In keeping with our annual tradition, Poetry Foundation staff share a book (or two or more) that brought them joy, comfort, or pleasure this year.
Janet Cheung, Web Producer
I want to share two books that give me opposite feelings: Niina Pollari’s Path of Totality and Xi Chuan’s Bloom. One made me cry at times, the other made me laugh. One cannot avoid the subject of death, the other sees people everywhere. One works through the aftershocks of the loss of a child, the other keeps a clear voice amid the confusion. One holds on to the memory, the other breaks away from history. One has centripetal force, the other centrifugal force. One is open about physical suffering, the other focuses on mental health and the evils of self-deception. Some admire crows’ ability to face death, others see birds as equal witnesses, even though they cannot empathize with humans. One tries to keep up with the fast, mechanical movements of New York City and tolerates its overwhelming smell of urine, the other laments the declining number of cigarette smokers in Manhattan and reflects on an unchanging Beijing. One is powerful, the other is also powerful.
Evalena Friedman, Library Assistant
Ocean Vuong and Franny Choi both delivered absolute knockouts this year with their latest collections Time Is a Mother and The World Keeps Ending and The World Goes On respectively. Both poets deal with grief and how to survive its seemingly insurmountable power. There is so much to mourn in our world, including the loss of the world itself — a loss that keeps hitting us, as Choi reminds us: “I was born of an apocalypse / and have come to tell you what I know – what is that the apocalypse began / when Columbus praised God and lowered his anchor.” How do we honor our sorrow and allow ourselves to feel these present and historical losses, yet still find ways not only to survive, but to find joy again to find? How can we find the beauty in the broken? Vuong writes, “I thought / the fall would / kill me / but it only made me / real.” The world has been ending for centuries, and yet here we are. Still breathing. Still writing poetry. Still real.
PS I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention my favorite book for young readers this year, Book of Questions: Selections by Pablo Neruda, translated by Sara Lissa Paulson and illustrated by Paloma Valdivia. You can read my full endorsement of this beautiful work of visual poetry here!
Noa Fields, Events and Accessibility Coordinator
The selection of “favorites” scares me, especially in such a stellar year of poetry publishing. Call S. Yarberry, John Keene, Yanyi, Jos Charles, Simone White, Imogen Xtian Smith, Wo Chan and Maya Marshall for the books that held me tight and dissolved me. If, like me, you’re drawn to the periphery and unsustainable, then I must also recommend Renee Gladman’s manifest-like Plans for Sentences: these phrases will leave you wondering, dreaming, and vibrating in the wake of their ‘fuzzy cartography’. A rigorous architecture of anaphoric sentences that stretch and actualize their own unruly sensibility, further enlivened by accompanying drawings that act as asemic portals.
Stefania Gomez, Education and Youth Welfare Assistant
There were many life changing books this year including All the Flowers Kneeling by Paul Tran, Customs by Solmaz Sharif and Iguana Iguana by Caylin Capra-Thomas but there was one book I loved so much I thought it was special been written for me. When I first read S. Yarberry’s A Boy in the City, I devoured it in one sitting. It was exciting to experience the world through Yarberry’s speaker, who embarks on a restless quest for the form of a self – a form that contains her mind and heart. They search for lovers, they search for words – but these efforts prove fruitless. And yet, in the formlessness of existence, the speaker’s mind and heart are a beacon, a kind of stability. And through the daily, poetic erection of the body, a kind of freedom also arises: “I am. I am. I am an invention.” Through these poems, which have an improvised feel and are filled with anxious dynamics, Yarberry manages to capture fleeting moments of intimacy, connection, clarity and insight. That continuity despite everything, the comfort despite the inconvenience, is what I’ll take away from A Boy in the City. As Yarberry puts it, “It’s not like I became / anything. I was, I was.”
Rebeca Jurado, Guest Experience Representative
The book of poetry I’ve been coming back to consistently this year was Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head: Poems by Warsan Shire. The visceral imagery and bold poetic language in these poems, which explore themes of femininity, family relationships, immigration, belonging and trauma, will tear your heart apart. This is a thought-provoking collection that will make you question the meaning of survival. Each poem was captivating, each a different experience. Shire lets you explore your past and present life experiences in every line of this book. Warsan Shire is a brilliant poet and her poetry is much needed in this world.
Katherine Litwin, director of the library and co-curator of the exhibitions
Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions: Choices (Enchanted Lion Books, 2022)
This bilingual edition of excerpts from Neruda’s Book of Questions comes from Enchanted Lion Books, a publisher responsible for an exceptional catalog of works for children. The volume features succinct new translations by librarian Sara Lissa Paulson, accompanied by stunningly beautiful full-page illustrations by Paloma Valdivia. The resulting book expands on the mystery at the heart of Neruda’s work, a series of questions that capture the reader’s imagination, with questions such as “If we use up all the yellow, / what will we make bread with?” A perfect introduction to Neruda’s work and a book that will make readers of all ages think.
Maggie Queeney, Library staff
Jenny Xie’s The Rupture Tense is a collection that dazzles in and through the tears and tears, the silences and the gaps, the bleeds and spills. From the series of prose poems entitled ‘Red Puncta’ which, like the punctum in a photograph, offer the reader isolated haunting scenes; to a series of contrapuntal poems; and wisps of fragments floating on the page’s white space, these poems keep asking how we can see, see, see anything or anyone in the ocean of images, of stories that flood the world. I find solace in her memory that even in the overwhelm, “And you, all future tense, transpires.”
Fred Sasaki, creative director
Black Phoenix: Third World Perspective on Contemporary Art and Culture
For the first time ever, all three issues of the radical Black Phoenix magazine (edited by Rasheed Araeen and Mahmood Jamal, 1978-1979) are reproduced in this single beautiful volume published by Primary Information. The magazine “issued a rallying cry for the formation of a liberating arts and culture movement” that “placed diasporic and colonial histories at the heart of a developing anti-racist and anti-imperialist consciousness in Britain in the late 1970s and beyond”. Artwork, activism and poetry harmonize in this outstanding collection. Essays include Innocence & Neo-Colonialism: A Case of Ideological Domination in Children’s Literature, Some General Observations on the Problem of Cultural Colonialism, and An Introduction to Radical Urdu Poetry, with contributions by Guy Brett, Ariel Dorfman, and Eduardo Galeano and many others.
Elizabeth O’Connell-Thompson, Media Manager
Real scams and real Nicky Beer fakes
I didn’t make it into this collection ten minutes before taking photos of poems to write to friends. This book has it all: Dolly Parton, feminism, duplicity, talks about Art™, drag, etc. Poetry loses none of its power or ability to haunt by being fun.