When I first moved to Manhattan in 2008, I roughly knew about three people in the entire city. I lived in a bedbug-infested apartment on 139th Street with a sugar baby, a Bubba Gump Shrimp waiter, and a digital retoucher. At the time, I thought I was going to work as an assistant in photo studios while applying to MFA programs on the side—a plan that ended up completely shifting (no MFA, au revoir photo world)—but that’s not what I’m here to write about. I knew nothing of the NYC literary world, especially that of poetry. One day I had wandered into a library near 103rd to check out some familiar books. I saw a flyer for POETRY DISCUSSION GROUP / TONIGHT’S THEME: DEATH and hung around, hoping to meet some poets. And talk about death, of course.
What I ended up was sitting in a circle with about a dozen people, myself the only person under 60. As one cantankerous woman pointed out—most of them were “sitting in god’s waiting room” & it was “foolish to romanticize death”. This lead to a shouting match between attendees. So there I sat, hands in lap, in a coven of curmudgeons, horribly embarrassed at how much I misgauged what I thought I would be participating in. This is not to say that these old folks couldn’t have schooled me. I perhaps have never witnessed a more intensely personal discussion of death with any group of strangers in such a short amount of time in such a public space. But my point is that geography is a strange creature, containing wheels inside wheels. I wanted to meet young poets in their early 20s who would show me who they were reading, where they were reading at, where they hung out. This Upper West Side library, much to my ignorance, was not that place. I didn’t find that niche for a long time, even though we all lived inside the same city. It took many misguided open mics and weird basement readings to find the people I wanted to be around.
In some ways, I’d say this year is the first year I’ve been asked to read at series that I didn’t have to creepily solicit (although I still creepily solicit). It wasn’t until my first chapbook came out last fall that people gradually stopped introducing me as “that guy who runs Moonshot“. Every day is baby steps, is one poem after the other. I think it’s important to highlight these gooey ‘writer journeys’ we hear about over and over again to show how people find their way to meeting writers and literary scenes they care about. It’s hard when you’re on the outside and suspect others are members of a literary cabal who are only interested in helping each other out. I’ve been there. I’m still there, in many ways. Not everyone who lives in NYC is geographically self-obsessed or entitled or had everything fall into their lap instantly. Does this even need to be said? It took five years just to reach a point where the lit projects I’ve started here (or been involved with) have been around long enough where it people come up to me and say they know who I am, what I do. It hasn’t gotten less jarring yet—maybe one day it will.
Perhaps this is why it’s equally surprising to find myself on a list called 23 People Who Will Make You Care About Poetry in 2013. It’s even stranger to watch people—in response to this list—echo criticisms I’ve made of NYC’s poetry scene—white, exclusive, cliquey, centered around itself. Except, in this case, I was included on an exclusionary list. I’m now that person. Numbered lists are incredibly tricky to begin with because they seem so incredibly final, as if there are no others. Here are the 23 chosen ones. There is a glib part of me that wants to say we should take these kinds of lists with a grain of salt, that wants to point out that media sites have to churn out dozens of these insipid listicles per day—but I know that will incise—and I recognize that it’s my privilege that would allow me such flippancy.
While it’s slightly more understandable for a New York media outlet to select primarily New York writers for such a blanket feature—it becomes incredibly problematic when we talk about how most of them are white. Especially if we’re going to excuse someone for geographically limiting their selection pool to one of the most diverse cities in the world. It would be very disingenuous to pretend that I have no advantages living here, as a white male. There are microaggressions I’ve never had to face that have made it easier to build a career path, to try to foster a community in an attempt to be inclusive. I am not trying to discount my privilege by telling my story, but I am trying to add perspective on this narrative that everyone in New York thinks lesser of people who live outside of the place we have chosen to call home—or this idea that everyone here has some MFA-mentor hookin’ it up behind the scenes. I certainly don’t. But I do recognize there are people who work just as hard as I do, have been at it for longer, and have never been holla’d at like this—for reasons from geography to the color of skin. My five years in the trenches to get a shout-out is someone else’s ten years, twenty years. The very definition of white privilege allows me the luxury of being nescient of just how many situations my whiteness has aided me in.
We should not discount the people on this list’s achievements. BUT—there are many, many other poets, who are not in their 20s or early 30s , who are writers of color, who are outside of NYC, who are not cis, who are just as relevant. Hell, who are more relevant—there’s definitely a few dozen people I would put before myself. More of those people should have been on the same list in the first place. A follow-up does not erase the feeling of being excluded, but it does keep the conversation going. A numbered list, by its very nature, is always going to leave someone feeling left out because it has a digit where the recommendations end. The very notion of making a list and convincing X person why they should read Y is challenging—goddamn—convincing people to read poets in the first place is challenging. I digress… I would rather have 23 additional suggestions than just leave things where they are. I do not condone a list’s lack of diversity simply by being on it—but I understand how these things come to be. I mess up sometimes—often by my silence implying consent. We all do this. We make lazy decisions; we don’t do our homework. We don’t speak up. It’s easy to pick up pitchforks & torches on the internet. Sometimes it’s tougher to try to educate someone else—especially when you find yourself repeating the same rhetoric over and over and over and want to tell people—fuck it—you have Google—educate yourself.
We all have a natural tendency to hang around people that look like us, that talk like us, that read like us, that live in the same areas as we do. This is a given. If you’re only reading fiction or neglecting experimental poetry or not reading your peers or only reading white people or straight people or dead people or people who live in a 50 mile radius of you—this is a problem. But. It is not expected of you (or it shouldn’t be) to have read these different lives, cultures, perspectives all at once. But you should start now. You should have started yesterday. You should make an effort to experience perspectives other than your own. I am making my own list of 23 people who make me care about poetry in 2013. I am listing where people currently reside not because where you live becomes you (to tie someone to their current location is incredibly reductive and assuming)—but because such geography is relevant to the conversation at hand. I have spent much of this year reading primarily books from small presses, so my recs reflect this.
These are 23 additional recommendations. These are not check boxes; these are humans who have inspired me with their writing and/or commitment to furthering a literary community at some moment this year. There are more—I am still learning. This is not where the story ends.
Saeed Jones (San Francisco, California)
Who? There’s a reason Saeed’s Twitter handle is @theferocity. Each of his poems manages to balance a tight control of language up against a scorching hymn of emotions. My favorite poem from his collection When the Only Light is Fire is “Boy in Stolen Evening Gown” where burning loneliness is costumed in drag. “…Ask me/and I’ll slip out of this softness, the dress/a black cloud at my feet./I could be the boy wearing nothing,/a negligee of gnats.” Saeed’s first full-length collection, Prelude to Bruise, will be coming out from Coffee House Press in 2016.
Why? If you read the title poem from Saeed’s upcoming collection (link below) you will see the complexity of what he is juggling in his condensed poem—the dehumanizing history of the word “boy”, racial politics of the South, queer BDSM dialogue juxtaposed against the institution of slavery. The single-syllable sounds thumping like a rabbit heart. Saeed’s poetry always gives me so much to ruminate over politically—while never sacrificing lush language. Not only does he address a complex identity through such beautifully evocative poetry—he edits BuzzfeedLGBT & creates photoessays such as “Below The Belt: 15Days In The Queer South“.
More: “Prelude to a Bruise”
LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs (New York, NY)
Who? Writer, vocalist, and sound artist LaTasha is the author of TwERK (Belladonna*) and three chapbooks, which include Ichi- Ban andNi-Ban (MOH Press), Manuel is destroying my bathroom (Belladonna*), and the album Televisíon.
Why? For starters, her new book TwERK, is an explosion of sound, dialects, multi-faceted jeweled tongues, a roundhouse kick of wordplay. It’s a conversation in a dream language from the future. I want to turn every IS POETRY DEAD? head in the direction of LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’ linguistic gymnastics. Joyelle McSweeney discusses one of my favorite examples (and the opening poem) from TwERKat Montevidayo, the seamless integration of problematic pop figure icons against sound—Dragonball Z’s Mr. Popo hollaaas at Pokémon’s Jynx, both of whom were represented in blackface in their respective animated series—although the poem being referenced fiercely flies between many cultures.
“… a zesty and ribald momentum opens its throat for a wash of dubious figures from global culture, and the page is both a party and a scrum: Zwarte Piet, the blackface figure and holdover from colonialism who accompanies Santa Claus in Dutch culture; Jynx and Mr. (here ‘Mista’) Popo, literally cartoonish icons of blackness from Japanese anime culture who in their ‘Mista’-ness also call up the history of such images in Western culture…”
Joyelle McSweeney (South Bend, Indiana)
Who? If I’m going to evoke Joyelle’s name, it is better not to leave her unmentioned, as her work has been hugely inspirational to me this year. Joyelle is half of the power-couple (alongside Johannes Göransson) who runs Action Books and Montevidayo. She is the author of the books of poetry The Red Bird, The Commandrine and Other Poems, and the novels Flet and Nylund the Sarcographer. She teaches at the University of Notre Dame.
Why? I was fortunate enough to see The Contagious Knives performed this year, which is a verse-play (or, necro-pastoral farce) fromPercussion Grenade. In The Contagious Knives, Louis Braille is transformed into a cunty genderqueer diva with a diadem of awls & knives looping his/her golden curls. Other nefarious figures of myth and reality gather alongside Braille in this purgatorio (although perhaps I should say inferno)—Swan, Devil, Narcissus—and most intriguing—Bradley Manning and Lynndie England (yes, the same). Words pop and explode in toxicity in this play of violence and vengeance. The Contagious Knives is the must-read play of 2013 for anyone overwhelmed with war crimes, shadow internet activity, fracking gag orders, gasping birds drenched in oil.
Rushelle Frazier (Southeast Tennessee)
Who? I met Rushelle around six years ago when we were both living in Savannah, GA. She ran an open mic called “Frantic Rabbit” (now defunct) at a local coffee shop. Every week she carried this big ole plastic tub filled with chapbooks she had collected from her travels and encouraged random stragglers in the coffee shop to find something to read at the mic. She brought in featured readers from all over the South. She made people who didn’t give a fuck about poetry give a fuck about poetry. When it was slow, she would read her own poems—always incredibly sincere and paced with a rooted understanding of music and humanity.
Why? So many people—especially those in NYC or those in MFA programs—get wrapped up in the careerism of poetry: the publishing, the contests, the name-dropping. I am not exempt. Rushelle represents something punk, something different to all the ‘poetry establishment’—someone who now lives in the middle of Tennessee writing poems, binding her own chapbooks, and is always in it for the community, for the act of writing, for the gathering of the tribes.
Lara Glenum (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
Who? Lara is the author of POP CORPSE! (Action Books, 2013), THE HOUNDS OF NO (Action Books, 2005), and MAXIMUM GAGA (Action Books, 2009). She is also the co-editor of GURLESQUE, an anthology of contemporary women’s poetry and visual art. She is an incredibly important poetic voice who is able to maneuver playfulness and brutality.
Why? Although some might disagree, I think POP CORPSE! stands to be a perfect gateway to connect younger readers to contemporary poetry. If I were a high school senior in AP Lit, this shit would be my bible. Tumblr-obsessed teenagers who are still gagging over #seapunk are gonna OMG at the titty emoticons & post-gender gossip as Lara slings between slang and song. I saw Lara perform part of this Hans Christian Andersen (MER-MUTILATION REMIX) for the first time at AWP. She was in a room full of people who were just probably waiting to read their Copper Canyon books, or whatever. She was dressed as a shiny mermaid and explaining how the main character in her deep-sea post-apocalyptic erotic opera, XXX, has no snatch. She lit up the room with her performance of the grotesque. I love how unafraid she is to both queer up gender & to just have a bit of fun with poetic pictographs. Lara’s refreshing voice has given me so much to think about, especially when it comes to examining gender in contemporary poetry.
More: Poems at La Petite Zine
Kate Durbin (Los Angeles, California)
Who? Kate Durbin is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. She is author of The Ravenous Audience (Akashic Books), E! Entertainment(Insert Blanc Press/Diamond Edition), and Kept Women (Insert Blanc Press/Parrot Series) a series of poem-rooms inspired by the rooms in the Playboy mansion and Hugh Hefner’s live-in girlfriends. She is the founding editor of Gaga Stigmata, a technological journal that critically-creatively participates in the cultural project of shock pop phenomenon Lady Gaga. Her Tumblr project, Women as Objects, re-blogs the notes and graphics of teen girls, often archiving the literal objectification of women.
Why? Whenever an international tragedy strikes, as a general rule of thumb, celebrity gossip is featured a peg higher on the media hierarchy. Even on lit websites, the lists of the cutest poets and Google Docs of who-slept-with-who outrank thoughtful criticism in terms of comments and reblogging. Our culture reflectively scorns the same concept of celebrity that we elevate—but it’s a very legitimate part of media and something worth exploring in wake of one IS POETRY DEAD? article after another. Kate Durbin is that explorer, who keeps poetry alive for me in many ways with her art/poetry projects that deal with fame and the roles of women in media. Whatever is happening in the world, Kate is already operating on the next level. Even simply by re-tweeting celebrities on her personal account, she gives me a lens to examine and digest the monster of fame. Concept aside, The Ravenous Audience—while not her latest book—is one of my favorite reads from the past couple of years and one that recalls Carter’s The Bloody Chamber in its woods witch storytelling and sharp, visceral language.
More: Poems at Diode
Eugenia Leigh (New York, New York)
Who? Eugenia is the author of the upcoming Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014), which was a finalist for both the National Poetry Series and the Yale Series of Younger Poets. I actually discovered Eugenia’s work through a submission to Moonshot. Her poem, “The Exchange,” ended up being one of my favorite poems we published in the previous issue. Her work is divine both in its fantastic delivery and its literal allegory to deity.
Why do they matter in 2013? I personally enjoy biblical narratives, longer work that takes on a scriptural form. Eugenia’s work flows effortlessly between the contemporary/colloquial while referencing Judeo-Christian figures in the process. Although I have to wait one more year, I’m incredibly excited to read Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows.
More: poem at berfrois
CAConrad (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Who? “The son of white trash asphyxiation, my childhood included selling cut flowers along the highway for my mother and helping her shoplift.” This is how CA’s bio begins—and captures both the wonderment and candor of his poetry.
Why? I, unknowingly, first heard CA read from The Book of Frank at the Rainbow Book Fair a few years ago. I was literally walking up the stairs when I saw this figure with a dangling amethyst necklace shout, “why doesn’t my son have a cunt!?” I didn’t know what was going on—that I was hearing a line from an opening poem of a book that I would fiercely come to love—so I quietly sat on the floor, and I listened. A little bit later, someone recommended me this surreal book that reads like a journal of one lucid dream after the other. As I came in the middle of a reading, I had no context for this work, for CA, for this boy called Frank. It soon clicked. CA’s work is vast and magical and marvelous and always surprising. It reminds me that humans can cruel, but it also reminds me how poetry can ensorcel and levitate, help the mind escape from the body. As someone interested in process, I’ve also been very inspired by CA’s (Soma)tic Poetry Exercises—”an engagement with the thing of things and the spirit of things”. How immersion leads to creation.
Ocean Vuong (New York, New York)
Who? Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Ocean Vuong was raised by women (a single mother, aunts, and a grandmother) in housing projects throughout Hartford, Connecticut and received his B.A. in English Literature from Brooklyn College. He is the author of two chapbooks: No (YesYes Books, 2013) and Burnings (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010). He reads chapbook submissions as the associate editor of Thrush Press.
Why? I actually saw Ocean read at the same reading I saw CA read at originally, finding his poetry to be tender and engaging. And I bought Burnings alongside Saeed’s because I was poking around Sibling Rivalry and it felt purposeful to buy two books that evoke the image of fire. Sometimes the discovery of poetry is that organic—the process of hearing someone read a few poems and going out to purchase their book is a testament unto itself. Burnings is an account of personal history, one that describes old photographs, memories of refugee, awakenings of sexuality. Vuong’s poetry balances tenderness with a fierce momentum that completely sucks you in.
More: “Prayer for the Damned”
Gianna Russo (Tampa, Florida)
Who? Gianna is the author of Moonflower (Kitsune Books, 2011) as well as the founding editor of YellowJacket Press, currently Florida’s only publisher of poetry chapbook manuscripts—and full disclosure—who my first chapbook came out through. She is bombastic, unpretentious, and the most passionate cheerleader for poetry (especially the teaching it) that I have ever come across. Her work is rooted in the narrative of central Florida—subtropical flora&fauna, the smoke of Cuban cigars, all the storytelling that happens in that dark heat.
Why? Perhaps it would come off as slightly hyperbolic to say that Gianna has nearly-single-handedly kept poetry alive in Florida, but this is something I believe. You can’t shake a stick in that state without hitting a poet who studied with her, who knows her or of her. There are of course folks like this in all those regions that are not thought of when we speak of places that foster literary community—I would like to know more of them. Florida gets passed around the internet as a running gag, even having its own tag on fark.com. Florida has also been prevalent more than ever as a discussion topic through many troubling high-profile cases this year. This is where I grew up, and a place I encourage poets to research if they are sick of their own geographies. Gianna offers a legitimate taste of a regional flavor that so few people know first-hand.
Eduardo Corral (New York, New York)
Who? Eduardo C. Corral is a CantoMundo fellow. He holds degrees from Arizona State University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Slow Lightning, his first book of poems, was selected by Carl Phillips as the 2011 winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. The recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, he currently lives in New York City, teaching at Columbia University.
Why? I have to admit, I sometimes avoid the big award-winning books. Perhaps I’m afraid they’ll be too safe, too appealing to everyone in a way that leaves me craving more? Slow Lightning is not that book—it is beyond. The title is perfect in a way that around every corner came a gradual shock—Chicano slang woven into English, a thirst for men juxtaposed against the love for one’s father. Lyrical, sobering, galvanizing. I don’t want to spoil it, but that part of “Border Triptych” about the woman who puts the gelatin powder in her underwear—oh my god. Harrowing.
Marisa Crawford (Brooklyn, New York)
Who? Marisa Crawford is a writer, poet and editor living in Brooklyn, NY. She is the author of the poetry collection The Haunted House(Switchback Books, 2010) and the chapbook 8th Grade Hippie Chic (Immaculate Disciples Press, 2013). Her writing has appeared inFanzine, Delirious Hem, HER KIND, Action Yes, Black Clock, Columbia Poetry Review and other publications.
Why? I was thinking of Marisa as I wrote about Eduardo just now—how it felt weird to put up “New York” just because that’s where someone resides—how it feels like “New York” swallows and becomes an identity that erases the past. Marisa, who has her ‘poetry roots’ in San Francisco, is not one to have the past erased so easily. Marisa’s work is rooted in recollection. As internet culture continuously closes the gap to where we’re pining for things that were only 5 years ago, we’re encountering an increasing confrontation of nostalgia, and we’re not always sure how to deal with it. Marisa pulls the veil back in her book The Haunted House that pull the trigger as if poems were scent memory. I never had a girlhood, but Marisa’s work makes me feel like I’m passing heart-o-grams in the back of a classroom or standing alone in an unlit bathroom at a slumber party chanting “Bloody Mary” over and over. But not all these telephone games are dear—some of them are dark, recalling uncomfortable moments of adolescent sex, weird moments that only make sense through the passage of time, if barely. Like the best urban legends, Marisa’s work makes you want to read more and more, pass the chain letter on.
More: Four Poems at Fanzine
TC Tolbert (Tucson, Arizona)
Who? TC Tolbert is a genderqueer, feminist poet and teacher committed to social justice. S/he believes in working across communities – building bridges wherever possible. TC earned his MFA in Poetry from UA in 2005 and currently teaches Composition at The University of Arizona and Pima Community College. S/he is also the Assistant Director of Casa Libre en la Solana. S/he spends his summers leading wilderness trips for Outward Bound.
Why? One of my friends was incredibly pumped to purchase a trans* anthology from Nightboat Books at AWP and pushing me to check it out. This book ended up being Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry & Poetics. TC is one of the editors who put together this book that features the work of “55 trans and genderqueer poets as well as a poetic statement by each author describing the relationship between the author’s experience of the body and their experience of writing poetry”. While the very existence of this anthology in the first place is enough to climb on the roof and scream YES. YES. YES. this led me to hunt down TC’s work. I am especially fond of this poem “What Is the Formula For a Line?” over at Drunken Boat, with its distortion of names, exploration of gender through a check list.
More: Poems at Drunken Boat
Ntozake Shange (Brooklyn, New York)
Who? Ntozake Shange is an American playwright, and poet. As a self-proclaimed black feminist, she addresses issues relating to race and feminism in much of her work. Shange is best known for the Obie Award-winning play for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.
Why? As I’m talking about people that make me care about poetry in 2013, it makes sense to be referencing books that came out this year, last year, the year before. But only reading your hyper-contemporary peers, as I said, is not a healthy diet of language. I’ve been thinking of performance, how the lines between new media, installation, poetry, and performance art are gradually blurring more and more. I’ve been thinking about the distortion of gender, of my own whiteness, fashion in poetry—outfits as objects. There are many things going on in my head that lead me to pull Shange from my shelf again. It is difficult to talk about for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf in such a small space because it does so much, on so many levels. It also may seem dubious for a white dude to sound so sincere about for colored girls…, but this was a book that blew doors open for me in terms of style, voice, slang and performance as a teenager. Anyone considering taking on multiple characters or poem-as-physical-space or even just storytelling in their own work should consider re-reading (or reading for the first time!) this seminal ‘choreopoem’. Also, please, if you have ever been scorned by a lover who has continuously failed you—read “no assistance” into a mirror (“this note is attached to a plant/i’ve been waterin since the day i met you/you may water it/yr damn self”). You will feel better.
Ai (Stillwater, Oklahoma)
Who? In the process of returning to older books that examine character and voice, I began pulling Ai down from my shelf again. Although she lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma until her death in 2010, Ai had a complicated identity that marries the phantasmagoric quality of her poems. Born in Texas, she described herself as half Japanese, Choctaw-Chickasaw, Black, Irish, Southern Cheyenne, and Comanche. She legally changed her name to the Japanese word for “love”, saying this—”Ai is the only name by which I wish, and indeed, should be known. Since I am the child of a scandalous affair my mother had with a Japanese man she met at a streetcar stop, and I was forced to live a lie for so many years, while my mother concealed my natural father’s identity from me, I feel that I should not have to be identified with a man, who was only my stepfather, for all eternity.”
Why? Her books held names like Vice or Sin or Dread or Greed or Cruelty, and other similar titles of despair. She is known for crafting dramatic monologues where the speakers, often marginalized and/or violenced, are delivering a bleak tale. Whole fiction writers are given the mercy of being allowed to disassociate from their creations, poets are often always conflated with the narrative voice. Perhaps it’s that pesky voice saying you, you, you. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been attracted to her work again. I also always personally felt that because she existed outside certain schools of poetry it felt like her work itself exists on an island, and is sometimes (unfortunately) neglected for that same reason. She is a chameleon in poetry, with her speakers being incredibly famous, unknown, male, female, soaked in evil, innocent. Her work wasn’t just one conceptual project after the other—it was an unremittingly austere world she created and left behind—one the deserves to be examined again and again.
More: at the Poetry Foundation
Tytti Heikkinen (Hämeenlinna, Finland)
Who? Heikkinen (b. 1969) is a Finnish poet. She has studied contemporary literature and Finnish literature at the University of Helsinki, and her poems have been translated to Russian, French, and Italian.
Why? While making this list I keep thinking how my repertoire is severely lacking contemporary, non-American poets who are in translation. This year, Niina Pollari, an incredibly talented poet in her own right, translated Tytti’s work into English. These collected works were released through Action Books as The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal. As Niina describes in her translator’s note, “Heikkinen works by search engine, culling material from the e-primordial ooze of the internet using specific searches and then curating poems from the pages and pages of results.” In a post-flarf world, one’s reaction might be to step away from the concept of google collage. However, all of these poems read seamlessly, especially Heikkinen’s “Fatty-XL” series, where this consolidated bloggy character overshares and narrates in her netspeak language. The conversational tone and teenage error is believable, completely seducing.
More: Poems at Brooklyn Rail
Jennifer Tamayo (New York, New York)
Who? Jennifer Tamayo is the author of the collection of poems and art work, Red Missed Aches Read Missed Aches Red Mistakes Read Mistakes and POEMS ARE THE ONLY REAL BODIES, now out from Bloof Books.
Why? Jennifer Tamayo’s work is filled with discord—cacophonous music. I love how alarmed I feel when swinging between her lines that feel both spontaneous and deliberate. Her poems, which wonderfully lack the glibness often associated with the ultra-contemporary, feel more patchworked, and are beguiling because I can’t quite make out how they came together—but each one is rhapsodic…deliciously surly. On top of this all, she is an amazing performer who rips poetry out of the pages and places it into the air.
More: Poems at Poemeleon
Nicole Steinberg (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Who? Nicole Steinberg is the editor of Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens (SUNY Press) and the author of the chapbook Birds of Tokyo (dancing girl press). Her first full-length collection, Getting Lucky, will be out this fall through Spooky Girlfriend Press. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as No Tell Motel, H_NGM_N, BOMB, Barrow Street, Barrelhouse, and elsewhere.
Why? I have been very excited about Nicole’s Getting Lucky series of poems for awhile. “Getting Lucky, is a collection of sonnets culled from the editorial copy of Lucky, a newsstand publication about shopping and style. By adopting the magazine’s gendered and glossy language, Nicole’s poems explore contemporary ideals of beauty and femininity, as well as female-specific narratives we see in media, culture, and everyday life.” Each poem, which pulls a woman’s name from Lucky, is like a Cornell box with its slick, collaged ad copy boasting un-meltable hair, black pearl lips, and rompers. By re-appropriating text from a style mag, we gain sort of a tongue-in-cheek perspective, a controlled way to dissect gender.
More: Poems at H_NGM_N
Rauan Klassnik (Kirkland, Washington)
Who? He is the author of The Moon’s Jaw & Holy Land, both from Black Ocean.
Why? If I’m going to talk about Cornell it makes since to reference Rauan’s prose poems, each like a tiny, dimly lit room with the air running out. Birds and rabbits and flowers are placed beside gore and threats of war and yearning perversity. Although the words feel familiar, they are always unraveling in new ways—each poem feeling more surprising than the last—like an ‘internal gasp’ —and then the real one.
Daniel Borzutzky (Chicago, Illinois)
Who? Daniel Borzutzky grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, of Chilean heritage. He has published a collection of fiction, Arbitrary Tales(2005), a poetry chapbook, Failure in the Imagination (2007), and two full-length volumes of poetry, The Ecstasy of Capitulation (2007), and The Book of Interfering Bodies (2011).
Why? I was only exposed to Daniel’s poetry as recently as this summer, hearing him read labyrinthine poems filled with song and politic. His work is stirring and vibrant, violent and winding, manic and satirical. Each poem flows with the full-force of visceral language while tackling power plays.
More: at the Poetry Foundation
Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Fredonia, New York)
Who? Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of three poetry collections: LUCKY FISH (2011), winner of the gold medal in Poetry from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize for Independent Books; AT THE DRIVE-IN VOLCANO (2007), winner of the Balcones Prize; and MIRACLE FRUIT (2003), winner of the Tupelo Press Prize, ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award, the Global Filipino Award and a finalist for The Glasgow Prize and the Asian American Literary Award. Her first chapbook, FISHBONE (2000), won the Snail’s Pace Press Prize.
Why? What vibrant, tightly tucked words! While I just got around to reading At the Drive-In Volcano this year, I was pulled in by all the popping colors, flavors, textures. While most of the poems are quite a bit lighter than my other recommendations, they never become precious—in fact, they build up and becoming increasingly necessary with each passing read. Each construction and narration is ripe and charming with clean, surprising word choices that appeal to every sense.
Cathy Park Hong (Bronxville, New York)
Who? Cathy Park Hong’s first book, Translating Mo’um, was published in 2002 by Hanging Loose Press. Her second collection, Dance Dance Revolution, was chosen for the Barnard Women Poets Prize and was published in 2007 by W.W. Norton and her third book of poems, Engine Empire, was published in May 2012 by W.W. Norton.
Why? I recently saw Cathy Park Hong give an energetic presentation at the New Museum where she specifically talked about transcribing Richard Pryor stand-up routines and experimenting with working them into her poetry. She gave me new modes to think about race and sexuality and how the two intersect with humor. And what more, how comedy is married to poetry and performance. Even the New York Times (not that the Times is necessarily relevant when it comes to poetry) ran an article about how Jack Handey’s work relates to contemporary poetry. This is not to say that such a proposition describes her work as a whole, but only that it gave me much to care about where poetry is concerned this year—propelled me. Hong’s work itself carries an amalgam of linguistics—Korean & English seamlessly intertwined with slang and vibrating vowels—splitting and furious and beautiful and monstrous. Her poetry is critical, sharp, and exploding with an array of language like none you’ve ever heard.
More: poems in Octopus
Chelsey Minnis (Boulder, Colorado)
Who? Chelsey Minnis is the author of several collections of poetry, including Zirconia (2001), which won the Alberta Prize; Bad Bad(2007); and Poemland (2009).
Why? I almost neglected this—which is strange, because Minnis’s work has hands down been the biggest inspiration to me in 2013. It’s stupid to think that because someone’s work has become important to you that others inherently are familiar—or worse—to not bring up something because of that gut-feeling that you’re late to a party and wearing a really uncute dress and about to bring up a topic that’s been discussed to death. Such a topic as…poetry. Minnis’s work is all-too-aware that such a Poemland exists. Her poems are mink, a glistening cocktail, a loaded gun amongst a variety of other dazzling props, taking pot shots at po’ establishment, mentors, style&form—all with an unwavering declaration and decadence. I am gagging over her brilliant word choices, her ‘trademark ellipses’, her dissection of this poetry culture we have built up around us. When I first read Bad Bad this year I wanted to throw it in the train tracks at my subway stop. That’s how much of a reaction it got out of me. But. I kept thinking about it again and again, picked it up, read the Prefaces over and over. It’s the only time this year I drunkenly barricaded my apartment door to read non-poet friends a poem that they absolutely needed to hear. If that’s not caring about poetry, I don’t know what is.
JD Scott’s chapbook, Night Errands (Yellow Jacket Press) was the winner of the 2012 Peter Meinke Prize for Poetry. His second chapbook, Funerals & Thrones, is forthcoming from Birds of Lace. He edits Moonshot from his home in Brooklyn, New York.