Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing, Charif Shanahan (Southern Illinois UP, February)
In a geographically sprawling collection—set in Morocco, The United States, and Europe—Shanahan writes of the bond between all three regions, bonds established by the brutal legacies of slavery, colonialism, colorism, and racism. He writes through global history as well as family history as the biracial son of a black mother from Morocco and an Irish father from the US. The poems themselves are so fully thought through, poems that think and feel toward their conclusions in language that is spare and precise—and all the more emotionally rich for it. These are heavy subjects that often push to where language fails and wounds us. Yet, through these painful inheritances are legacies of love, hard-fought and hard-won: platonic, erotic, queer, and familial.
Magic City Gospel, Ashley M. Jones (Hub City, January)
Jones’s collection, Magic City Gospel, is so tender and knowing an exploration of her native Birmingham that it’s all the more impressive to remember that this is her first book. She has a knack for writing the pitch-perfect image or detail. The voice of these poems is at once warm and welcoming and clear-eyed about the historical legacies of racism and violence in Alabama. But what immediately won me over about the book is how the poems always centralize black women. These are their narratives, their songs, their joys and heartbreaks. Even when writing about the Ku Klux Klan or recipe books or male relatives, you never forget the black women who are too often forgotten.
Scale, Nathan McClain (Four Way, March)
With such vulnerability and compassion do the speakers of McClain’s poems bare themselves before the reader. With such clarity does McClain explore, dismantle, and subvert black masculinity. These poems are a welcome antidote in this climate of toxic masculinity. Self-assured and formally adept, the work is so precise and honest that even the shortest poems will leave you winded. I am in awe of the emotional work in McClain’s debut. These speakers aren’t afraid to fail even though the poems succeed.
simulacra, Airea D. Matthews (Yale UP, March)
There is so much to be excited for in Matthew’s debut collection of poetry, winner of the 2016 Yale Younger Poets Prize—for me that would be the vastness of her vision. There is nothing—no form, no subject—that is not worth consideration. Consider how the glory of opera intersects with the casual intimacy of a text message. Consider how mythology commingles with philosophy. The formal innovations support the emotional and intellectual inquiries of the poems. I love a poet whose work thinks and feels deeply but it don’t mean a thing if the work don’t sing—and trust me, Matthews has an exquisite ear. In what feels like an explosive few years in phenomenal African American poetry, this book is certainly one to remember.
A brief list of other collections to watch out for:
The End of Something, Kate Greenstreet
Music for a Wedding, Lauren Clark
Ordinary Beast, Nicole Sealey
Magdalene, Marie Howe
The January Children, Safia Elhillo
There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé, Morgan Parker
Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Kaveh Akbar
Whereas, Layli Long Soldier
Assistant Poetry Editor Derrick Austin is the author of Trouble the Water (BOA Editions 2016), selected by Mary Szybist for the 2015 A. Poulin Jr Prize. A Cave Canem fellow, Pushcart Prize and four-time Best New Poets nominee, he earned his MFA at the University of Michigan where he also earned Hopwood Awards in poetry. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2015, New England Review, Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion, Memorious, Callaloo, Nimrod, Crab Orchard Review, and other journals and anthologies. He is the 2016-2017 Ron Wallace Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing.
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