Here Are the Poetry Books to Read in 2024
14 Titles to Add to Your TBR Pile
As a reader, I love this moment when we look ahead to the new year’s literary landscape, considering and prioritizing what to read first, wondering what will enthrall us. Sure, an anticipated list can have the delicious capriciousness of an amuse-bouche; in the end, it doesn’t tell you much about the full menu. But isn’t that the joy of it? There’s still so much left to discover.
David Woo and I have gathered a little more than a baker’s dozen of titles for you from a year that will also offer Marie Howe’s New and Selected (Norton); new collections from Andrea Cohen (The Sorrow Apartments, Four Way Books) and Geffrey Davis (One Wild World Away, BOA); and a slate of debuts that includes Diego Baez’s Yaguareté White (University of Arizona Press); Sarah Ghazal Ali’s Theophanies (Alice James Books); and Yalie Saweda Kamara’s Besaydoo (Milkweed). Forgive us, readers, we aren’t very good at anticipation: when we had the books in hand, we dove in. Welcome to our poetry preview for 2024, and please come back every month for more.
–Rebecca Morgan Frank
“Close, closer,” Diane Seuss writes in her new book Modern Poetry, “to that sheeted edge.” As I turn the pages of poetry books in 2024, I hope to see glimpses of that edge, the edge of something in extremis, perhaps, but also the edge of the piece of paper, which is also the edge of a poet’s mind. Strange transfigurations of form, startling intensifications of moral and political perception, unexpected evocations of consciousness—I anticipate a full range of astonishments in the new year.
Some of the books will be extensions of oeuvres I’ve pleasurably followed for years by poets seeking to achieve the next culmination in the life of their artistry, like Victoria Chang’s With My Back to the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Don Mee Choi’s Mirror Nation (Wave Books), Kwame Dawes’s Sturge Town (Norton), Tracy Fuad’s Portal (University of Chicago), Joyelle McSweeney’s Death Styles (Nightboat Books), Carl Phillips’s Scattered Snows, to the North (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Donald Revell’s Canandaigua (Alice James Books), and Corey Van Landingham’s Reader, I (Sarabande). Other books will be by poets who are new to me and, I hope, new to themselves, finding their edge for the reader’s astonishment.
Diana Khoi Nguyen, Root Fractures
(Scribner, January 30)
Diana Khoi Nguyen’s Root Fractures builds from her lauded debut, Ghost Of, a Kate Tufts Discovery Award winner and a finalist for the National Book Award with further investigations of family histories of grief and displacement. In this new collection, absence and omission evolve into a formidable sense of presence and narrative.
A series of poems called “Root Fractures” carries on the multimedia hybridity of photograph and textual cutouts, layers, and fades of her earlier collection, while her series Đổi Mới (which in English translates to renew or renovate, and also refers to economic reforms in Vietnam in the 1980’s) turns to the sentence as its tool, through prose poems, and, occasionally a more fragmented weaving essayistic form. The threads between the books makes me wonder if this will evolve into a trilogy of sorts; I am already anticipating what comes next from her. –RMF
Anne Carson, Wrong Norma
(New Directions, February 6)
“The dark side of self-creation,” wrote Louise Glück, “is its underlying and abiding sense of fraud.” Even with a writer of justly vast reputation as the great Canadian poet Anne Carson, each time I open a new book of hers I find myself entertaining the notion that her strangeness and originality may, in fact, be that of a trickster who magics her audience into a state of hallucinatory submission. But surely this is the uncanny way in which true originality operates. Each time I resist Carson’s work, I end up joyously succumbing to her undeniable strengths: the profligate array of innovative forms, the mesmerizing creation and decreation of selves, the classical erudition, the sublimely weird inner life.
Wrong Norma continues the Carsonesque tradition, from its amusing title calling to mind not only Norma Desmond but Carson’s recent performance piece Norma Jeane Baker of Troy (a conflation of Marilyn Monroe and Euripides), its promiscuous arrangements of prose poems, apparently autobiographical vignettes, and short fictions (“long afternoons at the kill house”), off-kilter verse translations (a portion of Plato’s Symposium entitled “OH WHAT A NIGHT”), empathetic insights into the enigmas of others including John Ashbery (“a personality disposed to careless joy in any situation”), interludes of handwritten marginalia around stressed swatches of gnomic typewritten phrases, and even a poignant, illustrated depiction of Paul Celan’s encounter with Martin Heidegger.
As with Carson’s previous books, Wrong Norma is magisterially contrarious in conception, an omnium-gatherum text ensconced in a sui generis sensibility, a “commonplace struggle to know beauty” that doesn’t preclude uncommonly beguiling pronouncements: “Is it proper to use the informal 2nd-person singular pronoun tu or toi when addressing the sky.” “To survive you need an edge.” “Can you treat everything as an emergency without losing the reality of time, which continues to drip, laughtear by laughtear?” –DW
Penelope Pelizzon, A Gaze Hound That Hunteth By the Eye
(University of Pittsburgh Press, February 13)
Penelope Pelizzon’s third collection promises a wit and formal ease. Her playful allusions range from D.H. Lawrence– “trio of nephews,/ avid hagiographers/ who praise the body’s stinks and stews” in “Orts and Slarts,” to Henry Howard – “The Soote Season” in which “yoga-goers hoist mats/ rolled cigar-wise in eco-cotton wrappers,” to Sappho–“Some Say,” in which “gray hairs are the smoke off ships / whose burning all night bloodied the eastern sky.”
The world is gross and beautiful from a dog’s eye view, in the destructive landscape of gypsy moths, and within the world of aging and changing desires; the speaker of “Wishes for Fifty” invokes, “Let there be / lascivity with sexy / librocubicularists.” (Librocubicularists are those who read in bed, if you didn’t already know this essential word for readers of Lit Hub.) Pelizzon, who balances a life between college professor at UConn and traveler to temporary homes in Syria, Namibia, South Africa, and Italy with a foreign diplomat spouse, offers a keen eye and ear to whatever she turns her attention to in this romp and bite of a collection. –RMF
Diane Seuss, Modern Poetry
(Graywolf Press, March 5)
If the capacious version of the sonnet that Seuss used in her previous collection, the award-winning frank, proved a gorgeous way to rein in—structure, organize, make into art—the enthrallingly candid rovings of her mind, her new book takes the canon itself as inspiration, or perhaps a copy of an old poetry anthology left in a puddle, adapting its forms to her special subject matter, the poet who somehow sprang from the mud of a non-literary or even anti-literary background.
“What I know of literature, of history, is spotty,” Seuss claims, dubiously, as if readers were expecting her to be Gibbon or Harold Bloom. The self-deprecation (“For my people / it is the flaw that counts”) is of a piece with the deconstructive impulse at the heart of this book, the desire to privilege the “itches and psychological riches” of the working class over the aristocratic milieu, “dust-covered / and ornate,” from which the poetic tradition arose, carving up and reshaping the venerable forms in the image of her life: her quatrains are intentionally baggy, her villanelle refuses to be a villanelle, although her loose blank verse is stately and self-revealing, like a 21st-century Wordsworth.
All of these riffs on aspects of poetry (“that snarling, flaming bitch”) are frame and afflatus, as forms should be, for the true art of Seuss’s poetry, which lies in the ingeniously offhand style with which she presents her riveting, full-frontal insights about people, like Jim the queer drama teacher who thought they should marry but was really in love with “The Boy in The Fantasticks,” the lovers who lied to her or to whom she lied (“I’ve said big dick when I meant small dick”), or the raw and barely viable self itself, always trying and never attaining the nebulous goal of being a better self: “Inside, Diane, you suffer / and your suffering is you.” –DW
Cindy Juyoung Ok, Ward Toward
(Yale University Press, March 5)
Perhaps the most distinguished prize for a first poetry book is the Yale Series of Younger Poets, which is legendary for the tenure of W. H. Auden, who selected John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, W. S. Merwin, and James Wright. While there is a plethora of prizes now—like the Academy of American Poets prize, whose 2024 release will be Sara Daniele Rivera’s The Blue Mimes (Graywolf Press), or one that was new to me, the Trio Award for emerging poets, whose forthcoming title is Christian Gullette’s Coachella Elegy (Trio House Press)—Rae Armantrout’s choice of Cindy Juyoung Ok’s Ward Toward for the Yale prize will represent all the exciting debuts I’m looking forward to this year.
With brio and sorrow, Ok’s book investigates such subjects as hospitalization for a major depressive disorder, the anti-Asian Atlanta spa shootings, and the failures of romantic and familial love. She is equally at home in parables, dream states, and more abstract contemplation: “Hypercorrection reveals an anxiety around the appearance of knowing and belonging.”
Using a variety of formal devices, including poems written in Korean-inflected English and one in the shape of Korea, she moves through a range of emotional tenors to touch the heart of her life as a “younger poet.” Ok’s métier in this lovely debut is an elegantly discursive, analytical style studded with ironies: “When bitten, ignore the instinct to pull, instead / pushing the latched body part further into // the biting mouth. This will lead to release, / though perhaps then it all starts again.” –DW
Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Silver
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 5)
“Poetry is séance and silence and science,” Phillips writes in Silver, his fourth collection. The seance summons a presiding spirit of this collection, the Wallace Stevens of the late-Romantic meditative eloquence (the lights at Key West that “mastered the night and portioned out the sea”). The silence is that of a place in the woods away from the pandemic where the speaker goes to cull “from those cold mountaintops the next fire.” The silence is that of a grandmother dying on the cusp of the pandemic. The science is the prosody of air and metal that lifts a silver plane with its silver contrail above the woods and the silver of the rental car to which the speaker rushes to avoid an expired parking meter, also silver, as the grandmother expires. “And I will be nothing but poetry,” the speaker says in his mournful solitude, “A blank in the blankness of the long game.”
The poems are more forthright than Stevens, more directly autobiographical and socially equitable, but the dedication with which Phillips approaches the art of poetry is, like Stevens, tonic and inspiring. “To be bottomless, atemporal, absent of hierarchy, and just,” he enjoins in “Biographia Literaria. “To accept that poetry is older than reflex, that it predates intention, that it is the breath your breath takes before you breathe.” –DW
Jean Valentine, Light Me Down: The New and Collected Poems
(Alice James, April 9)
Ever since Jean Valentine died in 2020, there’s been a hole left in the American poetic landscape, or perhaps I should say dreamscape. Her previous New and Collected, which won the National Book Award in 2004, gave way to the spare and stirring grief, memory, and visions of her later work that includes three of my favorites: Little Boat, Break the Glass, and Shirt in Heaven. What an enormous gift to have one of our major poets collected anew, and to have these new poems to discover. Let the countdown to this April release begin. –RMF
Reginald Shepherd, The Selected Shepherd
(University of Pittsburgh Press, April 9)
In his last book, before his premature death from cancer, Shepherd (1963-2008) wrote, “The dead move fast, nowhere / to nowhere in no time at all.” To read him and others with posthumous collections forthcoming this year, like The Collected Poems of Delmore Schwartz and Invisible Mending: The Best of C. K. Williams (both Farrar, Straus and Giroux), is to slow the departure of the dead and situate them in the somewhere of one’s passionate attention to their pages.
By the time of his death, Shepherd was attaining the status of a poet’s poet, with his command of literature, his aesthete’s attention to style, his restless metamorphosis from book to book (six in all), and his lacerating honesty. He was outspoken about a Bronx tenement upbringing with a difficult single mother who was dissipated, alcoholic, and suicidal (“You were my mother; I love you more / dead”) and about his identity as an HIV-positive, Black, gay man whose preference was handsome white men (he labeled himself a “snow queen”), but he complicated these themes through the ruthless clarity of his self-knowledge. For example, in “Hygiene,” a poem about Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered many men of color, Shepherd wrote, “Every white man on the bus looks / like him, what I’d want to be destroyed / by, want to be.”
Jericho Brown’s selections return to the literary scene a poet who now looks like a gainfully conflicted forerunner of the confessional poetic practice of many queer and BIPOC poets today as well as a source of enduring aesthetic contemplation, like the tremblingly elliptical love poem “A Little Knowledge,” “The poems I wanted were nothing / like my heart: nothing joined / us together, nothing held us apart.” –DW
Arthur Sze, The Silk Dragon II: Translations of Chinese Poetry
(Copper Canyon Press, April 16)
The artistic interpretations that we call “translations” are central to my love of poetry, helping me to imagine with greater immediacy other cultures and epochs, however circumscribed a work may be by the English language. Among the translations I’m looking forward to this year include Stephen Mitchell’s version of Catullus: Selected Poems (Yale University Press), Brian Henry’s of Tomaž Šalamun’s Kiss the Eyes of Peace (Milkweed Editions), Robin Myers’ of Javier Peñalosa M.’s What Comes Back (Copper Canyon), Jeff Clark’s of Stéphane Mallarmé’s A Roll of the Dice (Wave Books), Edward Snow’s of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours (Norton), and Peter Filkins’ of Ingeborg Bachman’s Darkness Spoken (Zephyr Press).
As is evident in his award-winning collected poems, The Glass Constellation (Copper Canyon), Arthur Sze’s poetic practice has always made the thematic ranges and sensory detailing of classical Chinese poetry central to his own imagination, like the woodblock carver in the poem “Water Calligraphy” who “peels off pear shavings, stroke by stroke, / and foregrounds characters against empty space.” The Silk Dragon II is an augmented edition of The Silk Dragon (2001), adding 18 new translations, mostly of poets since the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), to a working poet’s selection of more than a millennium of Chinese poems that have engaged and inspired him.
In these lucid translations, Sze offers pleasures for all types of readers, those who want another taste of ancient favorites like Du Fu (“The nation is broken, but hills and rivers remain”) and Li He (“I will cut off the dragon’s feet / and chew the dragon’s flesh”), those new to Chinese poetry (his candid account of one poem’s tortuous process remains the best introduction to the art of Chinese translation that I know of), and those who admire Sze’s own work for its telling specificities, as in Wen Yiduo (“I feed the fire cobwebs, rat droppings, and also the scaly skins of spotted snakes”), and its prismatic finesse, as in Xi Chuan (“The figures acquire the mountains / and waters, just as the mountains acquire the emerald and lapis”). –DW
Stephanie Choi, The Lengest Neoi
(University of Iowa Press, May 6)
Selected by Brenda Shaughnessy for the Iowa Poetry Prize, Stephanie Choi’s debut, The Lengest Neoi, revels in formal variation and conversation (with poets, films, language/s, a mother), albeit with twists. A lipogram isn’t a lipogram, but the story of a tattoo with a missing letter; a sonnet crown gets disrupted, or expanded, by missing words and a crossword and with missing words; a series of “sound translations” draw on Jonathan Stalling’s Yíngēlìshi process– there’s much to solve, puzzle over, discover. The collection’s title reflects Choi’s language play: Leng Neoi, which translates from the Cantonese to “Pretty Girl,” becomes “Lengest,” a linguistically hybrid superlative for prettiest. These poems upend “corrections” of language and body–the spine, the jaw. A poem with headgear ends with a mother’s twist of the expander: “she didn’t know /. She was turning/ the song/ right out of me.” –RMF
Li-Young Lee, The Invention of the Darling
(Norton, May 14)
The good news for Li-young Lee fans who waited a decade for his last collection, The Undressing (2018), is that 2024 brings another new collection, The Invention of the Darling. The speaker in the title poem of Li-Young Lee’s new collection asks a friend, “Do all lovers begin in hell and end in knowledge?” The catch is revealed in this repeated line: “My friend and I are in love with the same woman.” But this poem feels more tied to the contemporary human world than the rest: expect more elemental and mythopoetical longer poems, characteristically spare in their embrace of the vast (love, death, God), and circular in their choruses of repetition and return through phrases and figures–serpent, hummingbird, and, in the familiar Lee cosmos, mother and father. –RMF
José Antonio Rodríguez, The Day’s Hard Edge
(Northwestern University Press, June 15)
“Tender,” “Shelter,” “Entire,” “In the Presence of Sunlight,”– these José Antonio Rodríguez poems from The Day’s Hard Edge perfect the dance between lyric and storytelling, between autobiography and ars poetica, and you may have caught all of them in The New Yorker already. Rodriquez, a queer Chicano poet with a few poetry collections and a memoir under his belt, returns to Northwestern University press with this collection that promises to reflect him at new heights in his work. In “Pilgrim,” he wonders “About plants standing in for our bodies / In poems” –then he turns to roses and Virgen of Guadalupe: “ Yes, she was a deity then,/ But she had inhabited a body once.” These are the rare poems about making that make me want to read more. “I’m not saying I’m better than you,” the speaker of “Mercy” says. “I’ve been a prophet. I’ve been a fool.” I can’t wait to have the full collection in hand: I’m anticipating this as a 2024 favorite. –RMF
Dawn Lundy Martin, Instructions for the Lovers
(Nightboat, June 18)
“Elsewhere, corporeal men made to eat at each other’s / necks. Hundreds upon hundreds—a caterpillar, iron in the face.” Dawn Lundy Martin’s newest collection’s offers movement from an embodied lyric fullness to a minimalism or fragmentation; the notes reveal that many of these poems emerge out of collaboration, including text messages and, with poems like “From Which the Thing is Made,” a poetic exchange with Toi Derricote for their collaborative chapbook A Bruise is a Figure of Remembrance (Slapering Hol Press, 2020).
I look forward to spending time with this one: the poems in Instructions for Lovers look to be intimate and bodily, yet textural and textual in the approach to language: “We surrender in the teeming utterance/ of materials soaked with sentences already made in air / and by machines.” And yet, as “No Language Suffices the Body,” concludes, “How long can we live without a body? / Once, the body, once its spiked desire.” –RMF
Danez Smith, Bluff
(Graywolf Press, August 24)
Certain moments in Smith’s previous book Homie inhabit me to this day, like the fiercely moving lines that compared a mother’s love to the speaker’s HIV (“i know what it is / to nurse a thing you want to kill // & can’t”) or the glance that the Pakistani girl at the bus stop gave to the Black speaker after a white man asked where she was from, one of those “innocent” questions that led Smith to a meditation on the many colors of oppression (“what advice do the drowned have for the burned? / what gossip is there between the hanged & the buried?”).
Smith’s fourth full-length collection arrives in August and looks to be a restless, passionate admixture of forms, a chopped-up sonnet, prose vignettes and political commentaries, a long poem about the Rondo neighborhood in Smith’s native St. Paul. From the previews of pieces I’ve seen, I expect to hear a forceful and outraged voice as the poet maps the coordinates of queer, Black life in the Twin Cities during the pandemic and the protests after the murder of George Floyd: “When was COVID-19? What infection did I fear last week? The cops are the sickness.” I also sense from some new poems, like “less hope,” a questioning urgency that nudges the outrage into a spiritual or metaphysical realm: “Satan, like you did for God, i sang. / i sang for my enemy, who was my God. / i gave it my best. i bowed and smiled. / teach me to never bend again.” –DW