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To the joy of my poem-adoring heart, so many widely anticipated poetry collections published this year. Just a sampling of my 2022 preorders included Akwaeke Emezi’s Content Warning: Everything, Jenny Xie’s The Rupture Tense, Ocean Vuong’s Time is a Mother, and Yanyi’s Dream of the Divided Field. Especially around new-book days, I checked my mailbox eee-ing with delight.
While compiling this list, I pondered why certain books move us. Countless details imbue our reading experience: mood, weather, place, season, hunger, the moon. Perhaps a poem hushed chatter, easing your mind and heart, on a packed plane. Or a collection kept your bedside lamp blazing, kept you awake past midnight. While in the life of a poem, maybe the clouds parted and the sun warmed your face, and whenever you happen upon that piece, you feel heat in your cheekbones.
Recently, a dear friend asked me in our group chat how much of what I read is for work versus pleasure. Gratefully, much of it overlaps and reflects my interests, obsessions, passions, and tastes. Lacking a short answer to the wonderful question, I knew one thing with my whole heart. Since graduate school, every book I reread belongs in the for-pleasure column. So, this list of ten titles consists of collections I have revisited.
The Best Poetry Collections of 2022
Alive at the End of the World by Saeed Jones
This gripping second collection explores apocalypses, mother-love, pain, and the self. With cameos from Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Whitney Houston, I want to flip back to so much: the “nonfiction poem[s],” as Jones calls them in “Notes at the End of the World,” and the sweetnesses — a hand on the thigh of a “lover” and the window “already” opened for the speaker to the “October morning” air. If this stirring book rearranged your brain, read Prelude to Bruise and the author’s debut memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives, mentioned in this 2022 release. Basically, read everything by this writer.
All the Flowers Kneeling by Paul Tran
These past months, I lingered in the endpages of collections, and my mind keeps returning to All the Flowers Kneeling. The essay-like “Notes” section spans six pages, and the “Acknowledgements” section is equally sticky-tabbed. One paragraph credits teachers and contains a lesson I’ve been holding close: “every poem, every time, in some miraculous way, must be an argument about the making of poetry itself.” After perusing these sections and, of course, the poems, I’m grateful to have spent time with this poignant debut about art, storytelling, survival, and trauma. And thanks to those generous endpages, I’m grateful for the glimpses into Tran’s writing process.
As She Appears by Shelley Wong
Since finishing this book, I’ve been contemplating the expansive beauty of Wong’s debut collection dedicated to “…the quiet sisters.” The opening poem, “For the Living in the New World,” ends — and lives on in my brain: “Spring insists we can build the world // around us again. How has love brought you / here? My head is heavy from the crown.” Meditating on flowers, Frida Kahlo, observation, and place, this teems with startling lines. From “Invitation with Three Colors,” two I keep thinking of: “I forget— / & don’t dream.”
Ask the Brindled by No‘u Revilla
One of five winners of the National Poetry Series in 2021, Ask the Brindled was chosen by Rick Barot, who says the incredible debut collection “shows survivance as a gorgeous unfolding of story and polemic, audacity and song.” Three of the four sections open with “Definitions of mo‘o,” including “Story, tradition, legend” and “Ridge, as of a mountain.” Delving into grandmother-love, healing, history, and shapeshifting, there is so much to learn from, and appreciate about, these engrossing poems, and I look forward to reading more of Revilla’s work.
Girls That Never Die by Safia Elhillo
Captivating and unforgettable, Elhillo’s latest collection interrogates the body, Muslim girlhood and womanhood, names, and silences. From prose to contrapuntal poems, this is a must-read. Multiple times, I found myself asking, Have I read this one every possible way? (A fitting thing to wonder while poetry-ing.) Just a few pieces I continue revisiting: “Yasmeen,” “Ode to My Homegirls,” and “For My Friends, in Reply to a Question.” If these poems — specifically “Yasmeen” — resonated with you, pore over the pages of Home Is Not a Country, Elhillo’s fantastical young adult verse novel.
Golden Ax by Rio Cortez
In this stunning debut poetry collection, Cortez writes in the “Author’s Note”: “in many ways Golden Ax hopes to find its place and definition as a work of ‘Afropioneerism’ or ‘Afrofrontierism’—terms that describe and inform my family ancestry and experience.” Composed of three parts, these memorable poems examine “the Black West,” light, popular movies (I dog-eared “Black Lead in a Nancy Meyers Film” and turn to it often), and Utah’s landscapes, flora, and fauna. With moving lyricism throughout the poems, something breathtaking awaits on every page.
Headless John the Baptist Hitchhiking by C. T. Salazar
Unfolding in four parts, this book, one I know I’ll reference a lot, reflects on awe, desire, faith, and Mississippi. After reading and rereading American Cavewall Sonnets this summer, Salazar’s debut poetry collection became a must-order. The gorgeous imagery (“my chest of bright stars”) and the gorgeous language (“Come cracked, come crawling cobblestone, come / with enough to drag yourself through this old drought”) keep calling me back. I definitely added “order Forty Stitches Sewing a Body Against a Ramshackle Night” to my to-do list. This year, I fell in love with Salazar’s writing and am hoping you have or will, too.
The Hurting Kind by Ada Limón
Comprised of four parts, the current U.S. Poet Laureate’s sixth collection delves into desire, kinship, memory, and stillness. Beginning with “Spring,” the sections are organized according to season, which lends itself easily to rereading. (Since May, I’ve read it more than twice.) Featuring crows, horses, and rivers, I see myself dipping into this magnificent book again and again. In my calendar, I planned a date with “Winter” on December 21. I want to say hello again to the poems, like “The End of Poetry,” and words, like “I have always been too sensitive, a weeper” from the titular piece, that moved me so.
Magnolia by Nina Mingya Powles
Full of films, food, and dreams, these hauntingly intimate poems study art, language, home, and rain. Following the colors, I obsess over fascinating lines and images like “Oh, there’s always so much to be lovesick for / when seasons change: green birdcages / and plastic moon goddesses and pink undies / hanging up to dry above the street…” from “Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, 2016.” And in “Sonnet with particles of gold”: “The day after my grandmother died was white-gold in colour.” There are myriad reasons to cuddle up with this extraordinary collection. With color as my current obsession, I sense more.
Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency by Chen Chen
Funny and devastating and joyful, this sophomore collection meditates on anger, grief, intimacy, and seasons. It’s long, but in the best ways. Sink into, as the poet writes, “Long Titles” in “After My White Friend Says So Cool Upon Hearing Me Speak Chinese…” In “In the World’s Italianest Restaurant,” crush on the long lines steeped in longing. And stay a little longer in the long poems — for example, “Winter [It’s April. But…]” — that don’t feel long at all. As now as possible, reach for this thick collection teeming with grackles, sunflowers, and music and reach for When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, too.
In this year of standout poetry collections, I’m honored to have passed hours with these books, and I’m eager to reread more. To name several on my mind, Best Barbarian by Roger Reeves, Customs by Solmaz Sharif, A Shiver in the Leaves by Luther Hughes, and The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On by Franny Choi. Also, about those 2022 titles on my TBR list and those I have yet to discover: I’m electric with excitement for future-me.
If you want more poetry in your literary life, check out The Best Black Poets To Read (And Listen To!) Right Now, Indigenous Poets You Should Know, and 20 Must-Read Queer Poetry Collections.