We’ve all experienced sudden changes this year. When focusing is difficult and time is moving in strange ways, poetry can be a perfect companion, offering a window into someone else’s world or reflecting your own. For readers looking to make sense of our present moment, there are no better gifts than these poetry collections.
Make Me Rain
Make Me Rain is a marvel of scale—global and local, private and political—as Nikki Giovanni invites us into her thoughts and experiences. Whether grieving personal losses or finding clever ways of expressing a shared sadness, her voice is powerful. With tributes to Toni Morrison and references to Beyonce, Barack Obama and many more, public figures become familiar ones, and individual memory blends with collective. Giovanni’s deceptively simple language contrasts with complex, at times unanswerable questions. This celebration of a strong, compassionate voice in American poetry is a great gift for any reader who needs a deep breath after watching the news.
How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons)
While better known for her novels and memoir, Barbara Kingsolver also brings her gifts of observation and reflection to her latest book of poems, How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons). The book opens with a series of how-tos (“How to Have a Child,” “How to Cure Sweet Potatoes”) and from there shifts to memory and elegy, long poems and explorations of love and loss. My favorite section is the last, “The Nature of Objects,” in which Kingsolver shows how things work, making meaning of ephemera and taking the reader on “the risky road yes taken / to desire, escape.” For a reader wanting to escape, to fly while grounded, this book is a map that offers surprise and delight.
Coming to Age
Aging and the passing of time have always been central concerns of poetry, as we witness in Coming to Age, edited by Carolyn Hopley and Mary Ann Hoberman. This anthology gathers known and beloved voices—from Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop and W.B. Yeats to Louise Gluck, Wendell Berry, Kay Ryan and Li-Young Lee—and places them in conversation, as each poem adds a new dimension to the experience of growing older. The sections move from the body to beyond it, leaving space for the particular, even as universal, shared connections are built.
When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through
Native American poetry is American poetry, and it’s anthologized for the first time in the essential When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, edited by current U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. The collection is organized both geographically and chronologically, and as we read through each region, we see the landscape emerge, a sense of place made clearer and more complicated by the range of voices present, from early lyricists to some of today’s key poets, including Natalie Diaz and Tommy Pico. It is impossible to make sense of American literature without centering and highlighting Native voices. What a gift for this book to be in the world, an invitation for so much discovery.