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Favorite Debut Poetry Collections: National Poetry Month 2018

For each day in April, we Tweeted a debut poetry collection that we love. Here’s the full list, with links where you can purchase the books. Read and enjoy!

1) Rummage by Ife-Chudeni Oputa (Little A, 2017)

“Her poems explore the eternal themes of the human condition—nature, origin, shame, identity, desire, mortality—with sensitivity and specificity. They illuminate and interrogate the ways that her characters inflict and experience pain, ultimately revealing how we must all face our shame in order to grow.”

2) I Know Your Kind by William Brewer (Milkweed Editions, 2017)

“Uncanny, heartbreaking, and often surreal, I Know Your Kind is an unforgettable elegy for the people and places that have been lost to opioids.”

3) Sympathetic Little Monster by Cameron Awkward-Rich (Ricochet Editions, 2016)

“As much about stillness as it is about transition, Sympathetic Little Monster is at once analytical, magical, confessional, dismissive, but ultimately, and simply, a collection breaking new ground in Trans, Queer, Black, and American Letters”
  — Danez Smith.

4) Tenderling by Emily Corwin (Stalking Horse Press, 2018)

“With these capacious and surprising poems, Corwin has created a full-color, fur-lined fairy tale for the 21st century” — Adrian Matejka

5) Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey (Ecco, 2017)

“Exploring notions of race, sexuality, gender, myth, history, and embodiment with profound understanding, Sealey’s is a poetry that refuses to turn a blind eye or deny. It is a poetry of daunting knowledge.”

6) Seam by Tarfia Faizullah (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014)

“In poems made more harrowing for what’s not said—the poet’s elegant and wise restraint—we confront the past and its aftermath in the lives of women interrupted by violence and brutality and loss . . . Faizullah is a poet of brave and unflinching vision and Seam is a beautiful and necessary book.” — Natasha Trethewey

7) Gilt by Raena Shirali (YesYes Books, 2017)

“Raena Shirali is a poet who keeps asking what poems can actually do, and these formally inventive lyrics ask for activity, for travel. Her comment on culture, on identity, on justice is her comment on poetry. It is not fixed; and if it is, it shouldn’t be. Gilt is a book of danger and sarcasm and heart.” — Jericho Brown

8) Please by Jericho Brown (New Issues, 2008)

Please explores the points in our lives at which love and violence intersect. Drunk on its own rhythms and full of imaginative and often frightening imagery, Please is the album playing in the background of the history and culture that surround African American/male identity and sexuality.”

9) Virgin by Analicia Sotelo (Milkweed Editions, 2018)

“In Virgin, Sotelo walks the line between autobiography and mythmaking, offering up identities like dishes at a feast. These poems devour and complicate tropes of femininity—of naiveté, of careless abandon—before sharply exploring the intelligence and fortitude of women, how ‘far & wide, / how dark & deep / this frigid female mind can go.'”

10) Wild Hundreds by Nate Marshall (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015)

Marshall’s poetry offers an insider’s perspective that asks the reader to parse the sociopolitical systems that imperil black lives—not through abstract ideology, but through authentically rendered eyes: ‘every kid that’s killed is one less free lunch,/ a fiscal coup. welcome to where we from.'” — Publishers Weekly

11) Teeth by Aracelis Girmay (Curbstone Books, 2007)

“Stunning, highly original poems that celebrate the richness of the author’s multicultural tradition, Teeth explores loves, wars, wild hope, defiance, and the spirit of creativity in a daring use of language and syntax.”

12) Render / An Apocalypse by Rebecca Gayle Howell (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013)

“In every one of these haunting and hungry poems, Howell draws a map for how to enter the heat and dew of the human being, naked and facing the natural world, desperate to feel. I did not realize while reading Render how deeply I was handing everything over.” — Nikky Finney

13) Hum by Jamaal May (Alice James, 2013)

“In May’s debut collection, poems buzz and purr like a well-oiled chassis. Grit, trial, and song thrum through tight syntax and deft prosody. From the resilient pulse of an abandoned machine to the sinuous lament of origami animals, here is the ever-changing hum that vibrates through us all, connecting one mind to the next.”

14) Threat Come Close by Aaron Coleman (Four Way Books, 2018)

“Coleman’s poems comment on and interrogate the meaning of home and identity for a black man in America, past and present. Guided by a belief system comprising an eclectic array of invented saints — Trigger, Seduction, Doubt and Who — Coleman’s quest locates new ways of being in the natural world where “[t]he trees teach me how to break and keep on living.”

15) Afterland by Mai Der Vang (Graywolf Press, 2017)

Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture’s ongoing resilience in exile.”

16) Unaccompanied by Javier Zamora (Copper Canyon Press, 2017)

“Javier Zamora was nine years old when he traveled unaccompanied 4,000 miles, across multiple borders, from El Salvador to the United States to be reunited with his parents. This dramatic and hope-filled poetry debut humanizes the highly charged and polarizing rhetoric of border-crossing; assesses borderland politics, race, and immigration on a profoundly personal level; and simultaneously remembers and imagines a birth country that’s been left behind.

17) Driving without a License by Janine Joseph (Alice James Books, 2016)

“Through her variety of lines, of old and new forms, and of voices adopted and inhabited, Joseph, herself Filipina-American, does justice to the raw emotions around immigration with verve.” — Publishers Weekly

18) The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart by Gabrielle Calvocoressi (Persea Books, 2005)

“Whether in the title poem, spoken by those who lived longingly and vicariously through the famous missing aviator, or in “Circus Fire, 1944,” which intimately recounts a haunting New England tragedy, Gabrielle Calvocoressi uses her prodigious gifts of imagination and empathy to give voice to the hope and heartbreak of small-town America.”

19) Bridled by Amy Meng (LSU Press, 2018)

“This is a debut collection that meticulously, mercilessly strips a collapsing relationship for its parts. Dissecting the performativity and vulnerability of a person in love with a singular precision, these poems are marked by an unflinching drive to confront and question the most troubling parts of love.”

20) Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis (Knopf, 2015)

“Altogether new, open, experimental and ground-breaking, Lewis privileges real life in all its complications, surprises and triumphs over the frames that have locked down the scale of black womanhood.” — Claudia Rankine

21) Cenzontle by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (BOA Editions, 2018)

“Castillo resists resignation to silence; his poems embody a belief in art’s transformative ability. Lush musicality renders agricultural labor, corporeal punishment, and romantic difficulties beautiful.” — Publishers Weekly

22) Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen (LSU Press 2013)

“The liberations of tongue, word, and conception held in these poems restore the possibility-sense that’s as essential to us as oxygen, when a person stands in the chambers of unacceptable loss.” — Jane Hirshfield

23) The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded by Molly McCully Brown (Persea, 2017)

This is nothing less than a revelatory debut that reveals how to stitch something undeniably beautiful out of immense pain and solitude.” — Ada Limón

24) Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar (Alice James Books, 2017)

“The struggle from late youth on, with and without God, agony, narcotics and love is a torment rarely recorded with such sustained eloquence and passion as you will find in this collection.” — Fanny Howe

25) Discography by Sean Singer (Yale University Press, 2002)

“Playful, experimental, jazz-influenced, the poems in this book delight in sound and approach the more abstract pleasures of music.”

26) Landscape with Headless Mama by Jennifer Givhan (LSU Press, 2016)

“Pardon me, but I’m shivering a bit at my core.  These are restless, storm-hued stanzas, revelations of our dark cravings and hapless, woefully imperfect attempts at  perfect love” — Patricia Smith

27) When My Brother was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz (Copper Canyon Press, 2012)

“This debut collection is a fast-paced tour of Mojave life. In darkly humorous poems, Diaz illuminates far corners of the heart.” — Publishers Weekly

28) Breckinridge County Suite by Jon Bolton (Cummington Press, 1989)

“In his long poem “Breckinridge County Suite,” Joe Bolton juxtaposes the potential fecundity of this lush green western Kentucky landscape with the inescapable dead-ending of its poverty—the repetition of living where the living is repetitious.” — Rebecca Flannagan

29) Bestiary by Donika Kelly (Graywolf Press, 2016)

“This Bestiary swelling with swallows, centaurs, and satyrs proffers only truth. . . . Unflinching, fierce, and true.”— Booklist

30) Juvenilia by Ken Chen (Yale University Press, 2010)

“The miracle of this book is the degree to which Ken Chen manages to be both exhilaratingly modern (anti-catharsis, anti-epiphany) while at the same time never losing his attachment to voice, and the implicit claims of voice: these are poems of intense feeling. . . . Like only the best poets, Ken Chen makes with his voice a new category.” Louise Glück