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How to Not Be Afraid of Everything

At a reading in 2022, I heard poet Jane Wong describe her obsession with time-lapse videos of rotting fruit. Her poetry collection, How to Not Be Afraid of Everything, is full of the physicality of food, informed by Wong’s research into the Great Leap Forward, which was a stage of Mao Zedong’s reforms that led to the starvation of 36 million Chinese people. Wong’s great-grandparents died during the Great Leap Forward, and several poems ring with their voices. In others, the speaker reckons with the contrast between the relative abundance in her life—the apples “rotting on the ground,” an egg thrown onto pavement just to hear the “sumptuous splat”—and the false promises of the American dream for herself and her parents. Lucky for me, and you, Wong has a memoir coming out this month, so you can pick up Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City when you finish her breathtaking book of poetry.

—Phoebe, Subscriptions

A Burning

Megha Majumdar’s debut was one of the most important social novels of 2020—highly political, furiously propulsive and ruthlessly unsparing—but if you, like so many readers, spent that year sticking to lighter fare, now is the time to go back and see what you missed, because A Burning still hits hard. In contemporary India, a young woman named Jivan unthinkingly voices criticism of the government in a Facebook post, and she is immediately labeled a terrorist and sent to prison, where she awaits her trial. Two other main characters provide additional perspectives on these events: the luminous wannabe Bollywood star Lovely, a transgender woman who was learning English from Jivan; and PT Sir, Jivan’s resentful former gym teacher who gets involved in nationalist politics. Each character is ambitious in their own way, but within this world marked by the tyrannies of rampant corruption, racism, poverty and inequality, their fates are often outside their control, and the few choices available to them are murky at best. This novel is a short shock that leaves a lasting burn.

—Cat, Deputy Editor

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners

Author Joanna Ho and illustrator Dung Ho each made their publishing debut in the first week of 2021 with Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, a radiant picture book that became an instant bestseller and launched both creators’ successful careers. To read it is to immediately understand why. Its first-person narrator is a girl who explores, via gorgeous, lyrical prose, how her eyes connect her to her mother, grandmother and little sister and to their shared heritage. Meanwhile, the book’s digital illustrations positively glow as every spread seems suffused with sunshine. Read this aloud to savor similes such as “my lashes curve like the swords of warriors”; then read it again and pay special attention to how the characters in every spread look at one another. You’ll see one of the most moving renderings of love made visible on the page that I’ve ever encountered. 

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

Speak, Okinawa

Elizabeth Miki Brina’s form-bending memoir starts with her personal history—contending with her mother’s alcoholism as a child, feeling ashamed of her Japanese heritage in her predominately white hometown, expanding her horizons on the West Coast as a young adult—and spirals out to engulf not only her parents’ story bu also the history of Okinawa, the island in Japan where her mother grew up before meeting Brina’s father, a white American stationed there during the Vietnam War. After years of conflict with her mother, Brina found compassion as an adult for the trauma her mother experienced when she left her homeland for a culturally and linguistically isolated life in a hostile new country. As Brina spells out Okinawa’s past, from an independent land to a pawn in Chinese-Japanese-American relations, readers get a sense of the generational trauma that has shaped her and her mother’s lives as well. It’s a story that encompasses both the broad horrors of colonialism and racism and the deeply personal details of forgiveness and familial love.

—Christy, Associate Editor

This Burns My Heart

Heartfelt and emotional, Samuel Park’s moving debut novel is a must-read for fans of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or the K-drama “Crash Landing on You.” Set in 1960s Korea, This Burns My Heart features a resourceful heroine torn between love and duty in the wake of partition. Soo-Ja meets Yul and immediately feels a connection to him—a confusing development, since she has just decided to marry another man. Unwilling to disgrace her family by going back on her promise, Soo-Ja rejects Yul to marry Min, a decision she will revisit and regret for the next 20 years. Yul and Soo-Ja see each other only periodically and usually by chance, but their fraught encounters are tense with the passion of unconsummated love. Full of poetic observations and memorable lines, This Burns My Heart will leave you pondering the “what ifs” in your own life.

—Trisha, Publisher

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! To celebrate, we’re shining a spotlight on some of our favorite stellar reads by Asian American authors.
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Promises of Gold (5.5 hours), written and narrated by José Olivarez, delivers slice-of-life poetry about growing up in Chicago with Mexican parents and finding love of every kind: familial love, easy romantic love and unspoken love from buddies who will never let you down. 

A portion of the audiobook is performed in front of a live audience, which is such a smart choice for a collection of poetry. The audience’s reactions and laughter lend a sense of community you can only get from a live reading, and Olivarez feeds off this energy, delivering a strong performance. His disarming sense of humor clears a path for him to address heavier subjects including class inequality, alcoholism and where we go when we die. He has a clear love of language but keeps his word choices simple, making this collection an accessible entry point to modern poetry. The second half of the audiobook contains a Spanish translation by David Ruano, making Promises of Gold a rewarding experience for Spanish and English speakers alike.

Also in BookPage: Read our starred review of the print edition of Promises of Gold.

A portion of the Promises of Gold audiobook is performed in front of a live audience, which is such a smart choice for a collection of poetry.
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When we think about how life will look in 10, 50 or 100 years, we might not consider the poetry that those societies will produce. But if we think about how those societies will look back at us, here in 2023, I would argue that these poetry collections are the perfect snapshots of our world. Ranging from joyous odes to lamentations, the poems in these five collections speak to us and challenge us. They provide answers to our most pressing questions when the future seems uncertain. They remind us that poetry is the only refuge from life that, upon closer examination, is actually just life itself.

★ Promises of Gold

What is love? José Olivarez has the answer in Promises of Gold. In both English and Spanish, these poems explore the facets of love that pop songs rarely do—the gritty, painful parts that everyone sweeps under the rug. In these verses, Olivarez primarily explores the presence and absence of love in Chicano and Mexican communities, creating sparkling, nostalgic portraits of family and friends. Many of the poems also have a political angle, tackling religion or masculinity and ensuring that the forces that continue to shape Mexican culture are thoroughly critiqued. This is not to say the collection is overly analytical, as it is often in Olivarez’s most earnest moments that he is able to pierce the culture, arriving straight at its heart. 

Read our review of the Promises of Gold audiobook, some of which is performed in front of a live audience.


Poetry has always existed in a state of tension: What does poetry have to look like? What should it look like? Should it rhyme? Can it be prose? In Couplets, Maggie Millner replies with a sweeping “Why does it matter?” By employing two forms, the couplet and the prose poem, Millner suggests that these questions don’t need answers and that, within uncertainty, there is room for personal complexity. A love story through and through, this collection uses poetry to document the personal struggles inherent in falling in and out of love. Sometimes love can be uplifting, giving you butterflies; other times it can be obsessive and neurotic, leading you down rabbit holes of insecurity. Millner’s words occupy both forms and feelings, giving the collection a back-and-forth, will-they-won’t-they quality. It’s in this liminal space that Millner settles, showing how writing is transformational, both for the self and the world around us. 

★ Above Ground

In Above Ground, Clint Smith proves that, in the words of William Wordsworth, “The Child is father of the Man,” as his poems explore the beauty, fear and sacredness of being a child and then raising his own. Written to and for his kids, Smith’s verses build a nonlinear narrative of his journey into fatherhood, including health difficulties and his attempts to teach his children how to exist in a troubled world. Wonder and joy are prevalent throughout the book, with Smith writing many odes to his children’s quirks and the idiosyncrasies of child rearing, including first smiles and hiccups. In a time when the future is increasingly uncertain, such a touching and profound statement on parenthood is desperately needed. Smith provides the shot in the arm, reinvigorating our ability to love and nurture.

Trace Evidence

For a second it seemed like American culture was approaching a racial reckoning. Though that moment has passed with few tangible results, Charif Shanahan takes advantage of the still-burning embers in Trace Evidence, speaking to the country in sharp, unifying language. Despite perpetual division, or perhaps because of it, Shanahan is able to produce answers to racialized questions of belonging through these poems, emphasizing how humanity goes beyond such constructions. His words are moving and muscular, with each line pulsating with wisely crafted feeling and thought. Poems like “Talking With My Boss About Diversity and Inclusion” allow Shanahan to really shine, showing not just how a person is impacted by race but also how race is shaped by all of us, individually, in every moment. 

a “Working Life”

It is important to stay happy, to maintain daily reminders of goodness and wonder, and in a “Working Life”, Eileen Myles helps us do just that. With their streamlined style and singular devotion to mundane wonder, they show how life can still be surprising despite the inevitability we may feel each day. Contradictions and coincidences, joy and despair, the intricacies of life and death are all captured in these brief, fleeting poems, told in tight verse and with some lines only a word long. They reflect how quickly time goes by and how each second provides something deep and new, creating an infinite loop of meaning—a message that is helpful and frustrating, uplifting and perplexing. Really, it’s life.

New poetry collections show the truths of our world—right here, right now.
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These six outstanding volumes of verse will remind readers of the magic of language and the marvels to be found in everyday moments.

A gift to celebrate growing older: Woman Without Shame by Sandra Cisneros

Book jacket image for Woman Without Shame by Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Without Shame is an inspiring celebration of the self. The book’s 50-plus pieces are alive with wit and wordplay, as Cisneros takes stock of the past, reflects on her Mexican American identity and ruminates on the experience of growing older. “I am Venetian, decaying splendidly. / Am magnificent beyond measure,” she writes in “At Fifty I Am Startled to Find I Am in My Splendor.”

Despite the passing years, Cisneros, now 67, displays an attitude of proud defiance. In “Canto for Women of a Certain Llanto,” she bemoans the humdrum undergarments designed for older women: “Rage, rage. Do not go into that good night / wearing sensible white or beige.” Ignited by flashes of humor, the poems in this buoyant collection find Cisneros accentuating the positive, living without regret and setting an example for us all.

A gift to provide comfort and encouragement: And Yet by Kate Baer

Book jacket image for And Yet by Kate Baer

Kate Baer shares dispatches from the domestic front in her accessible, inviting collection And Yet. In poems that explore gender dynamics and the day-to-day grind of family life, Baer’s voice is that of an intimate, confiding friend.

Across the collection, she takes her own measure as a parent and a wife, toggling between self-acceptance and self-loathing, triumphs and trials. “The weeks are long, and all my son / wants is a new skateboard and a different / mother,” she writes in “Late Summer in a Global Pandemic.” Baer rounds up snippets from horrifying headlines in “Daily Planet”: “Return to school deemed not safe for / Un-vaccinated protests rise as / Hospital beds at capacity in these seven.” To flustered mothers, the internet-weary and anyone bewildered by contemporary life, Baer’s collection will be a balm.

A gift to illuminate the poetry-writing process: Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light by Joy Harjo

Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: Fifty Poems for Fifty Years is a splendid survey of the career of three-time U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Harjo draws from a rich well of family stories and myths in poems that explore the Native American experience and emphasize the importance of place.

In many of her poems, the landscape emits a kind of language, such as in “Are You Still There?”: “hello / is a gentle motion of a western wind / cradling tiny purple flowers.” In “Somewhere,” she writes, “Our roads aren’t nice lines with numbers; they wind like bloodlines / through gossip and stories of the holy in the winds.” Notes on the genesis of each poem can be found at the end of the book.

For Harjo, “history is / everywhere,” and the past is always present. Her vision and versatility are on full display in this majestic retrospective.

A gift to spark new ways of looking at our pasts: Golden Ax by Rio Cortez

The poems in Rio Cortez’s bold new book, Golden Ax, center on a foundational concept—what the author calls “Afropioneerism” or “Afrofrontierism,” in reference to her ancestral connections to Utah and the ways in which Black people have shaped and were shaped by the region.

Throughout this ambitious collection, Cortez tangles with themes of genealogy and religion while evoking the otherworldly landscape of the American West. In “Covered Wagon as Spaceship,” she wonders “whether it’s aliens / that brought Black folks to the canyons . . . how do you come / to be where there are no others, except / science fiction?”

Through poems that probe the often painful connections between past and present, Cortez finds new ways of moving forward.

A gift to stoke a fire: The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On by Franny Choi

Book cover for The World Keeps Ending, the World Goes On

A marked attentiveness to craftsmanship and the niceties of language enlivens the poems in Franny Choi’s urgent, stirring The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On. A fearless shifter of form, Choi switches moods and modes to tackle such topics as social unrest, climate change and her Korean heritage. In “Toward Grace,” she laments the digital landscape: “Online, blondes chirp tips, spin fidgets, get follows. / Old story: unequal distribution of grace.” Formidable themes like the nature of tragedy and the human capacity for renewal lend a timelessness to her work.

Choi’s collection will awaken and inspire readers. “I want a storm I can dance in. / I want an excuse to change my life,” she writes, and her attitude is contagious.

A gift to transform darkness into light: Balladz by Sharon Olds

Book jacket image for Balladz by Sharon Olds

“Who says the forms of art require joy?” Sharon Olds asks in Balladz. While joy does feature prominently in these poems, Olds’ mood is one of unease and ire as she explores national upheaval, life during quarantine and the need for intimacy. As the collection’s title implies, the ballad is her favored form, a vessel for contemplating the past and celebrating everyday pleasures.

“Amherst Ballad 6” shows the precision of her poetic vision: “The Sill Imbued with Dust – Gave Up / A Maple Wing – of Brussels Lace.” In “Grandmother, with Parakeet,” elderly women have hair “fixed in / small breaking combers, battleship / curls like works of art.” Again and again, Olds surveys the world and, through the filter of her poems, renews it for the reader. Filled with sustaining moments of recognition, Balladz is revelatory.

For a fresh way to spread glad tidings this holiday season, we suggest a collection of poetry.
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Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes

★ Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes

To read Nicky Beer’s third collection, Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes, is to experience poetry as pageantry. In Beer’s hands, the poetic form is a staging place for spectacle, replete with provocative imagery and a brash cast of characters, including celebrities, magicians and eccentrics. “Drag Day at Dollywood” features “two dozen Dollys in matching bowling jackets, / Gutter Queens sprawled across their backs in lilac script.” Beneath their similar facades, the Dollys have distinct identities, which Beer hints at with expert economy. 

Across the collection, Beer teases out concepts of truth and self-perception. In “Dear Bruce Wayne,” the Joker—“a one-man parade / in a loud costume”—displays his genuine nature, while Batman keeps his virtuous essence under wraps: “don’t you crave, / sometimes, to be a little / tacky?” the narrator asks him. “Doesn’t the all-black / bore after a while?” Beer displays an impressive range, from full-bodied narrative poems to an innovative sequence called “The Stereoscopic Man.” Her formal shape-shifting and penchant for performance make this a magnetic collection.

Content Warning Everything

Content Warning: Everything

Content Warning: Everything, the first poetry collection from award-winning, bestselling novelist and memoirist Akwaeke Emezi, doesn’t feel like a debut. Emezi (The Death of Vivek Oji) shifts effortlessly into the mode of poet, exploring spirituality and loss in ways that feel fertile and new. 

Emezi favors flowing lines unfettered by punctuation, an approach that underscores the urgent, impassioned spirit of a poem like “Disclosure”: “when i first came out i called myself bi a queer tangle of free-form dreads my mother said i was sick and in a dark place.” A desire for release from the constraints of tradition and familial expectations animates many of the poems. As Emezi writes in “Sanctuary,” “the safest place in the world is a book / is a shifting land on top of a tree / so high up that a belt can’t reach.”

From searing inquisitions of the nature of guilt and sin to radical reimaginings of biblical figures, Emezi operates with the ease of a seasoned poet throughout this visionary book.

Time Is a Mother

Time Is a Mother

“I’m on the cliff of myself & these aren’t wings, they’re futures,” Ocean Vuong writes in his second poetry collection, Time Is a Mother. The line is one of the book’s several references to reaching an edge and then jumping or launching, with all the courage required by such an act and the possibilities that await. Born in Vietnam and brought up in the U.S., Vuong (On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous) writes with keen precision about laying claim to his own authentic life. Identity is a prominent theme in poems like “Not Even”: “I used to be a fag now I’m a checkbox. / The pen tip jabbed in my back, I feel the mark of progress.”

In extended prose pieces and short works of free verse, Vuong remembers his late mother, chronicles the search for connection and reveals a gradual emergence into true selfhood—a sort of rebirth: “Then it came to me, my life. & I remembered my life / the way an ax handle, mid-swing, remembers the tree. / & I was free.”


★ Earthborn

Earthborn, the 14th book of poetry from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carl Dennis, is a rich exploration of our relationship to nature in a time of environmental instability. Dennis addresses global warming in “Winter Gift”: “Now it seems right to ask / If winter, though barely begun, is spent, / So hesitant it appears, so frail.” In “One Thing Is Needful,” he enjoins us to act: “it’s time to invest / In the myth of a long-lost Eden.”

Religion and mortality are recurring themes, as in “Questions for Lazarus”: “I know you may not be at liberty / To offer specifics,” Dennis writes, “but can you say something / In general about how dying has altered / Your view of life?” Dennis’ poems unfold at a relaxed pace, through long lines, considered and meditative, that accommodate a fullness of thought. As he examines both our lesser drives and finer desires as custodians of the planet, he holds out hope that we can be better humans, and the sentiment makes Earthborn a uniquely comforting volume. 

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head

In Somali British author Warsan Shire’s first full-length collection, Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, she brings personal history to bear in poems that focus on the plight of refugees and the realities of being a woman in an oppressive, patriarchal society. “Mother says there are locked rooms inside all women,” she writes in “Bless This House.” “Sometimes, the men—they come with keys, / and sometimes, the men—they come with hammers.” 

Shire writes about female genital mutilation—a common practice in Somalia—in “The Abubakr Girls Are Different,” a poem that balances beauty and brutality: “After the procedure, the girls learn how to walk again, mermaids / with new legs.” The poem “Bless Grace Jones” casts the singer—“Monarch of the last word, / darling of the dark, arched brow”—as a symbol of strength, a figure to be emulated: “from you, we are learning / to put ourselves first.” Indelible imagery and notes of defiance make Shire’s book a triumphant reclamation of female identity.

National Poetry Month is a time for highlighting poetry as a platform for honoring everyday experiences and giving voice to our deepest, most vulnerable selves. For all readers who celebrate, we recommend the wide-ranging collections below, which offer poetic explorations of nature, identity and our need for connection.
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Some poets have the power to illuminate and articulate the most secluded parts of a reader’s heart and mind. In these new books, three renowned poets offer compassion and fresh perspectives on the human experience.

Such Color

Such Color: New and Selected Poems provides a welcome overview of the career of former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. The cumulative effects of history and identity are central to much of the work in this magisterial book. In poems such as “A Hunger So Honed,” Smith probes human motivation and the nature of desire: “perhaps we live best / In the spaces between loves, / That unconscious roving, / The heart its own rough animal.” 

Smith also explores Blackness as a communal experience, one that connects her with past generations and those to come. In “Photo of Sugarcane Plantation Workers, Jamaica, 1891,” she sees herself in the figures captured on camera: “I would be standing there, too. / Standing, then made to leap up / into the air. Made to curl / and heave and cringe. . . .” These are poems of possibility, as Smith considers the past while looking for a way forward.


Communication in all its varying modes is a recurring theme, from social media posts and handwritten notes to the unexpected autocorrections of text messages. “In the Grand Scheme of Things” explores the limits of language: “We say the naked eye / as if the eye could be clothed. . . . We say that’s not how / the world works as if the world works.” Throughout this wise, lucid collection, Smith captures the wonder and bewilderment that come with being human. She’s excellent company for readers in need of connection.

In Maggie Smith’s wonderfully companionable collection of poems, Goldenrod, she takes on timeless topics such as nature, history, family and memory. In “Ohio Cento,” she writes, “What we know of ourselves / gets compressed, layered. Remembering / is an anniversary; every minute a commemoration / of being.” 

Poet Warrior

In her beautifully executed memoir Poet Warrior, Joy Harjo recalls her upbringing as a member of the Muscogee tribe in Oklahoma and reflects upon her development as a writer. Harjo, who is serving her third term as U.S. Poet Laureate, grew up with an abusive stepfather and a creative, hardworking mother. She learned early on that literature could provide solace and escape, and she takes stock of her poetic influences in the book, counting Audre Lorde and N. Scott Momaday as key figures in her development.

Harjo mixes poetry and prose, history and memory, Native lore and family stories to create a collagelike account of her experiences. “As I near the last doorway of my present life, I am trying to understand the restless path on which I have traveled,” she writes. Fans of nonfiction and poetry alike will savor this sublime memoir.

Find more 2021 gift recommendations from BookPage.

Three renowned poets offer compassion and fresh perspectives on the human experience.

As National Poetry Month, April is the the ideal time to celebrate poetry. But these four collections offer poems to which you’ll return time and time again.

★ Lean Against This Late Hour

Some works of art can simultaneously break and build up your heart, a marbling of devastation and hope. Lean Against This Late Hour by Garous Abdolmalekian offers such an experience. These nuanced, nimble poems remind readers to “Take care of your sorrows.” Whether those sorrows are the public grief of war or more private, familial grief, the speaker laments that “We ought to accept / that no soldier / has ever returned / from war / alive.” These are poems written out of and for difficult days, but they succeed at a fundamental lift that feels natural, no sugar-spooning or sentimentality to be found. This lift is the hard-won hope found in self-awareness. “Staring at me from the table / an injured poem / has accepted its last lines.” Abdolmalekian is a major Iranian poet who should be a mainstay on bedside tables, syllabuses and award shortlists around the world. This is the first of his seven collections to be translated into English, and the transformation from the original Persian has been handled beautifully by translator Ahmad Nadalizadeh and novelist Idra Novey.


Jane Hirshfield’s ability to distill a single image with vodka clarity is on full display in her ninth collection, Ledger. While reading these poems, “You go to sleep in one world and wake in another,” and before you know it, hours have passed, emails have gone unanswered, and the dog is scratching at the door to be let out. But you also feel human, humane and a little less worn by the world’s swirling. During what will likely be a divisive election year, I’ll surely return over and over to poems such as “Let Them Not Say,” “Cataclysm,” “Spell to Be Said Against Hatred” and “Things Seem Strong” to remind me of the power of witnessing and the power of resisting, not surrendering to, simplifications. Whatever exquisite form these poems take, they carry a haiku spirit. Ledger moves through a public and private accounting of sorts, but instead of striving for balance, as most ledgers do, these poems herald a natural world full of shifts, tilts and breaks, where “A house seems solid, and yet, in the living, any footstep shakes it.”

Foreign Bodies

Consumption is more than a measure of economic power in Kimiko Hahn’s Foreign Bodies. It is a measure of adoration and memory and a cataloging of lives. Inspired by a museum exhibition of ingested objects, these poems explore dynamics of ownership, objectification and personal history. Whether a coin, shell, harmonica, piece of broken jewelry or whale tooth, “Each feels like a story’s climax.” Initially the mind might wander to the TV series “My Strange Addiction,” in which people eat all sorts of objects. But there is nothing sensational about the big questions these poems conjure, like “How to store the object of your ardor,” especially as the speaker grapples with understanding childhood in the rearview  mirror and the ways we nestle parents in our minds as we grow older. Our relationships with things tend to shift when “Memory is falling away / as if an image shattered to shards then / re-collected for a kaleidoscope.” These poems pull at the delicate thread linking past with present, with versions of the truth desperately in need of closer investigation. Things—objects—provide the looking glass. Under Hahn’s masterful hand, these Foreign Bodies feel quite familiar.

The Age of Phillis

In 1773, Phillis Wheatley, a black woman enslaved in America, published a book of poetry. The text challenged a nation that would have preferred to view the writer through the lens of chattel slavery. Future generations of poets would hold Wheatley in the blinding light of legend. Now, 247 years later, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers rights the light and lens with The Age of Phillis. Here Jeffers is a researcher and historian, offering context through dates, quoted briefs, articles, letters, lists and, most satisfyingly, her account of the 15 years spent crafting this collection. But most assuredly, Jeffers is a poet. History is at the forefront of this collection—but gracious, these poems are deliciously good. Traditional and inventive forms deftly admit, “This is a complicated space. / There is slavery here. / There is maternity here. / There is a high and low / that will last centuries.” These poems teeter in the space between inhale and exhale, bidding the reader to continue. One poem asks, “And who must speak for me / in order for you to believe?” After reading The Age of Phillis, the answer will clearly be Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.


Poet and ARTrepreneur Stephanie Pruitt-Gaines lives in Nashville, where she’s powered by pancakes, art and a furkid named Sugar.

As National Poetry Month, April is the the ideal time to celebrate poetry. But these four collections offer poems to which you’ll return time and time again.

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ID VIDEOS Quiet time music Does listening to Mozart really increase one’s IQ? After viewing Mozart Nature Symphonies, you will probably decide that it doesn’t really matter. What really matters is where this video takes you. With birds in flight and swirling schools of fish matching Mozart’s soaring notes and spinning melodies, rich and colorful footage of animals in their natural habitats eases viewers young and old into a wonderful calmness. If it increases the IQ, so much the better but if not, this tape is still a keeper.

Recommended for ages 0Ð2 Let’s make music Pre-schoolers adore Steve, his imaginary dog Blue and the rest of the Blue’s Clues fanciful cast. In Blue’s Big Musical Movie, real-person Steve awakens in an animated, boldly colored world where he and Blue are planning to produce a backyard musical. Steve, using the Blue’s Clues format of tracking down clues, shows his viewers as well as his imaginary friends how to organize such an event. What sets this piece apart from the rest is its fabulous lesson on writing music. The affable G Clef (Ray Charles) explains notes, harmony, rhythm and tempo to Steve, who jumps from one piano key to the next to demonstrate how the written music sounds. It’s a terrific introduction to music that bridges the abstract and the concrete.

Recommended for ages 5Ð8 Flying colors Mac, a 150-year-old talking parrot (voice by John Goodman), is The Real Macaw in this high-flying adventure that includes pirate treasure, the South Pacific, a villainous curator and a somewhat eccentric Grandpa played by Jason Robards. Mac is a brilliant bundle of color and one-liners that leads teenager Sam away from his home in Australia to recover a treasure chest of riches for Grandpa, whose debts threaten to force him from his home. The music, like the script, is hip, upbeat and funny. Fantasy melding with real-life family issues will also appeal to older teens, and a noble, culturally sensitive ending redeems Sam’s run-away behavior. Recommended for ages 8Ð12 VIDEO PICK OF THE MONTH Dreams of many colors This year, April is the month of Easter and the Jewish Passover, a perfect time to share an Old Testament story of forgiveness. The privileged youngest son of Jacob loses his famed coat of many colors but not his dreams in Joseph: King of Dreams and, in the end, forgives his brothers for their betrayal. Animation can sometimes exceed real-life acting because portrayals are not colored by our knowledge of the mortal actors, and such is the case in this animated musical masterpiece. Joseph (Ben Affleck) is convincing as a human who grows into a hero. Saturated colors, artistic rendering and an inspiring score do this timeless story justice. And Joseph’s Vincent van Gogh-like dreams may color the dreams of your teens at a time in their lives when they are just beginning to build them. Recommended for ages 12 and up Deborah Cool is the jury coordinator for the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media. The Coalition’s KIDS FIRST!¨ project evaluates and rates children’s videotapes, CD-ROMs, DVD, audio recordings and television programs, using a volunteer jury of child development professionals, teachers, parents and children of diverse geographic, socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. KIDS FIRST!¨ ( publishes The New York Times/KIDS FIRST!¨ Guide to the Best Children’s Videos.

ID VIDEOS Quiet time music Does listening to Mozart really increase one’s IQ? After viewing Mozart Nature Symphonies, you will probably decide that it doesn’t really matter. What really matters is where this video takes you. With birds in flight and swirling schools of fish matching Mozart’s soaring notes and spinning melodies, rich and colorful […]
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How do I love thee? Of all the writing that I have pursued in my lifetime, there has been nothing more challenging and rewarding than my attempts to capture in words my love for my wife. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many poetic skills I employ, the results always seem to fall short of what I really want to say. I began years ago letting my heart speak to her in poems. They became my gifts to her on Valentine’s Days, birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. At first she kept my little poems tucked away, taking them out from time to time to read aloud and enjoy all over again. Then one day she told me she felt selfish keeping them all to herself. She picked out a few of her favorites and sent them off to see if others cared. They did. Some of the poems began appearing in magazines and, now, in this book of Love Poems for you.

Charles Ghigna has written a number of highly successful poetry books for children, including Animal Trunk: Silly Poems to Read Aloud (Abrams). He lives in Alabama with his wife and their son.

How do I love thee? Of all the writing that I have pursued in my lifetime, there has been nothing more challenging and rewarding than my attempts to capture in words my love for my wife. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many poetic skills I employ, the results always seem to […]
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Getting to the heart of the matter: Sweet reads for Valentine’s Day Chocolate melts, flowers wither, but a book lasts forever in your Valentine’s heart. How can a book express your love? Let me count the ways! February brings a love-themed bounty. Wrap up The Random House Treasury of Favorite Love Poems, and you won’t need a card. Shakespeare, Yeats, Spenser, and Browning pretty much say it all. Categorized by themes like New Love, Lifetime Love, Enduring Love, and Passionate Love, this classic collection is the perfect size to pack into a picnic for two. Writers have compared love to everything from an eiderdown fluff to a universal migraine. Whether you consider relationships a headache or heaven, or you are single, sappy, or cynical, Oxford Love Quotations (Oxford University Press, $7.95, 0198602405) proves somebody has felt the same as you. Here you’ll find more than 2,000 quotes on everything from affairs to virtues, from chastity to seduction. From anonymous sources to famous lovers come lines that have been spoken, sung, or written in the name of love, lust, or loss. Some are fascinating for what they say and who said it, like Brigitte Bardot’s declaration, I leave before being left. I decide. Others leave you humming, like Cole Porter’s I’ve got you under my skin, I’ve got you deep in the heart of me. Perhaps best of all are the many insights from comedians and satirists, like Dorothy Parker, who quips, That woman speaks 18 languages, and can’t say no in any of them. Words of wisdom also abound in William Martin’s The Couple’s Tao Te Ching (Marlowe ∧ Company, $13.95, 1569246505). Basing his work on the ancient writings of Zen master Lao Tzu, Martin presents a spiritual collection of simple yet profound thoughts on loving. They are presented with lovely little brush paintings that stay true to the book’s authentic Asian origins. Martin says he hopes that readers will have an experience that will touch the heart each time they open the book. Your beloved’s life is precious, he writes. A natural wonder, a shining jewel. Don’t tamper with it. It does not need polishing, improving or correcting. Neither do you. Of course, some relationships could use a little polishing, improving, and correcting. An exotic method of relationship repair is found in T. Raphael Simons’s The Feng Shui of Love (Three Rivers Press, $21, 0609804626). Based on the ancient Chinese art of placement, this ethereal manual explains how rearranging your home can help you attract and hold love. The idea is that a comfortable, balanced living space presents the kind of harmony and peace that people want to be around. The design elements that work best for you personally, says Simons, depend on your Chinese astrological sign, your yin-yang style of relating, and your animal sign compatibility. Sound a little out there? The enjoyment and usefulness of The Feng Shui of Love definitely depends upon open-mindedness. But the book also has plenty of common sense suggestions for fixing difficult home designs and making the most of where you live. If consulting the stars in the search for eternal love isn’t lofty enough for you, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach suggests you look to a higher power. His Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments (Doubleday, $21.95, 0385496206) is full of the kind of pithiness and wit that made his book Kosher Sex such a bestseller. This time around, he references everything from Monty Python to Monica Lewinsky to drive home his point that romance is next to godliness. Take two tablets and find your soul mate, he says in his typical double-entendre humor. Boteach finds modern applicability not just in the words of the Ten Commandments, but in the way they are presented. For example, the first commandment starts, I am the Lord, your God. The rabbi’s take on it: Hell of an introduction, isn’t it? If only we could all be so cool and confident on a first date, he suggests, half the awkwardness of dating would be squelched.

Why do we bother anyway? For all the trouble relationships bring, why do we search for that special someone to call a Valentine? In her book Dating (Adams Media, $9.95, 1580621767), Josey Vogels says, Let’s face it, it’d be nice to have someone to feed the pigeons with when the eyesight starts to go. Vogels, a syndicated sex and relationship columnist in Canada, gathered the best anecdotes from her many straight, single, twenty- and thirty-something readers to write what she calls, a survival guide from the frontlines. The result is a funny and honest look at the world of boy-meets-girl, from Dates from Hell to The Science of Attraction. There are tidbits to help both men and women get through the whole soulmate interview process with minimal embarrassment. For instance, Vogels’s first-date conversation no-no’s include exes, bodily functions, and how much you hate your family. She also includes advice from relationship experts and matchmakers along with her own insightful viewpoint. Most importantly, Vogel admits that you can indeed be happily single. Then you can spend Valentine’s Day with the most low-pressure date of all: a good book.

Emily Abedon is a writer in Charleston, South Carolina.

More to Love.

21 Ways to Attract Your Soulmate by Arian Sarris (Llewellyn, $9.95, 1567186114). Learn how to find a life partner that clicks with you instead of clanks.

The Mars Venus Affair: Astrology’s Sexiest Planets by Wendell and Linda Perry (Llewellyn, $17.95, 1567185177). A guide to finding that starry-eyed mate.

The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars by Joel Glenn Brenner (Broadway, paperback $14, 0767904575). Goes well with a heart-shaped box of the real thing.

Get Smart with Your Heart: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Love, Lust, and Lasting Relationships by Suzanne Lopez (Perigee, $13.95, 0399525793). For the gal who knows what she wants (well, sort of), but doesn’t know quite how to get it.

Agape Love: A Tradition Found in Eight World Religions by Sir John Templeton (Templeton Foundation Press, $12.95, 1890151297). Explore the principle of unconditional love.

Love and Romance: A Journal of Reflections by Tara Buckshorn, Glenn S. Klausner, and David H. Raisner (Andrews McMeel, $12.95, 0740700480). A journal, a keepsake, a place for all of your passionate scribblings about your love life.

Passionate Hearts: The Poetry of Sexual Love compiled and edited by Wendy Maltz (New World Library, $14, 1577311221). Essential bedside reading to be sure.

Getting to the heart of the matter: Sweet reads for Valentine’s Day Chocolate melts, flowers wither, but a book lasts forever in your Valentine’s heart. How can a book express your love? Let me count the ways! February brings a love-themed bounty. Wrap up The Random House Treasury of Favorite Love Poems, and you won’t […]
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James Kugel regards the Bible as sacred scripture; he does not particularly like to write about prayers, psalms, or prophetic speeches as poems. But when asked to prepare a selection of biblical poems for publication, Kugel a noted scholar and poet, author of the highly praised book The Bible as It Was, and former poetry editor of Harper’s magazine agreed to do so. The result is The Great Poems of the Bible. This exceptional volume gives us not only what the title promises, but much more.

In addition to his own translations and commentary on the poems, Kugel provides historical background and religious insights that introduce us to Judaism. He says that his goal throughout has been to try to concentrate on what might be called the spiritual reality addressed by different biblical texts. He also attempts to create in English the same impression that the biblical text would have made on the ears of its first audience. Those are difficult objectives to achieve, but the author succeeds admirably.

One of the fascinating subjects Kugel explores is the nature of the prophet. He points out that prophecy did not mean simply predicting the future, and writes, Nor is it a poetry of social protest, crafted to persuade listeners of the worthiness of this or that cause, although it addresses issues of social injustice and out-and-out politics. In the end, the prophet is someone who has been called, summoned, to carry a message from God. He also notes, It is striking that, after a certain point in Israeli history, prophecy seems to have become a steady, reliable presence; the Ôprophet in your midst’ was someone whom you could count on to be there, like any other public figure. There are wonderfully readable discussions of the character of God and of biblical wisdom. Kugel writes, though different parts of the Bible were written down in different periods and social settings and political circumstances, the idea that God is fundamentally good, that He cares for humanity and upholds what is right, seems everywhere to be maintained. But doesn’t that go without saying? Perhaps not . . . Would it not have been more reasonable for Israel’s prophets and sages to conclude that God is quite inscrutable? Kugel’s discussion of the 23rd Psalm, which includes both the King James version and his own translation, is beautifully done. The author points out that the psalm is almost unique in that it neither offers thanksgiving nor celebrates God’s grandeur. It is just about ordinary daily life, a psalm about you and me. This book deserves a wide readership, especially among those interested in religion, monotheism, Judaism, and literature.

James Kugel regards the Bible as sacred scripture; he does not particularly like to write about prayers, psalms, or prophetic speeches as poems. But when asked to prepare a selection of biblical poems for publication, Kugel a noted scholar and poet, author of the highly praised book The Bible as It Was, and former poetry […]

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