Must-Read Poetry: June 2019

Here are five notable
books of poetry publishing in June.

Sightseer in This Killing City by Eugene Gloria

“To whom does God pray?
Does He ever sleep? / Why did Judas hang himself?” In Drivers at the Short-Time Motel, Eugene Gloria’s debut back in
2000, the young narrator questions his father, who “clears his voice, / says
nothing, his silence / the very shape of our distance.” Nearly 20 years later,
Gloria’s fourth collection, Sightseer in
This Killing City continues his themes of family, silence, and wonder, but his
poetry has evolved into an even more deft lineation: original phrasings, unique
imagery, and lasting emotions. Gloria is full of surprises. “Apron” gives
curious life to the functional garment which is “agreeable / as a kitchen
mantle with ripening fruit.” Middle-aged, “the apron aspires to stand before /
sinners and saints and carve / verses on stone: Mon Coeur mis à nu, / she’ll tattoo on your chest.” Gloria takes
his illuminating eye to varied subjects: the war on drugs, Thelonious Monk, fathers,
coffins, Dante, and more. We get the sense that Gloria can write about
anything, and can do it well—a rare gift. “There’s only lyric,” Gloria writes
in one poem, “the rest is merely prose.”

Robert Schumann Is Mad Again by Norman Dubie

Norman Dubie once said he
composed most of his poems between midnight and 4 am. He handwrote the first
drafts, typed the next two drafts on typewriters, read the third draft into a
tape recorder (and listened to it again and again, making changes), before
reading it the next day at breakfast. “I look at the poem and choose to keep it
for more work, or I junk it.” Dubie’s poems have that feel: born of late night
frenzy, chiseled into skilled creations that retain shades of strangeness. Some
poems, like “Homage to St. Geraud,” blaze in their brevity: “Sometimes
believing in the beauty / of the fresh elevated incarnate existences / of the
wheel, he wishes instead // for an eternal status, a / stone and fetal sleep /
like that of the uncollected dead / under the linen snows on Everest.” Others,
like “In the Choir Loft,” stretch across pages, from precision to irreverence
and back again. An old church, damaged by fire, has been demolished: “snow
collapsed the slate roof / as if in boxes.” The “giant crucifix / launched
almost across the frozen pond.” The remaining priest emerges as if from a dream
(which, of course, this might be!): “in his nightshirt, / holding a single candle.”
He thinks of the ghost of a Nova Scotia nun that he once loved. The old priest “finally
confessed / he was boiling eggs” on the gas stove, which lead to the flames.
Dubie’s poems often feel a bit askew—but maybe he sees the world a bit sharper
than others.

1919 by Eve L. Ewing

In her introduction to
this book, Ewing explains discovering a 1922 government report, The Negro in Chicago: A Study on Race
Relations and a Race Riot. Although she was first interested in learning
more “about housing segregation at the beginning of the Great Migration” for
her most recent scholarly book, Ewing became interested in other passages from
the report. “The report,” she writes, “was like an old tapestry with loose
threads stick out, and I wanted to tug on them and see what I could unravel,
see what new thing I could weave.” 1919 is
a worthy result. The book begins with that migration of black southerners to
Chicago; an exodus that arrives in a litany of names about to leave. “And the
people gathered at the bank and bade them farewell,” Ewing writes, “and the
river carried them far from the cotton, and the kings and their storehouses of
browning blood.” Ewing has powers of inhabitation here: She is with the people
during “quiet nights in the railyard” and then alone, in the city, on “hard
black ground.” In one poem, “Coming from the Stock Yards,” the narrator speaks
about how he “called myself a scholar in Georgia, though that was part fancy,”
but in Chicago he must start anew: “each one of us a foundry. / hands to cut,
to carry. knees to bend. this is still new to me.” A mixture of grand voices,
hushed laments, and ardent dreams, 1919 resurrects
forgotten history.

Aug 9 — Fog by Kathryn Scanlan

The longest text in this
book is Scanlan’s introduction. She explains that the contents of the book are “drawn
from a stranger’s diary.” She’d found the diary 15 years earlier, among
unsold items from a public estate auction. The actual diary is decayed and
withering. The pages are no longer connected to the spine; the binding is
broken and taped. The diary was written by an 86-year-old Illinois woman,
started in 1968 and finished in 1972. Scanlan read the diary, “typed out the
sentences that caught my attention,” and then began mixing and editing them. Scanlan
feels she has become the diarist, and
wonders: “Is it some kind of sacred text—meant for me alone?” Her project will
certainly compel strong reaction, but the product is absolutely fascinating.
Its poetic identity comes from its epigrammatic structure; its imagistic touch.
A dream-like narrative emerges here, as if from the titular fog. “Maude ate
good breakfast, oatmeal, poached eggs, little sausage. Maude ate her dinner
party good. A letter from Lloyd saying John died the 16th.” The book
unfolds this way, in epistle-whispers, all secrets. A terribly melancholic book
that somehow manages to carry affirmation; perhaps it is in the transcendence
of the old woman’s voice, its dogged survival to our digital present. “All
kinds of roads. Dead end roads, roads under construction, cow paths & etc
but had a good time, a grand day.”

The Milk Hours by John James

A single poem never
contains a full book, but the titular poem of James’s collection comes close.
The first poem, “The Milk Hours,” is invoked to two people: the narrator’s
father, who died in 1993, and the narrator’s daughter, born in 2013. The space
between those years is poetic itself. The poem’s lines are mysterious,
ethereal: “The room opens up into white and more white, sun outside / between
steeples.” The milk hours, and their “suckling sound,” are hymns that drift the
narrator to sleep—to dream of his father, although perhaps “what gun, what type”
used no longer matters. “The chopped / copses glisten,” James writes. “Snowmelt
smoothes the stone cuts of his name.” Poems in this collection drift to other
subjects, but they retain this feeling: souls rooted in the ground. Treed.
Planted. “In the catacombs I am impatient. / In this hall shuttling between //
one world and the next, from / nothing to being and back again.”

June Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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—for more June titles, check out our First-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
 
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: Poet Ocean Vuong, winner of the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize for his collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds, returns with his highly anticipated debut novel. When Little Dog writes a letter to his illiterate mother, he reveals the family’s past as well as parts of his life he had hidden from his mother. With his tender, graceful style, Vuong’s family portrait explores race, class, trauma, and survival. (Carolyn)
In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow: Winslow’s debut novel takes place in a small town in North Carolina from the 1940s to the 1980s. Through the story of Azalea “Knot” Centre, a fiercely independent woman, and Otis Lee, a helpful neighbor and longtime fixer, the narrative explores community and love with compassion and a singular voice. Rebecca Makkai describes Winslow’s voice as “one that’s not only pitch-perfect but also arresting and important and new.” (Zoë)
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett: In her Twitter bio, Arnett, known for her award-winning fiction and essays, describes herself thusly: “writer, librarian, lesbian willie nelson. 7-eleven scholar ™.” I assume you are already sold, but just in case: This debut novel starts when Jessa walks into the family taxidermy shop to find her father dead. Though grieving, she steps up to manage the business while her family unravels around her. Besides dead things, Jami Attenberg points out this novel includes all the best things, “messed-up families, scandalous love affairs, art, life, death and the great state of Florida.” (Claire)
The Travelers by Regina Porter: A debut novel-in-stories with a large cast of characters from two American families, one white, one black, flung across the world—in America, France, Vietnam, and Germany—from points in time ranging from 1950 to the early 2000s. Garth Greenwell calls this “an innovative and deeply moving debut.” (Lydia)
Oval by Elvia Wilk: In Elvia Wilk’s debut novel, weird things have been happening in Berlin: strange weather, artists hired as corporate consultants. Young couple Anja and Louis move into an “eco-friendly” community on an artificial mountain, The Berg, where they live rent-free in exchange for their silence on the house’s structural problems. When Louis invents a pill called Oval that has the power to temporarily rewire a user’s brain to become more generous, Anja is horrified—but Louis thinks it could solve Berlin’s income disparity. Described as speculative fiction, but also sort of just what life is like now, Oval depicts life in the Anthropocene, but a little worse. For fans of Gary Shteyngart and Nell Zink. (Jacqueline)
The Sun on My Head by Geovani Martins (translated by Julia Sanches): A literary sensation in Brazil, Martins’ debut short story collection finally comes to the United States. Steeped in violence, poverty, and drugs, the stories reveal the complexities and inner lives of those growing up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Publishers Weekly called the collection “tantalizing” and “a promising work from an intriguing new voice.” (Carolyn)
The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung: Chung, who received an Honorable Mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction for her novel Forgotten Country, returns with her second novel. Katherine, an aging mathematician, recounts her life: her journey of becoming a scholar in the mid-20th century; her intellectual discoveries and failures; her romantic pursuits; her womanhood; and her parentage. Starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly call the novel “powerful and virtuosically researched” and “impressive, poignant,” respectively. (Carolyn)


Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: New York Times Magazine staff writer Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel follows Toby Fleishman, a middle-aged hepatologist, whose recent separation from his career-driven wife, Rachel, resulted in her dropping their kids off with Toby and disappears. Publishers Weekly called the debut “sharp and tender-hearted,” and a “sardonically cheerful novel that readers will adore.”(Carolyn) 
The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff: Sixteen-year-old Conrad returns to school to discover Sammy, his chemistry teacher and secret lover, is dead—and he’s left Conrad journals full of research and the recipe for the so-called Elixir of Life. Full of grief, Conrad sets out to solve the scientific puzzle to save the people he loves. Publishers Weekly says, “the search for an eternal life potion weaves through raw emotion, scientific curiosity, and heartbreak in Wolff’s intoxicating debut.” (Carolyn)
Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin: A coming-of-age story about half-sisters—Lark and Robin—who forge an unbreakable bond. From childhood to adulthood, the novel follows the sisters as they deal with personal failings, a falling out and, ultimately, coming back together. Kirkus called Ohlin’s latest a “lovely, deeply moving work.” (Carolyn)
My Parents: An Introduction/This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon: MacArthur and Guggenheim recipient Hemon returns with a two-volume memoir set back-to-back. My Parents tells the story of his Ukrainian father and Bosnian mother as they flee their home in war-torn Yugoslavia for Canada. This Does Not Belong to You is a collection of memories, observations, and fragments from childhood. A dual meditation on memory, literature, and family. (Carolyn)
Travelers by Helon Habila: The unnamed Nigerian narrator of Habila’s newest novel is living in Berlin with his American life when he meets a group of African immigrants and refugees who change his worldview forever. Publishers Weekly writes that the “plight of contemporary African refugees is the dramatic core of this moving tale.” (Carolyn)
Mamaskatch by Darrel J. McLeod:  Told in fragmented vignettes, McLeod’s coming-of-age memoir explores his Cree family’s history; his relationship with his mother; abuse; sexual identity; and personal and generational trauma. About the memoir, Terese Marie Mailhot says, “the hard and brilliant life breathing on the pages brought me to tears, to joy, and to grace.” (Carolyn)
Flash Count Diary Life by Darcey Steinke: The personal meets the political meets the biological in Steinke’s genre-bending book about menopause. Jenny Offill calls the book “part memoir, part manifesto, part natural history, this book is a profound white-knuckle ride through unnamed territories.” (Carolyn)

Must-Read Poetry: May 2019

Here are six notable books
of poetry publishing in May.

Nightingale by Paisley Rekdal

Take a poem from Nightingale, and you have the whole
book. This is meant to be an expansive, not reductive, observation—Rekdal’s poems
have lush contours and routes without becoming labyrinthine; she offers
questions in her narratives that are less conversational than illuminating.
Take the grace and control of “Psalm,” the first poem in the collection. “Too
soon, perhaps, for fruit”—the pause of the central word in that first sentence
is like a sigh, the announcement that we must listen to the story about to be
told. The narrator’s neighbor, despite the “ice-sheathed” branches, “waits,
with her ladder and sack, for something to break.” She longs for growth, life:
a gift. “So much abundance,” Rekdal writes, “and the only cost / waiting.” The
narrator, present but not omnipresent (what control it takes to be there
without being overbearing!), watches: “I almost expect the sound of bells, / a
stone church, sheep in flocks.” This grand tree seems like it deserves a
cathedral, some rapt congregation; instead, “it is on a common / lot, beside a
road, apartment buildings, a dog / sleeping in its yard.” I love when a poet
lingers, patiently, perceptively, because if the lines are authentic enough,
then maybe we’ll do the same. Rekdal, the poet laureate of Utah, is skilled
enough to ask careful questions: “Who planted this tree? / How long has it
stood here? How many more years / can such a thing remain?” The tree almost
sounds impossible, and the narrator knows “the fruit is real. I have eaten it.”
She has “spooned it / over bread and meat. I have sucked it / from my husband’s
fingers.” Nightingale is one of the
best books of the year: a tale of transformation and tragedy, arriving in poems
a bit longer than other poets might dare—there’s a patience and persistence
here. Take the enigmatic “Four Marys,” a meditation on Piero della Francesca’s Madonna del Parto (1460): “Are the
drapes drawn open or being closed?” This is everything that ekphrastic poetry
can be: “And even if I didn’t believe / the child would rise again, I would
believe the artist.” A poem-essay midway through the collection, “Nightingale:
A Gloss,” is alone worth the collection’s weight, but I hope readers are grateful
for this entire book.

Hybrida by Tina
Chang

“It feels like grace,” poet Tina Chang has said about her pregnancy. “Mercy. Deep down in darkness, I uncover it. Those spirits underground shake until I hold to the wall to keep still.” Her son was her past made present, “a strangeness of the future. The idea of a child is something so unreal, it can only be manifested by human hands. It’s like a ghost rummaging in your mind that says, Go ahead, imagine it.” Hybrida, the newest collection from Brooklyn’s poet laureate, is a beautiful meditation of home and hope and hurt. “In every definition of home, my son conjures / milk,” she writes: “In every memory / I have of him, his hands are outstretched / and he is asking for his last bottle.” She thinks of her son when she hears the news of Leiby Kletzky, a young boy killed; how his mother felt waiting for him, his life forever a story unfinished. Chang holds her son close: “I’m afraid of the world.” She tells him stories at home, a “place so safe,” where together they “are weightless, buoyant in its murky sweetness.” There’s an earned gentleness to these lines—call them inspirational (imagine it: a poem can make us love each other better!). Hybrida is a song of love, and creation myths; or perhaps they are our creation truths. From “Patience”: “I come from that too, from the indifference / of doors and keys, from the sonnet of the sewing machine / which wrestled my neck at the collar and all my words / caught at the throat, struggled to make one stitch, a straight line.” Chang’s talent in capturing how our past breathes in our present makes for poems that feel birthed over years. Her lines are realistic, cautious, and yet ultimately optimistic: “The future is an animal / waiting to pounce. It is that bestial. That patient.”

Is, Is Not by Tess
Gallagher

Tess Gallagher has described her poetry as an abiding, yet imperfect, spirituality—the feeling of “reaching” for some presence, and while she might feel unfulfilled, that “reaching is a grace, too, even when I don’t feel answered.” Gallagher writes of the dead and their heavy weight of memory, as with “In the Company of Flowers,” where, “as I dug into earth of my mother / who, when my youngest brother / died, was taken in / by beauty, not as consolation / but because she found him / there as she made the garden.” Her mode of elegy is one of transcendence, and it extends to even the changed lives of the living. “What does it say / that the only shoe repairman in town / has retired?” She “admired your Lazarus / revivals” because “it’s feet in failing shoes / that rule the world.” Is, Is Not is worth our attention for these pauses, as with the heartbreaking short poem, “Opening”: “I entered this world not wanting / to come. I’ll leave it not / wanting to go. All this while, / when it seemed there were two doors, / there was only one—this / passing through.”

Lima :: Limón by Natalie Scenters-Zapico

“I want you / to say my name like the word: lemon. / Say it like the word: limón. Undress me / in strands of rind.” Scenters-Zapico’s narrators are commanding, absolutely present, mystically intoxicating—each poem feels like a skillfully-recreated dream. She begins the collection with lines from Conchita Piquer’s song that serves as title and inspiration for the collection: “Que penita y que dolor, / La vecinita de enfrente soltera se quedó” (“What pain & what shame, / The little neighbor girl from in front ended up single.”). Lima :: Limón plays on that sharp tension between shame and sexuality, a tension Scenters-Zapico offers in several different incarnations. From “In the Age of Los Zetas”: “Men who only value // a woman for her extra rib, / that holy thing that breaks / & heals without a cast.” Juxtaposed on the next page with “Lima Limón :: Azahar”: “I lie on my back in the grass & let the weight / of a man on top of me. Out of breath, he searches / for a place on my body that hasn’t flooded.” Bodies abound: shamed, worked, desirous, preternaturally attracted to mouths (“Stop writing // about the mouth: the tongue, the holy / molars, the wear of grinding yourself / to bone. Stop writing about the mouth: / his mouth, your mouth, her mouth.”). At first, we might want to label Scenters-Zapico’s style surreal, but her palpable detail and narratives are better described as hyper-real. Lima :: Limón builds toward a confession of sorts, but whose penance is poetry: “My sins: / so many I lie in losing count.”

Time by Etel Adnan (translated by Sarah Riggs)

Adnan can’t help but paint, write, and breathe in philosophy, and we are all the better for it. Born in 1925 in Beirut, she attended Catholic schools—“we had religion around all the time”—but she was a “dissident without effort.” Uninterested in neither the catechism nor the lives of the saints, Adnan was compelled by how the nuns spoke “of revelation, even the word itself,” creating for her sense of light as our profound “definition of life.” Time feels charged by this revelatory sense. The book contains epigrammatic pieces written between 2003 and 2010, and started from a postcard she’d received by the Tunisian poet Khaled Najar. The postcard as medium and space is the perfect vessel for her poems. Her first sequence, dated when she received the note from Najar, ends powerfully: “streets lead to / illuminations, but never to peace / of the heart // watch your brothers die / on TV, and don’t move. / they are in a new world / although with no exit.” Although occasionally tagged by dates and times, the poems in this book feel eternal. “I love the rain when it / wraps me like a / river,” Adnan writes, “grafts me to the clouds. / I share in the properties / of the sky. I grow / like a tree.” A moving book of war: “We have cried enough / to wash your / body / but that body was dead.”

Some Unimaginable Animal by David Ebenbach

A funny, tender, inviting
collection, whose traits come from Ebenbach’s gifts of storytelling. In “Ghost
Stories,” Ebenbach begins: “I’m going to write a Jewish one, a ghost story /
without equilibrium. Because let’s face it: / most of those tales believe in a
God who keeps / a tally.” Those traditional ghost tales are balanced:
punishment metered to sin, no sense of surprise. “So in my story,” the narrator
explains, “there will be the haunting of the innocent. Floorboards will creak
their way / to people just eating breakfast.” He ends the poem: “The lights
tremble, / but in your house, too.” I like that second-person gesture at the
end; it is a nudge, a whisper, an invitation. “This year we spangle the place,
the door / wrapped like something we’re giving away” he starts “Hanukkah,” a
poem in which not much happens other than the struggle with a faulty braid of
lights. In the darkness, the collected family “let the candles / make their
quiet points.” As in this poem, as well as “Passover this Year,” Ebenbach’s narratives
are domestic sketches: unassuming, and yet spiritually revealing. This
particular Passover is painted by snow: “So anyway we sit down together / at a
table where everything’s renewal, / renewal, and under the table our boots /
slush the floor and leave salt footprints.” Ebenbach takes us into his poems,
and these are welcome journeys.

Must-Read Poetry: April 2019

Here are six notable books
of poetry publishing in April.

Honeyfish by
Lauren K. Alleyne

There’s not a page in Honeyfish untouched by grace and grief. In
“How to Watch Your Son Die”: “His name // will become a strange music / in the
foreign instrument of your voice.” The masterful “Killed Boy, Beautiful World”
sings and stings: “How ruthless with beauty / the world seems, clouds /
tumbling in streams of white, / the sky dappled, then clear, / then blotted
with rain; the news / of death and more death.” And yet: “you want to hold on
to it, / this life that breaks you again / and again.” Viscerally real poems
invoked to Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice live next to poems of metaphor, as
with “The Pain Fair”: “The opening act is breaking / all manner of things open:
/ wishes, bones, hearts, glass / eyes, brains.” The crowd applauds “politely:
we know / this is nothing impressive.” Next, the magician commands from the
crowd “first heartaches, first betrayals, / they resound like phantom /
symphonies, notes swelling / our chests like air into balloons.” A unique
talent, Alleyne’s skilled lines levitate with something more: passion, grace,
and a willingness to ask questions that linger. “Heaven?” ends with one such
unanswered question: “How many angels weep / when a black girl is torn / into
wings?” An excellent book.

The Tradition by Jericho Brown

“I mean, don’t you want
God / To want you? Don’t you dream / Of someone with wings taking you / Up?” Brown
has a preternatural sense of pacing, which I suspect is one reason why he’s one
of the most commanding of contemporary poets. Gravity in verse goes a long way,
and Brown’s lines feel well-worn, fully-thought, complete. From “As a Human
Being”: “There is the happiness you have / And the happiness you deserve. /
They sit apart from each other / The way you and your mother / Sat on opposite
sides of the sofa / After an ambulance came to take / Your father away.”
Effortless, we know, is never really without effort, but Brown’s flowing lines
are still worth commending—poems moving from God and gifts to the detritus of
our plans and pains. In “Foreday in the Morning,” the narrator thinks of his
mother, who “grew morning glories that spilled onto the walkway toward her
porch,” and told him “I could have whatever I worked for.” Her faith in the
world came from God, but the narrator is “ashamed of America / And confounded
by God.” Haunted by God, possibly, though Brown’s narrators often find faith
elsewhere: “Some people need religion. Me? / I’ve got my long black hair. I
twist / The roots and braid it tight.” A book pierced by a devotion to desire, The Tradition is a powerful
collection—an affirmation of love. “I thought then / Of holding you / As a
political act,” the narrator says in “Stand.” “I / May as well have / Held
myself.”

Hawk Parable by Tyler Mills

We really don’t spend a
lot of our lives looking up—the sun steals our sight, or we might trip over our
own feet—though Mills’s new book might send readers outside to stare and wonder
how bombs have soiled the sky. A rather ominous endnote, “My grandfather’s
possible involvement in the Nagasaki mission has remained a mystery,” helps
frame this book, stitched together by anecdote, folklore, blurry memory, rumor,
and archival reels. Many of Mills’s narrators are shocked by the sky; in “Exposure,”
“I was hanging the baby’s diapers on the balcony / when I noticed / a
multicolored parachute / floating in the sky.” Hell might burn below our feet,
but there’s a devilish tinge to what falls from above—and Hawk Parable tells a recursive story of how atomic tests reel on an
infinite loop. In one poem, the narrator thinks of the Enewetak Atoll tests: “I
swallow vomit after watching // the island wart into an orange bulb. Just
before, / birds glanced off the shimmering water.” Three-quarters of the way
through the collection, Mills detours into prose poems that are associative and
essayistic—another mode in her attempt at reconciliation with the past. Her
frequent return to test sites in the book is apt, as if we are asked to
consider the steps necessary toward destruction: methodical, meticulous, messy
steps.  

Brute by
Emily Skaja

“What I want is a permanent
figure / I want a marker here to separate / The Time Before from The Time Now.”
The first section of Skaja’s debut ends with a poem of exile: self-imposed,
absolutely necessary, freeing. She quotes a crisp line by Lucie Brock-Broido—“After
Pennsylvania, I couldn’t breathe”—concluding a first quarter of the book that
sketches Philadelphia in terms of struggle and suffocation. The narrator of
these poems is smothered by an abusive man and the city’s “hot pavement.” The
book’s second section, titled “Girl Saints,” is a scream of freedom. They’ve
had enough. “Our hands bled. We saw Rorschach blood in our wounds, Pietà in egg
yolks.” Women “bled on our white clothes—we bore them redly // to the table.” “Girl
Saints,” the lead and titular poem of the section, arrives like an anthem. Other
poems, like “Dear Emily,” are whispers to the past: “Easy to disown the girl
you were / at 23: fluffed dove-gray / & bridal, eyes up, prim bird claws /
pink on the brute arm / of your first wreck.” There’s everything in this strong
debut, including the occasional reminder: “I need to remember how to be a body,
more than a chalk outline filled in with cedar shavings, doubt.”

The Experiment of the Tropics by Lawrence Lacambra Ypil

Ypil’s observant poems are
direct and eye-opening. Often a single line creates a gap in the narrative that
allows us to step inside and wonder. “The nature of a city depends on the
direction its people are moving. In the morning, towards. By evening, away.”
Later in “The Nature of the City,” a profoundly lucid prose poem, he continues:
“It takes bringing something into the heart of a city then back out into its
tributaries, to raise the price of one’s possessions. This principle applies to
one’s hopes and desires as it does to chickens and vegetables.” A later poem
with the same title offers a new perspective: “The nature of a city depends on
the combination of views it could be seen from: by high noon or night, by
backstreet or avenue.” Ypil’s lines carry the authority of aphorism without
ever feeling pedantic. His stories are gentle and clear, as in “The History of
Towns”: “The history of towns is always / the history of looking back.” By the
time you’re done contemplating the truth of an early line, Ypil offers another
accuracy: “A family is only as good as the father / who is gone.”

Herod’s Dispensations by Harry Clifton

Dublin-born Clifton, who
has left and returned to his home country several times in his life, creates a
feeling of inevitability in this new collection. He has called form in poetry “emotional
mathematics—the need to resolve something inside that is chaotic before it does
damage,” and even his open lines in Herod’s
Dispensations feel gently tense. He is wracked, and wrecked, by God. “I
never belonged in my father’s house,” he writes in “Endgame,” “His unread Bible
on the shelf / My silent coming of age.” He thinks of the Beckett play as he
spends “a Sunday afternoon / Without God,” thinking about “Those who can never
do themselves in, / Those who can never pray.” He finds curious kin in the
Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, “who would hang by his own rope / of
Catholic heresy.” The narrator, himself a “soul-abandoned body,” thinks the
controversial priest a brother, who “died, a pastor without flock / In a New York
room—anathema, frozen out.” They are both “Gnostic, heretic.” Yet the narrator
can’t help but hum the tune of that old religion, in “Death’s Door”: “Christ,
the weight of that coffin.” He’s tired. “Please, can I die now? Tired, I
straighten up / The whole of life behind me.”  

April Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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—for more April titles, check out our First-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

Working by Robert A. Caro: Widely known—and celebrated—for his monumental biographies of LBJ and Robert Moses, Caro steps out from behind his subjects in Working, a collection of personal writings about, well, working. Here he describes his experiences searching Johnson’s presidential archives, what it was like to interview some of the major figures of the last half century, and how exactly he goes about structuring those massive, award-winning books. Think of it as a behind-the-scenes look at how “the greatest political biographer of our time” gets the job done. (Kaulie)

Women Talking by Miriam Toews: Canadians have come to accept that we can’t keep Toews to ourselves any longer. After her sixth novel, All My Puny Sorrows, became an international sensation, the timely and urgent Women Talking is set to do the same. It’s a fictionalized telling of real life rapes that took place in a remote Mennonite colony in Bolivia. After repeated attacks, a group of women are told they are lying about the violence or being punished by Satan. The narrative unfolds as they meet to decide what they will do: forgive, fight, or run. (Claire)

Let’s Tell This Story Properly by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi: This story collection by the author of the acclaimed epic novel, Kintu, is centered on the lives of Ugandans living in Britain, where they are both hyper-visible and unseen, excluded from British life as they work jobs in airport security, in hospitals, in caring for the elderly. In the title story, when the protagonist’s husband dies in England, her fellow Ugandans start a fund-raising drive to pay for transporting the body back home. Their motivation beautifully captures the dislocation of exile: “We are not burying one of us in snow.” It has been said that Makumbi has done for Ugandan writing what the great Chinua Achebe did for Nigerian literature. (Bill)

Walking on the Ceiling by Ayşegül Savaş: Of her family, global citizen (of Turkish descent) Savaş writes, “They share a ruthless knack of observation and an eye for the comedic . . . This is a family of runaway bandits and conspiring matriarchs, where uncles swagger around with pistols, illegitimate children emerge at every turn, family heirlooms . . . are nicked from brothel fires.” Evidently drawing on her own life, Savas’s debut novel is set in Paris (where she lives) and features a young Turkish woman who tells her family’s stories to a novelist friend. “Their intimacy deepens, so does Nunu’s fear of revealing too much . . . fears that she will have to face her own guilt about her mother and the narratives she’s told to protect herself from her memories.” Writes Helen Phillips, “This quietly intense debut is the product of a wise and probing mind.” (Sonya)
 

I Miss you When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott: An debut essay collection from the Emmy-winning TV host and beloved bookseller at Parnsassus Books in Nashville. Philpott’s inspiration came from readers who would beeline to the memoir section to pick up Eat, Pray, Loveor Wild, then ask, “What do you have like this, but more like me?” With essays that Ann Patchett calls relentlessly funny, self-effacing, and charming,” the result is a kind of wisdom that comes from making so many wrong turns they strangely add up to something that is exactly right. (Claire)

Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza (translated by Thomas Bunstead): Critically acclaimed Argentinian writer Maria Gainza’s first book translated in English. The story interweaves the narrator’s fascination and obsession with art and art history and her intimate experiences involving her family, romantic relationships, and work life. Mariana Enríquez declares, “In between autofiction and the microstories of artists, between literary meet-ups and the intimate chronicle of a family, its past and its misfortunes, this book is completely original, gorgeous, on occasions delicate, and other times brutal.” (Zoë)

Naamah by Sarah Blake: In a stunning, feminist retelling of Noah’s Ark, Blake’s debut novel focuses on Naamah (Noah’s wife) and their family in the year after the Great Flood. Full of desire, fury, strength, and wavering faith, Naamah becomes the bedrock on which the Earth is rebuilt upon. Written in poetic prose, Lidia Yuknavitch praises the novel as “a new vision of storytelling and belief” and “a new myth-making triumph.” (Carolyn)

Phantoms by Christian Kiefer: Kiefer’s previous novel The Animals, was downright masterful, and I’ve been anticipating Phantoms ever since. In this new novel, veteran John Frazier returns shaken from the Vietnam War to witness a dispute between his family and their former neighbors, a Japanese-American family that was displaced during World War II and sent to an internment camp. The jacket copy calls it “a fierce saga of American culpability.” Luis Alberto Urrea says, “Christian Kiefer is a masterful writer, and this magisterial novel is aching with beauty and power. This is a great book.” I, for one, cannot wait! (Edan)
The Parisian by Isabella Hammad: In her debut novel, Plimpton Prize winner Hammad explores Palestinian history through the life, love, and journey of Midhat Kamal, a young man from a wealthy family. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly writes “In her exceptional debut, Hammad taps into the satisfying slow-burn style of classic literature with a storyline that captures both the heart and the mind.” (Carolyn)
 
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim: This debut has it all—a novel of the Korean immigrant experience, a courtroom thriller, an exploration of controversies over autism therapies (specifically here, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, BOT). Kirkus calls it “deeply satisfying” and says “it should be huge.” (Marie Myung-Ok)
 
 

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi: In this novel’s opening section, Dave and Sarah, two new students at a prestigious performing arts high school, fall madly in love under the watchful eye of a charismatic acting teacher. But in a second segment, set 12 years later, a change in narrative viewpoint calls into question everything the reader has understood to have happened before. Early reviews are highly polarized. Publishers Weekly says the novel is “destined to be a classic” while a reader on Goodreads, speaking for a number of other dissatisfied early readers, complained “the payoff wasn’t worth the ick.” (Michael)



Normal People by Sally Rooney: Rooney, the Irish author known for the acclaimed Conversations with Friends, has written a second novel about the lives of young people in modern Ireland. The protagonists of Normal People are teenagers named Connell and Marianne, who develop a strange friendship that both are determined to hide. Years pass, and as the two get older, their relationship grows steadily more complicated. (Thom)
 

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie: How do our charismatic teachers set the stage for the rest of our lives? That’s one of the questions that Ann Beattie tackles in this novel. When a former New England boarding school student named Ben looks back on his childhood, he starts to questions the motives of his superstar teacher. Later on, his teacher gets in contact, and Ben has to grapple with his legacy. (Thom)
 
The Limits of the World by Jennifer Acker: Meet the Chandarias. Premchand is a doctor. His wife Urmila imports artisanal African crafts. Their son Sunil is studying for a doctorate in philosophy at Harvard. But for all their outward success, theirs is a family riven with secrets, and when the family is forced to return to Nairobi, where Premchand and Urmila were born, Sunil reveals an explosive secret of his own: his Jewish girlfriend, who has accompanied the family on the trip, is already his wife. (Michael)
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About edited by Michele Filgate: A collection of essays about subjects too painful or explosive to broach among families. Based on Filgate’s essay of the same name, about being abused by her stepfather, the essay features work from a stellar lineup of writers like Kiese Laymon, Carmen Maria Machado, Brandon Taylor, André Aciman, and Leslie Jamison, among others. (Lydia)
 

The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero: After fleeing Peru in the 1990s, the Falcón family—Ana, Lucho, and their two children—settles in New York City. Under the shadow of their undocumented status, Ana must go to incredible lengths to give her family a better, safer life.  Rumaan Alam writes the novel is “at once a timeless work and a book we urgently need now.” (Carolyn)
 
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor: In a reissue from Vintage Books, Lawlor’s genre-bending debut follows Paul Polydoris—a shapeshifting bar tender who can change his gender and appearance whenever he wants. Through Paul’s abilities, Lawlor explores identity, sexuality, and intimacy. Garth Greenwell writes, “Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is quite simply one of the most exciting—and one of the most fun—novels of the decade.” (Carolyn)
 
Prince of Monkeys by Nnamdi Ehirim: A debut novel about a young, middle-class Nigerian named Ihechi, and his search for identity as he enters adulthood. When a tragedy throws his whole life off-course, he finds himself aligned with the political elite—and at odds with the people he grew up with. Publishers Weekly writes, “A vivid, astute portrait of Nigeria—and its people—in the throes of upheaval.” (Carolyn)
 
Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana: Pimwana’s debut collection features thirteen stories about ordinary Thai characters who dream of richer, more extraordinary lives. Set in a rapidly-changing Thailand, the stories explore class, gender, and desire. YZ Chin writes, “Arid Dreams is full of uncanny character studies that reveal entire social structures and relationship dynamics with a few deft sentences.” (Carolyn)
 
If I Had Two Lives by Abbigail N. Rosewood: A young women, who grew up in a military encampment in Vietnam, immigrates to New York to find a new home. She tries to forget her past and the country that bore her but she is drawn back after a tragedy. The debut novel explores love, identity, loss, and the ever-present past. (Carolyn)

Must-Read Poetry: March 2019

Here are six notable books
of poetry publishing in March.

Tap Out by Edgar Kunz

A whirlwind debut. Stories of sclerotic lives told in wrought images, Kunz arrives with real poetic talent. In the first poem, “After the Hurricane,” the narrator’s father sleeps in a van by the Connecticut River, where he “can see the Costco // parking lot through the trees.” Estranged from his wife, he’s hit bottom, scraping sustenance from kidney bean cans and tuna tins. “Wrinkled plastic piss bottles line the dash.” Kunz pulls us into his poems and keeps us there through crisp detail. The narrator’s father returns often, as in “Natick”: “Silence we passed back and forth between us, like a joke.” In the car, father holds his hand—“Nail beds packed with grease. / Knuckles more scar // than skin”—to his son’s, tells the boy he has piano hands. The son “was ashamed, and hid them in the pockets of my coat.” That shame evolves into poems like “Close,” when the narrator’s father, fresh off a work shift and a little drunk, teaches his son how to drive. “We meet / at the end of the loaded bed, exhaust / and brakelight pooling around our knees.” (A hint: trust poets who show back to you the images you’ve seen in glimpses and tucked in the back of your mind.) The son loves the father; he hates the father. Tap Out lives in a bittersweet world, and does so well, but there’s also fine touches here: a mother who has had enough, a son who sees beauty in loss, and in “Farmsitting,” a narrator who, in order to fall asleep, “counted / the measures ticked out // in the porcelain tub, slow drip / to keep the pipes from freezing.”

The Octopus Museum by Brenda Shaughnessy

To call a collection both
ambitious and pleasant is hopefully not an unacceptable paradox—it feels like
the right description for Shaughnessy’s fifth book of poems. Her book is
ambitious in concept and structure—a dystopian world in which the COO
(Cephalopod Octopoid Overlords), fresh off cute YouTube videos, “took over
every computer, grid and control center”—and capable of melodic sweetness: “I
am a self-cleaning animal and my children were born glistening under all the
soft tree leaves, breathing.” Woven into the book’s speculative moments are
glimpses of motherhood from this world: a six-year-old girl named Simone who
thinks time is “unknowable,” and a boy, Cal, of whom she thinks incessantly. In
“Nest,” the narrator is “in a cabin up in the New Hampshire / woods, in order
to write.” Cal, “coughing and gagging,” probably from allergies, possibly from
something else, is home with her husband. She wonders: “Why am I up here /
writing in the woods when my family needs me / if all I’m doing is failing to
kill innocent wasps / and writing this, this poem I’ll never really finish.” It
is her full-throated poems about Cal that meander among her wild experiments in
syntax, epistolary, and lists that make The
Octopus Museum a breakthrough book.

The Last Visit by Chad Abushanab

“The Factory,” a terse,
dizzying poem, appears early in this fantastic debut. “Husks in shadows just
outside of town: / a rusted mess, a postindustrial tomb.” Here “men with bloody
lungs keep / coughing up clots like overripe berries. / Their wives beside them
pretend to be asleep, / imagine different endings to their stories.” The Last Visit teems with distressing
images, offered with fury and skill. In one poem that introduces the book’s
major theme, a narrator wonders about his abusive father: “what made your
cruelties grow / unwieldy.” He stares at portraits for hours, seeking an
explanation, and then remembers, in another poem, how his mother would bring
him to a store “to pick / some cheap toys” after each family fight. “She wore /
green bruises below her eyes. / Her split lip kept her dabbing blood / with
Kleenex—a poppy flowered rag.” The narrator and siblings dig “through crates of
army men,” who they’d line up on their bedroom windowsill. They’d chosen maimed
soldiers who “could not raise their voices despite / their mortal wounds, their
missing limbs.” The Last Visit is
peppered with poignant, curtal ghazals, including: “When my father left for
good, we were living in the desert. / I wouldn’t cry for him. My eyes became a
desert.” Horrors real and cinematic blend together, as in poems like “A Haunted
House,” “Halloween,” “Drive-In,” and “Poem Begun in a West Texas Corn Maze”: “I
listen for children shouting through the dried- / up stalks, but all I hear are
whispers and crows, / what few remain.”

Scared Violent Like Horses by John McCarthy

“I’m becoming a prayer / I
never said for myself.” McCarthy’s book of Midwestern threnodies begins in
image and ends in solemnity. In the first poem, the narrator’s pickup truck
spews smoke from the engine. Under the trunk, he finds that a “mangled cat mats
the crankshaft and fan belt, / fur-shredded and soaked.” It’s a morbid scene,
unfolding as rain pounds the street, a shower that seems constant that year. “Switchgrass
quivers in every direction. / It’s raining, and I don’t have anywhere to leave.”
These poems are filled with a “lost boy” who is meticulous in his observations
of the staid world surrounding him. The August sun burns everyone, including
his “sweating” mother, who “has stuffed pie tins behind our porch lights // to
keep the robins from nesting.” She is stuck in her house as this boy is stuck
in this middle world, an only child left to his imagination. He thinks himself
a scarecrow, who “pretends // that his reflection is his brother or that all
the puddles together / are a group of siblings that understand his strange
body.” McCarthy’s poems are profluent stories—a joy to marvel at this skill,
impressive considering the book’s bleak landscape.

Forest with Castanets by Diane Mehta

A beautiful book. “My
America is half blessed, halfway to exuberance” Mehta ends one poem, her lines replete
with sorrow and mysticism. “Elegy: A Jewish Death” begins “My moon-walking
mother flies sideways in the yard. / Black fences spike and spiral to contain
her.” There’s a levitation to her lines, leading to the first section’s
conclusion: “She shadows me, a rococo menorah, / arms holding prayers up,
pulling light around me.” Mehta traces the gentle and eccentric routes of spirituality,
with an emphasis on spirit: “She
exits my longing, shifts // like the sea at dawn into simpler / things I’d like
to believe will find me later.” She centers the book with fifteen “Unholy
Sonnets,” with lovelorn, savvy lines: “Ravaged, unredeemable, I melt into my
feet / Murderously myself. I long for peace but (admit it) / Laser cut and
polish grief.” Prose is tucked among her verse—I hope more poets follow her
lead, and be generous with genre—making Forest
with Castanets a uniquely arranged collection. In “Sex & Sensibility,”
she considers the anniversary of death and divorce, and the frayed
relationships that follow. She thinks about the struggle for rediscovery: “I
had a married self, a mother self, and a sexual self, but I had no ‘alone’ self
and thus no creative self.” She’s a talented essayist, and the hopeful conclusion
of her second essay leans into more poems, starting with “Churchgoing”: “If
love is divine then what am I / when they are so full of love / excelling? I
believe in showing up. / The sermon starts.” She concludes: “These open-hearted
beaches are so pure they choke me. / I prefer the cold, hard pews and visitor
seating. / I prefer to be deranged and read these pretty prayers / as evil in
my feet taps out a little more universe.”

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky

Kaminsky, on moving
between and among tongues: “What’s important are those little thefts between
languages, those strange angles of looking at another literature, ‘slant’
moments in speech, oddities, the music of oddities.” Kaminsky’s second
book—which I suspect will be spoken about for years to come—is curved with
beautiful oddities of phrase (even the book’s Dramatis Personae, in describing
the townspeople, includes a phrase about how “on balconies, the wind fondles
laundry lines”). A play in verse, a novel in verse, collective pain in
verse—classifications are unnecessary here, as Kaminsky’s book is at its soul a
story. Although public assemblies are prohibited when occupying forces “march
into town,” the people of Vasenka perform puppet shows. Petya, a deaf boy who is
front and center, sneezes, and draws the military attention. Reprimanded, the
boy spits at a Sergeant, setting the rest of the book in motion. The entire
town becomes silent. Unable to hear, they search for themselves. In one poem: “You are alive, I whisper to myself, therefore something in you listens.” Soon,
an inability to hear becomes an ability to see: “our men, once frightened,
bound to their beds, now stand up like human masts— / deafness passes through
us like a police whistle.” Deaf Republic is
a book of transcendence. See a lullaby: “Little daughter / rainwater // snow
and branches protect you.” See an elegy: “Six
words, / Lord: // please ease / of song // my tongue.” “If there is no
argument inside my work,” Kaminsky has said in an interview, “my work is
worthless. For several reasons, there is only one thing I demand from my own
lines, or from any poetry I love—I want to read it and to have a sense of
having lived. I want to find a texture of life in the lines.” Deaf Republic arrives, textured and
alive.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

March Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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—for more March titles, check out our First-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell: Described as the “Great Zambian Novel you didn’t know you were waiting for,” this debut novel, from the winner of the 2015 Caine Prize for African writing, tells the story of three Zambian families—black, white, and brown—caught in a centuries-long cycle of retribution, romance, and political change. Serpell asks, “How do you live a life or forge a politics that can skirt the dual pitfalls of fixity (authoritarianism) and freedom (neoliberalism)? And what happens if you treat error not as something to avoid but as the very basis for human creativity and community?” Recipient of a starred review from Kirkus and advance praise from Carmen Maria Machado, Alice Sebold, and Garth Greenwell, The Old Drift is already well positioned to become the Next Big Thing of 2019. (Jacqueline)
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi: Oyeyemi became a critical darling in 2014 with Boy, Snow, Bird, a retelling of “Snow White.” She takes us back into fairy tale world with Gingerbread, the story of mother and daughter, Harriet and Perdita Lee, and their family’s famous, perhaps…magical, gingerbread recipe. Along with Harriet’s childhood friend Gretel, the Lees endure family, work, and money drama all for the sake of that crunchy spice. (Janet)

The New Me by Halle Butler: If Butler’s first novel, Jillian, was the “feel-bad book of the year,” then her second, The New Me, is a skewering of the 21st-century American dream of self-betterment. Butler has already proven herself a master of writing about work and its discontents, the absurdity of cubicle life and office work in all of its dead ends. The New Me takes it to a new level in what Catherine Lacey calls a Bernhardian “dark comedy of female rage.” The New Me portrays a 30-year-old temp worker who yearns for self-realization, but when offered a full-time job, she becomes paralyzed after realizing the hollowness of its trappings. (Anne)
Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander: Pulitzer finalist Englander’s latest novel follows Larry, an atheist in a family of orthodox Memphis Jews. When he refuses to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, for his recently deceased father, Larry risks shocking his family and imperiling the fate of his father’s soul. Like everyone else in the 21st century, Larry decides the solution lies online, and he makes a website, kaddish.com, to hire a stranger to recite the daily prayer in his place. What follows is a satirical take on God, family, and the Internet that has been compared to early Philip Roth. (Jacqueline)
Minutes of Glory by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: Thiong’o, the perennial Nobel Prize contender who once got through a prison sentence by drafting a memoir on toilet paper, has collected his best short stories in this collection, which spans half a century. From “The Fig Tree,” which Thiong’o wrote when he was an undergraduate in Uganda, to “The Ghost of Michael Jackson,” which he wrote while teaching at Irvine, these stories affirm the wide range of a global sensation. (Thom)

Look How Happy I’m Making You by Polly Rosenwaike: A couple of months ago I zipped through this funny and poignant collection of stories about women grappling with motherhood in many different ways: One struggles with infertility, for instance, and another gets pregnant by accident. Throughout, I was struck by the depth of feeling, not once compromised by the brevity of the form. In its starred review, Kirkus calls it “an exquisite collection that is candid, compassionate, and emotionally complex.” Meaghan O’Connell says, “Each story in Look How Happy I’m Making You is a lovely universe unto itself—funny, intimate, casually profound—but there is something transcendent about reading them together like this.” (Edan)

If, Then by Kate Hope Day: In a quiet mountain town, four neighbors’ worlds are rocked when they begin to see versions of themselves in parallel realities. As the disturbing visions mount, a natural disaster looms and threatens their town. From a starred review in Publishers Weekly: “Day’s well-crafted mix of literary and speculative fiction is an enthralling meditation on the interconnectedness of all things.” (Carolyn)

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden: With a sparkling blurb from Mary Gaitskill—“Sad, funny, juicy and prickly with deep and secret thoughtful places”—and a sparkling cover (literally—see her website), T Kira Madden’s debut memoir, a coming-of-age story set in Boca Raton, is primed for buzz. As a grownup, Madden self-describes as an “APIA writer, photographer, and amateur magician”; as a child, “Madden lived a life of extravagance, from her exclusive private school to her equestrian trophies and designer shoe-brand name. But under the surface was a wild instability…she found lifelines in the desperately loving friendships of fatherless girls.” One of the best, most evocative titles of the release season, IMHO. (Sonya)
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum: Isra, a 17-year-old Palestinian girl in 1990, prefers reading to suitors, but after her family marries her to an American deli owner she finds herself living in Brooklyn, trapped in a losing struggle against his oppressive mother, Fareeda. Eighteen years later, Fareeda attempts to pressure Isra’s oldest daughter into an early marriage, but an estranged family member offers Isra a chance to determine her own life. Rum, who was born to Palestinian immigrants living in Brooklyn, has written that she hopes her debut novel moves readers “by the strength and power of our women.” (Kaulie)
The White Card by Claudia Rankine: The author of Citizen, Macarthur Genius grant honoree, and founder of the Racial Imaginary Institute will publisher her first play, one that examines the concept of whiteness and white Americans’ failures to acknowledge it, through a series of interactions between an artist and an affluent couple. In the play’s introduction, Rankine writes “The scenes in this one-act play, for all the characters’ disagreements, stalemates, and seeming impasses, explore what happens if one is willing to stay in the room when it is painful to bear the pressure to listen and the obligation to respond.” (Lydia)
EEG by Daša Drndic: I first encountered Daša Drndic through her novel Belladona in June, unwittingly a mere two weeks after the author’s death from lung cancer. I was struck by the character Andreas Ban, and his idiosyncratic reflection upon ears, that “marvelous ugly organ,” accompanied by a diagram of an ear marked with the body’s points. This character Ban continues into Drndic’s next and final book, EEG, where after surviving a suicide attempt he goes on to dissect and expose the hidden evils and secrets of our times. He’s stand-in for Drndic herself, who wrote emphatically and had stated that “Art should shock, hurt, offend, intrigue, be a merciless critic of the merciless times we are not only witnessing but whose victims we have become.” (Anne)
Instructions for a Funeral by David Means: Means’s last publication, Hystopia, was a Booker-nominated novel, but he is still best known for his short stories. Instructions for a Funeral is therefore a return to (the short story) form, 14 pieces, previously published in the New Yorker, Harpers, The Paris Review, and VICE, that display the intelligence and questing range for which Means is known. From a fistfight in Sacramento to a 1920s FBI stakeout in the midwest, Instructions for a Funeral invites readers on a literary journey with a master of the modern short story. (Adam P.)
The Cook by Maylis de Kerangal (translated by Sam Taylor): Writes Priya Parmal in her 2014 New York Times review of Maylis de Kerangal’s first novel translated into English, The Heart, “These characters feel less like fictional creations and more like ordinary people, briefly illuminated in rich language, beautifully translated by Sam Taylor, that veers from the medical to the philosophical.” In The Cook, a “hyperrealist” tale centered around a self-taught professional cook, we are treated to “lyricism and [the] intensely vivid evocative nature of Maylis de Kerangal’s prose, which conjures moods, sensations, and flavors, as well as the exhausting rigor and sometimes violent abuses of kitchen work.” The Cook is her 10th novel, her second translated into English (also by Taylor); Anglophones can be grateful that we’re finally catching up with this many-prize-winning author. (Sonya)
Sing to It by Amy Hempel: Hempel, the short story legend best known for “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried,” is back with her first new collection of stories in over a decade. From “Cloudland,” which depicts a woman’s reckoning with her decision to give up her child, to “A Full-Service Shelter,” which follows a volunteer at a shelter where abandoned dogs are euthanized, the stories in Sing to It are fitting additions to Hempel’s work. (Thom)


The Other Americans by Laila Lalami: Lalami, whose previous novel, The Moor’s Account, was a finalist for the Pulitzer, returns with a “structurally elegant mystery” (Kirkus). At the opening of this highly anticipated new novel, Morroccan immigrant Driss Guerraoui is killed by a speeding car on a California highway. The book then follows a number of characters connected to and affected by his death, including his jazz composer daughter, his wife, and an undocumented immigrant who witnessed the accident. J.M. Coetzee says, “This deftly constructed account of a crime and its consequences shows up, in its quiet way, the pressures under which ordinary Americans of Muslim background have labored since the events of 9/11.” (Edan)
Good Talk by Mira Jacob: A graphic novel about raising her mixed-race son in a white supremacist society by the author of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, built around conversations with a curious six year old. Jacqueline Woodson says “In Jacob’s brilliant hands, we are gifted with a narrative that is sometimes hysterical, always honest, and ultimately healing.” (Lydia)

Joy by Erin McGraw: In her newest collection, McGraw gathers 53 “very short stories” about time, religion, class, and relationships. In Publishers Weekly’s starred review, they said “this quintessential collection of stories serves as an homage to the form while showcasing McGraw’s stunning talent and deep empathy for the idiosyncrasies, small joys, and despairs of human nature.” (Carolyn)

The Club by Takis Würger (translated by Charlotte Collins): German reporter Würger’s debut novel focuses on the Pitt Club, an exclusive all-male dining club, and Hans Stichler, the young boxer tapped to investigate them. Full of secrets, violence, and ruminations on class, the novel explores the dangers of toxic masculinity and the cost of justice. (Carolyn)

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor: Owuor, whose debut Dust was shortlisted for the Folio Prize, returns with a coming-of-age novel about Ayaana, a young African woman who travels in order to find her place in the world. The book has received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly—the latter writes, “with a rollicking narrative and exceptional writing, this epic establishes Owuor as a considerable talent.” (Carolyn)

Portrait of Sebastian Khan by Aatif Rashid: Fiction and nonfiction writer Rashid’s forthcoming debut follows the eponymous Sebastian Khan—a noncommittal, Muslim American art history student—on the cusp of his 2011 college graduation. Author J. Ryan Stradel called the debut “a smart, thoughtfully constructed, and propulsive coming-of-age story.” (Carolyn)

Must-Read Poetry: February 2019

Here are six notable books
of poetry publishing in February.

Dolefully, a Rampart Stands by Paige Ackerson-Kiely

“You put your hands over everything / the throats limned, the tags snipped— / your throats snipped, your hands bit / the roses nip and nod.” Playful, punchy, clever, and strange, Ackerson-Kiely’s poems are on-rhythm and off-center. Her lines make me sit up and sort out: “The folding chairs are separated while mating”; “Inside the house the man’s voice / is a bed turned over by cops. / They find nothing but their own anger, / some old tissues.” These are northeastern pastoral songs, as in “The Grandmothers”: “In spite of what one pictures, / there is no bustle, no bonnet, / no consideration for the teats / swollen like trousers thrown / over a ladder in a soaking rain— / bedewed heifer stock-still in a particular pasture.” That phrase—“teats / swollen like trousers thrown”—stayed in my head, a curious consonance that turns the words inward. Come here for the language, but stay for the long prose poem sequence, “Book About a Candle Burning in a Shed,” a murder investigation that will make you want Ackerson-Kelly to narrate all mysteries. A woman’s clothes are found, her body possibly taken downriver: “Water’s high and full of silt, and it smelled like squash bugs and my ex-girlfriend’s neck when she worried about money.” The officer’s recursive vignettes of the case-in-progress are some of the most unique pieces you’ll read this year.

Magical Negro by Morgan Parker

Parker’s poetic latitudes are impressive. She bounds from anaphoric threnody to soft, recursive lines. She writes of Diana Ross, after Zora Neale Hurston, and in response to the 200th episode of The Jeffersons. She writes of the body: desire, longing, impatience, aching. She is gifted with the severity of single lines, including: “My body is an argument I did not start”; “Even the sun yawns when I pray”; “Isn’t repentance always a question?” Her poems ride cadences by turns clever and cathartic, as in “Why the Jive Bird Sings”: “Because—come / through numb // waters, dragging rosaries / and years, mouthful // of salt and lemon / trees.” Whether she is writing of race or language, Parker reworks syntax and phrases; she is playing the line and the reader. Consider the end of “Black Women for Beginners Pt. 1”: “We get hurt so often we never / run. Every time we lick our lips / the day obeys and repents. // Glory glory hallelujah. / Hot comb on the stove. / Train tracks in the weeds.”

A Piece of Good News by Katie Peterson

Placed at the
first-quarter point of Peterson’s book is a masterful elegy for her mother
titled “The Massachusetts Book of the Dead.” Its stanzas arranged in concise
sections, the poem is foundational, a tonally divergent work that upends the
playful early poems of her collection and interjects an earned seriousness into
the work. “Sun, make yourself a silence on this house. / If my eyes are closed
I am not sleeping. If they / are open let them rest / in between / the delicate
snowflakes.” Her mother’s death freezes time, and is transformative;
contemplating her, the narrator thinks how “the past and the pastoral / are not
one sense. But past the outskirts / of the city, the fences fall away: /
foundations of a house, / occupied by moss.” Poems after her elegy carry a
melancholic touch, so that Peterson’s book evolves into a series of meditations
and unanswered questions: “Was birth the worst thing, or the first / time a
body left your bed?” An introspective and original collection.

Reenactments by Hai-Dang Phan

In “Quiet Americans,” the narrator and his father are “spooning our chicken vindaloo” in River Falls, Wisconsin, while they watch the film based on Graham Greene’s classic novel. The other half of their family are in Đà Nẵng. The father and son “aren’t interested in the love / triangle or whodunit, but are spellbound / by old Saigon flickering in the rear window, / shadows of rue Catinet.” They long for a world left, but must settle for the peace of their shared moment: “Snow puts the night on mute. / We know how it ends.” Reenactments invites us into Phan’s mind with specificity of scene and memory, as well as skilled usage of second person. “Get to Know Your Ghost” offers good advice: if haunted, learn your spirit’s “habits, eccentricities, fetishes.” The narrator’s ghost “looks like a lost salesman” in a gray suit, “briefcase / bulging with the expired / driver’s licenses of strangers.” In addition to his own work, he offers translations of work from several other Vietnamese poets, including Phan Nhiên Hạo. “Regarding the Spiritual and Social Situation of Vietnam Today” begins “Having lost our senses, / we carry on the struggle of cooking maggot corpses / from a busted refrigerator.” Subtitled with a note that these thoughts come from poets, there’s a melancholy and sarcastic feel to the piece: “Hope is a gas station— / SOLD OUT. / Look at those few sorry daydreamers / pushing their scooters around / so tiresomely.” Phan’s mixture of original and translated work creates a unique debut that is both singular and anthological.

  A Cry in the Snow by Stella Vinitchi Radulescu (translated by Luke Hankins)

A
poet of three languages, this is the first English-language edition of her
French verse, including Un Cri dans la
neige (A Cry in the Snow)
and Journal
aux yeux fermés (Journal with Closed
Eyes). Her lines are smooth, yet surprising, as in “body to body”: “the
tree in place of my thirst // I plant it in my eyes // I send its roots / into
my veins.” Radulescu’s poems are full of these bodily transfigurations,
including “interior”: “I wake in my own body and then / in the other / waking
beside me / jealous that I stirred first.” The part-calm, part-delirium of the
lineated works evolve into the prose poems of the second section, making for a
diverse collection. “You can rearrange those pages. There is no order, no
sequence. You can erase lines, add others, switch out the events.” The narrator
is exasperated, exhausted, but firm: “It’s up to you. I won’t respond anymore.
Too busy staying silent.” There is recursive talk of an unfinished book here;
an ardent desire to write, the narrator’s voice an offering: “It’s three in the
morning, the dead in their graves. I think of them. Thought is alive, warm, it
gathers itself, forms a kernel that attaches itself to the world, and it begins
to move, to shift. / I give the dead this gift, the only one possible.”

33 Poems by Robert Lax

In 1959, Lax received a letter from his old friend, Thomas Merton, praising Lax’s limited-edition book Oedipus: “Picture, poem, picture poem, leave reader swimming in existentialist realization of what is this Oedipus. Short poem hath effect in inverse proportion to length.” Merton might be correct. Lax often swung wide, and while some of his poems ramble more than ruminate, others feel just right: “every / night / in the / world // is a / night // in the / hospital.” Of particular note: his long poem, “The Circus of the Sun,” a menagerie of folly and philosophy. “Fields were set / for the circus,” goes one section, “stars for shows / before ever / elephant lumbered / or tent rose.” Lax asks good questions: “Who is it for whom we now perform, / Cavorting on wire: / For whom does the boy / Climbing the ladder / Balance and whirl— / For whom, / Seen or unseen / In a shield of light?” A needed compendium from a dynamic poet.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

February Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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—for more February titles, check out our First-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James: Following up his Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, James has written the first book in what is to be an epic trilogy that is part Lord of the Rings, part Game of Thrones, and part Black Panther. In this first volume, a band of mercenaries—made up of a witch, a giant, a buffalo, a shape-shifter, and a bounty hunter who can track anyone by smell (his name is Tracker)—are hired to find a boy, missing for three years, who holds special interest for the king. (Janet)
Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li: Where Reasons End is the latest novel by the critically acclaimed author of Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. Li creates this fictional space where a mother can have an eternal, carefree conversation with her child Nikolai, who commits suicide at the age of 16. Suffused with intimacy and deepest sorrows, the book captures the affections and complexity of parenthood in a way that has never been portrayed before. (Jianan)
 
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang: Wang writes brilliantly and beautifully about lives lived with mental illness. Her first novel, The Border of Paradise, traces a family through generations, revealing the ways each becomes inheritors of the previous generation’s isolation and depression. In The Collected Schizophrenias, her first essay collection (for which she was awarded the Whiting Award and Greywolf Nonfiction Prize), Wang draws from her experience as both patient and speaker/advocate navigating the vagaries of the mental healthcare system while also shedding light on the ways it robs patients of autonomy. What’s most astonishing is how Wang writes with such intelligence, insight, and care about her own struggle to remain functional while living with schizoaffective disorder. (Anne)
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson: It’s the mid-1980s and American Cold War adventurism has set its sights on the emerging west African republic of Burkina Faso. There’s only one problem: the agent sent to help swing things America’s way is having second, and third, thoughts. The result is an engaging and intelligent stew of espionage and post-colonial political agency, but more important, a confessional account examining our baser selves and our unscratchable itch to fight wars that cannot be won. (Il’ja)
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli: The two-time finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award has written a road novel for America in the 21st century. In the book, a family of four set out from their home in New York to visit a place in Arizona called Apacheria, a.k.a. the region once inhabited by the Apache tribe. On their way down south, the family reveals their own set of long-simmering conflicts, while the radio gives updates on an “immigration crisis” at the border. (Thom)
 
The White Book by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith): In 2016, Kang’s stunning novel The Vegetarian won the Man Booker Prize; in 2018, she drew Man Booker attention again with her autobiographical work The White Book. There are loose connections between the two—both concern sisters, for one, and loss, and both feature Han’s beautiful, spare prose—but The White Book is less a conventional story and more like a meditation in fragments. Written about and to the narrator’s older sister, who died as a newborn, and about the white objects of grief, Han’s work has been likened to “a secular prayer book,” one that “investigates the fragility, beauty and strangeness of life.” (Kaulie)
Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad: NYFA Fellow Sudbanthad’s debut novel, Bangkok Wakes to Rain, has already been hailed as “important, ambitious, and accomplished,” by Mohsin Hamid, and a book that “brilliantly sounds the resonant pulse of the city in a wise and far-reaching meditation on home,” by Claire Vaye Watkins. This polyphonic novel follows myriad characters—from a self-exiled jazz pianist to a former student revolutionary—through the thresholds of Bangkok’s past, present, and future. Sudbanthad, who splits his time between Bangkok and New York, says he wrote the novel by letting his mind wander the city of his birth: “I arrived at the site of a house that, to me, became a theatrical stage where characters…entered and left; I followed them, like a clandestine voyeur, across time and worlds, old and new.” (Anne)
The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison: A new collection of nonfiction–speeches, essays, criticism, and reflections–from the Nobel-prize winning Morrison. Publishers Weekly says “Some superb pieces headline this rich collection…Prescient and highly relevant to the present political moment…” (Lydia)
 
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken: It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since McCracken published her first novel, The Giant’s House, perhaps because, since then, she’s given us two brilliant short story collections and one of the most powerful memoirs in recent memory. Her fans will no doubt rejoice at the arrival of this second novel, which follows three generations of a family in a small New England town. Bowlaway refers to a candlestick bowling alley that Publishers Weekly, in its starred review, calls “almost a character, reflecting the vicissitudes of history that determine prosperity or its opposite.” In its own starred review, Kirkus praises McCracken’s “psychological acuity.” (Edan)
All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos (translated by Alice Whitmore): Argentinian writer Dimópulos’s first book in English is a novel that focuses on a narrator who has been traveling for a decade. The narrator reflects on her habit of leaving family, countries, and lovers. And when she decides to commit to a relationship, her lover is murdered, adding a haunting and sorrowful quality to her interiority. Julie Buntin writes, “The scattered pieces of her story—each of them wonderfully distinct, laced with insight, violence, and sensuality—cohere into a profound evocation of restlessness, of the sublime and imprisoning act of letting go.” (Zoë)
The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Harruna Attah: An account of 19th-century Ghana, the novel follows twoyoung girls, Wurche and Aminah, who live in the titular city which is a notorious center preparing people for sale as slaves to Europeans and Americans. Attah’s novel gives a texture and specificity to the anonymous tales of the Middle Passage, with critic Nadifa Mohamad writing in The Guardian that “One of the strengths of the novel is that it complicates the idea of what ‘African history’ is.” (Ed)
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer: This much sought-after debut, which was the object of a bidding war, is based on the life of Lee Miller, a Vogue model turned photographer who decided she would rather “take a picture than be one.” The novel focuses on Miller’s tumultuous romance with photographer Man Ray in early 1930s Paris, as Miller made the transition from muse to artist. Early reviews suggests that the novel more than lives up to its promise, with readers extolling its complicated heroine and page-turning pacing. (Hannah)
Adèle by Leila Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor): Slimani, who won the Prix Goncourt in 2016, became famous after publishing Dans le jardin de l’ogre, which is now being translated and published in English as Adèle. The French-Moroccon novelist’s debut tells the story of a titular heroine whose burgeoning sex addiction threatens to ruin her life. Upon winning an award in Morocco for the novel, Slimani said its primary focus is her character’s “loss of self.” (Thom)
 
Notes From a Black Woman’s Diary by Kathleen Collins: Not long after completing her first feature film, Losing Ground, in 1982, Collins died from breast cancer at age 46. In 2017, her short story collection about the lives and loves of black Americans in the 1960s, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, was published to ringing critical acclaim. Now comes Notes From a Black Woman’s Diary, which is much more than the title suggests. In addition to autobiographical material, the book includes fiction, plays, excerpts from an unfinished novel, and the screenplay of Losing Ground, with extensive directorial notes. This book is sure to burnish Collins’s flourishing posthumous reputation. (Bill)
Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev: This debut is the memoir of a young woman’s life shaped by unrelenting existential terror. The story is told in fragmentary vignettes beginning with Shalmiyev’s fraught emigration as a young child from St. Petersburg, Russia to the United States, leaving behind the mother who had abandoned her. It closes with her resolve to find her estranged mother again. (Il’ja)
 
The Cassandra by Sharma Shields: Mildred Groves, The Cassandra’s titular prophetess, sometimes sees flashes of the future. She is also working at the top-secret Hanford Research Center in the 1940s, where the seeds of atomic weapons are sown and where her visions are growing more horrifying—and going ignored at best, punished at worst. Balancing thorough research and mythic lyricism, Shields’s novel is a timely warning of what happens when warnings go unheeded. (Kaulie)
 
A People’s Future of the United States edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams: An anthology of 25 speculative stories from a range of powerful storytellers, among them Maria Dahvana Headley, Daniel José Older, and Alice Sola Kim. LaValle and Adams sought stories that imagine a derailed future—tales that take our fractured present and make the ruptures even further. Editor LaValle, an accomplished speculative fiction writer himself (most recently The Changeling, and my personal favorite, the hilarious and booming Big Machine), is the perfect writer to corral these stories. LaValle has said “one of the great things about horror and speculative fiction is that you are throwing people into really outsized, dramatic situations a lot…[including] racism and sexism and classism, biases against the mentally ill”—the perfect description for this dynamic collection. (Nick R.)


Nothing but the Night by John Williams: The John Williams ofStoner fame revival continues with the reissue of his first novel by NYRB, first published in 1948, a story dealing with mental illness and trauma with echoes of Greek tragedy. (Lydia)
 
Vacuum in the Dark by Jen Beagin: Whiting Award winner Beagin is back with a sequel to her debut novel, Pretend I’m Dead. Two-years older, Mona is living in New Mexico and working as a cleaning woman. In an attempt to start over, Mona must heal wounds both new and old—and figure out who she wants to be. Dark, sharp, and poignant, Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the novel “viciously smart and morbidly funny.” (Carolyn)
 
Willa & Hesper by Amy Feltman: Feltman’s debut coming-of-age novel follows two queer woman who meet at their MFA program, fall in love, and then break up. In an effort to heal, both leave New York and travel to their respective ancestral homelands: Germany (Willa) and Tbilisi, Georgia (Hesper) Author Crystal Hana Kim called the novel “a lyrical, timely story about love, heartbreak, and healing.” (Carolyn)
The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman: In a follow-up to their UK edition, editors Shukla (The One Who Wrote Destiny) and Suleyman (Outside Looking On) gather 26 writers and scholars to write on the immigrant experience—many of which are in response to post-2016 America—including Porochista Khakpour, Teju Cole, Alexander Chee, and Jenny Zhang. With “joy, empathy, and fierceness,” Publishers Weekly’s starred review called the collection “a gift for anyone who understands or wants to learn about the breadth of experience among immigrants to the U.S.” (Carolyn)

Must-Read Poetry: January 2019

Here
are six notable books of poetry publishing in January.

Only as the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems by Dorianne LauxThe final 20 poems of Laux’s book are written in memory of her late mother, and they are unflinching and resigned. “I am not deceived,” she begins the poem “Lapse.” “I / do not think my dead will return. They will not do / what I ask of them. Even if I plead on my knees.” Helpless but not hapless, she deftly writes of heartbreak—the absolute, gutting, severe loss of the one who brought her into this world: “go,” she writes to her mother, “where we can never find you, where we can never overthrow / your lust for order, your love of chaos, your tyrannies / of despair, your can of beer.” Laux is majestic here: “We never knew which way to run: / into her arms or away from her sharp eyes. / We loved her most when she was gone, / and when, after long absence, she arrived.” The elegies accumulate, settle into our throats, drill down—her selected poems are gorgeous to revisit, but these new pieces are symphonic—and they become a perfect coda of grief. “Soon she will be no more than a passing thought,” Laux knows. “Her atoms are out there, circling the earth, minus / her happiness, minus her grief.” She ends the book’s titular poem with transcendent precision: her mother belongs to the world now, but not all of her—not “her atoms of laughter and cruelty, her atoms / of lies and lilies along the driveway and her slippers, / Lord her slippers, where are they now?”

The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala AlyanAlyan’s fourth book of poems arrives with the earnest ambition of a debut, but the care of a poet whose lines have earned their sentiment. Poems of sorrow and shame live next to verses of desire. In “The Female of the Species,” “They leave the country with gasping babies and suitcases / full of spices and cassettes.” The narrator can “tell stories about the women I know. / They break dinner plates. They marry impulsively.” She also thinks about her cousin, how “the best night of my life was the one // she danced with me in Paris, sharing a hostel bed, / and how sometimes you need one knife to carve another.” The narrator thinks of her father in “The Socratic Method,” a man “as lonely as Wyoming, a perfect country for no one to see.” Sometimes, in the mornings, she will “clutch my chest and chant God forbid God forbid,” thinking of his death. The Twenty-Ninth Year bursts with lamentations, hopes, fears, and a weary but wide faith: “To love the hibiscus, you must first love the monsoon.”

Bicycle in a Ransacked City: An Elegy by Andrés CerpaOne of the most moving books of family and illness in recent years, Cerpa’s debut is a force of poetic will. The narrator’s father is living with Parkinson’s Disease, and each successive poem feels like a step deeper into darkness. The narrator knows “the father I hold onto in order to care for his shadow never gets old, // he is kind & clear, he rises each morning & lifts me onto the back of his bicycle, he pedals while I glide above the city in wonder.” Bicycles turn and return throughout this book: They move the narrator and his father across the Bronx, across time. The narrator arises from his grief but never forgets its origin; not when he is in Barcelona and “burnt a cigarette into my wrist like a botched tattoo”; not when, with resignation and acceptance, he concludes: “Let the earth do what it will — / have me, spin the spokes until my memory fades to a ruthless spring.”

Oculus by Sally Wen MaoThe poems in this collection consider the detritus and delirium of digital life. In “Live Feed,” the narrator warns that “After I am dead, I will hunt you / day and night. // Pixelated ghosts / will haunt your ears.” Whether wayward spirit or nefarious satyr, Mao’s narrators and characters inhabit the sense of oculus as eye-opening, a transformative door. The collection’s titular poem bends time and sense: “Before I wake, I peruse the dead girl’s live / photo feed.” Online we are dead, alive, temporary, and permanent. Mao’s serene descriptions are masterfully unsettling: “How the dead girl fell, awaiting a hand to hold, / eyes to behold her as the lights clicked on / and she posed for her picture, long eyelashes / all wet, legs tapered, bright as thorns.” Mao further examines our technological transfigurations in “Electronic Necropolis,” set in Guiyu Village, China, where ditched electronics are collected and recycled. Mao’s descriptions are precise and surreal, a next phase of evolution: “By slicing open dead circuitboards, / I cultivate rebirth. I douse / the hardware in pyretic acids / before it scrapes me, enters me, a lather of data / against my organs, bless them, / my warring insides.” An expansive book, but each poem bears careful reading.

Mothers Over Nangarhar by Pamela Hart“Dear one / From the yard I see Mars / While you keep watch in far-off deserts.” Hart’s collection begins with such a simple yet profound sentiment: We are so often mired in longing and distance, yet if we merely look up, we are together. Hart has said she has been inspired by lines from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” by William Carlos Williams: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” Her son has served overseas with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, and the poems in this book teem with domestic despair of many forms. A group of mothers speak in a Red Cross parking lot, after a meeting on PTSD. In “Sometimes We Talk About Nothing,” “Her son’s platoon / is moving / to a dangerous place // At the market Beth says / the strawberries / are huge // So sweet she eats / some / every day.” Eschewing punctuation and blending joy with fear, Hart captures the paradox of a service member’s family: Hope keeps them alive, but hope is exhausting. Hart’s book ponders the mixture of pride and love for a son, fear for his safety, anxiety and guilt over violence. “He was small and almost perfect at birth,” she writes. “Did I raise him up to be a warrior.” There is no question mark here because, Hart knows, there is no answer.

Reel Verse: Poems About the Movies edited by Harold Schechter and Michael WatersThis pocket-sized Everyman’s Library book is worth sneaking into the theater to browse during the coming attractions. A diverse selection ranging from the early days of cinema to auteurs and remakes, poetic cinephiles will find much to love here. Juliana Gray asks us to “Look closer” at Hitchcock’s Rope: “They’ve shut their secret in a chest, but failed / to lock it.” Virgil Suarez offers an ode to the late Harry Dean Stanton: “See it in the crow-black eyes, the stubble / And the way his lids sag as he belts out / The next sad song.” Chase Twichell thinks “Matinees are the best time / for bad movies.” Marcus Wicker writes a love letter to Pam Grier: “Even now I don’t know how / to love you right.” And Joseph O. Legaspi reminds us that the theater is always more than projector, screen, and sight: “My mother favors / tearjerkers in which women suffer in martyrdom, / fall from high grace, seek revenge, and reap moral / redemption. In this communal, cavernous space / celluloid glow outlines each solitary audience, / embraced by air-conditioning, drowsing into / forgetfulness.”