story that appeared in The New Yorker earlier in the year. In a recent interview, Groff gave us the lay of the land: “The collection is a portrait of my own incredible ambivalence about the state where I’ve lived for twelve years...I love the disappearing natural world, the sunshine, the extraordinary and astonishing beauty of the place as passionately as I hate the heat and moisture and backward politics and the million creatures whose only wish is to kill you.” (Claire)
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li: A family chronicle, workplace drama, and love story rolled into one, Li’s debut chronicles the universe of the Beijing Duck House restaurant of Rockville, Md., run by a family and long-time employees who intertwine in various ways when disaster strikes. Lorrie Moore raves, “her narratives are complex, mysterious, moving, and surprising.” Read an excerpt from the novel here at Buzzfeed. (Lydia)
The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward: A poet’s memoir in prose and verse about a tempestuous adolescence in England, where the author was born to immigrant parents and raised by Seventh-Day Adventist grandparents. The memoir describes her experiences with drugs and alcohol, her relationships with men and with sex work, the struggles of her brother, and her development as an artist. A starred Kirkus review says “Daley-Ward has quite a ferociously moving story to tell.” (Lydia)
Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg: A work of speculative historical fiction exploring queer and trans histories through the story of notorious 19th-century London thieves Jack Sheppard and Edgeworth Bess. This is a publishing event, the first work of fiction to be released by esteemed editor Chris Jackson’s One World imprint, and it has received accolades from every trade publication and a host of writers including Victor LaValle, China Miéville, and Maggie Nelson. (Lydia)
Ayiti by Roxane Gay: This is a reissue of Roxane Gay’s first book, a collection of short stories about Haiti and the diaspora, with two new stories. Ayiti was first published by the small press Artistically Declined Press in 2011, before the author was routinely at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Kirkus says “Gay has addressed these subjects with more complexity since, but this debut amply contains the righteous energy that drives all her work.” (Lydia)
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: This third novel from the acclaimed author of The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House interlaces the story of an art gallery director whose friends are succumbing to the AIDS epidemic in 1980s Chicago with a mother struggling to find her estranged daughter 30 years later in contemporary Paris. “The Great Believers is by turns funny, harrowing, tender, devastating, and always hugely suspenseful,” says Margot Livesey, author of Mercury. (Michael)
Good Trouble by Joseph O’Neill: Frequent New Yorker and Harper’s readers will know that O’Neill has been writing a lot of short fiction lately. With the new Good Trouble, the Netherland author now has a full collection, comprised of 11 off-kilter, unsettling stories. Their characters range from a would-be renter in New York who can’t get anyone to give him a reference to a poet who can’t decide whether or not to sign a petition. (Thom)
Days of Awe by A.M. Homes: A new collection of stories from the prolific author of May We Be Forgiven featuring humorous, melancholy reflections on American life. The title story involves friends becoming lovers at a conference about genocides. The great Zadie Smith calls it “a razor-sharp story collection from a writer who is always ‘furiously good.'” (Lydia)
The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong (translated by Chi-Young Kim): South Korea’s best-selling crime novelist is a woman, although she is nonetheless marketed as “the Stephen King of Korea.” This novel, a sensation in South Korea and her first to be translated into English, is a psychological thriller involving a possible matricide, for “fans of Jo Nesbo and Patricia Highsmith.” (Lydia)
Upstate by James Wood: It’s been 15 years since Wood’s first novel, The Book Against God, was published. What was Wood doing in the meantime? Oh, just influencing a generation of novelists from his perch at The New Yorker, where his dissecting reviews also functioned as miniature writing seminars. He also penned a writing manual, How Fiction Works. His sophomore effort concerns the Querry family, who reunite in upstate New York to help a family member cope with depression and to pose the kinds of questions fiction answers best: How do people get through difficulty? What does it mean to be happy? How should we live our lives? (Hannah)
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori): A 36-year-old woman in modern-day Tokyo has worked a convenience store for 18 years of her life, watching family and friends pairing off, having children, or climbing professional ladders. She eventually enters into a sham marriage with a coworker to embody an idealized notion of adulthood, but the plan backfires, and the book is a meditation on work, life, and “normalcy.” Kirkus says “Murata skillfully navigates the line between the book’s wry and weighty concerns and ensures readers will never conceive of the ‘pristine aquarium’ of a convenience store in quite the same way.” (Lydia)
Half Gods by Akil Kumarasamy: A collection of linked stories about a family devastated by the Sri Lankan civil war, which claims the lives of a mother and two sons. The father and remaining daughter flee to New Jersey, and the collection moves across time and place and between points of view to describe the dislocation of its characters and the enduring consequences of trauma. Publisher’s Weekly calls it “a wonderful, auspicious debut.” (Lydia)
History of Violence by Édouard Louis (translated by Lorin Stein): A fictionalized account of a true story. The author survived a violent sexual assault and this novelization exploring the aftermath, including his return to his family’s village, became a bestseller in France for its frank reckoning with the effects of sexual violence, as well a broader look at French society. (Lydia)
Sweet and Low by Nick White: A new entry in the field of southern gothic (complete with Faulkner homage), a collection of stories exploring masculinity, sexuality, and place in the deep south that has garnered praise from Jesmyn Ward and Alissa Nutting. Publisher’s Weekly called it “an atmospheric and expertly crafted collection.” (Lydia)
We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed: A debut novel that follows the travails of a team of professional cyclists–who happen to be doping–in the Tour de France, exploring ideas of competition, ambition, and team dynamics. The novel has drawn several comparisons to Don DeLillo, and George Saunders raved: “A dazzling debut by an exciting and essential new talent: fast, harrowing, compelling, masterfully structured, genuinely moving. Reed is a true stylist.” (Lydia)
Dead Girls by Alice Bolin: A collection of essays exploring the ubiquitous “dead girl” in popular culture, using shows like Twin Peaks and Pretty Little Liars to point to the misogyny that thrums through so many of the cultural products we consume. These are interwoven with personal essays about her arrival in Los Angeles. Kirkus calls it “an illuminating study on the role women play in the media and in their own lives.” (Lydia)
Sick by Porochista Khakpour: In her much anticipated memoir, Khakpour chronicles her arduous experience with illness, specifically late-stage Lyme disease. She examines her efforts to receive a diagnosis and the psychological and physiological impact of being so sick for so long, including struggles with mental health and addiction. Khakpour’s memoir demonstrates the power of survival in the midst of pain and uncertainty. (Read an excellent piece in The New Yorker here.) (Zoë)
The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut: Immergut published a collection of short stories in 1992, shortly after graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but her debut novel comes over 25 years later, a literary thriller that takes place in a prison where a woman is serving a sentence for second-degree murder. Her appointed psychologist once pined for her in high schhol. Publishers’ Weekly says “Immergut’s book begins as in incisive psychological portrait of two mismatched individuals and morphs into a nail-biting thriller.” (Lydia)
Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson: Examining the intersection of social media and intimacy, the commercial and the corporeal, the theme of Hodson’s essay collection is how we are pushed and pulled by our desire. The Catapult teacher’s debut has been called “racingly good…refreshing and welcome” by Maggie Nelson. (Tess)
Fight No More by Lydia Millet: Millet’s 2010 collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Eight years later she’s released another collection of stories arranged around a real estate broker and their family as they struggle to reconnect. Millet’s satire is well-known for it’s sharp brutality—and its compassionate humanity. Both sides are on full display here. (Kaulie)
Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt: On the heels of her critically praised debut, The Daughters, Celt gives us a love-triangle story that, according to the publisher, is “inspired by the infamous Nabokov marriage, with a spellbinding psychological thriller at its core.” The protagonist is a young Russian refugee named Zoya who becomes entangled with her boarding school’s visiting writer, Leo Orlov, and his imperious wife, Vera. Our own Edan Lepucki praised the novel as “a sexy, brilliant, and gripping novel about the fine line between passion and obsession. I am in awe of Celt’s mastery as a prose stylist and storyteller; I can’t stop thinking about this amazing book.” (Sonya)