The theme of this season’s post is poetry. Sure, I’ve read a few novels as well (I read The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time this winter, for obvious reasons), but as I’ve said before, I’ve been working hard to read more poetry, especially contemporary poetry. Before, I’ve had an overall favorite of the season, but this time around, I couldn’t decide. Therefore, here are the top five best books I read this winter, added in alphabetical order!
Count the Waves: Poems by Sandra Beasley
In this intense, illuminating collection of poems, Sandra Beasley examines how intimacy is lost and gained during our travels.
I’ve written about this before, but I got this collection at the National Book Festival, where I was able to get it signed by Sandra Beasley herself! In addition to being an incredible poet, she was a lovely person to meet, and took the time to speak with every person in her line, as well as to write heartfelt inscriptions in each book. I loved this collection almost as much as I Was the Jukebox (one of my all-time favorites), and I can’t wait to read more of her work!
Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast by Hannah Gamble
Selected by Bernadette Mayer for the National Poetry Series, these poems engage the structures of family and intimacy, exposing the viscera of the everyday, all its frailties and familiarity rendered absurd and remade through language.
I picked this collection up as a whim at Barnes & Noble, while I was waiting for the Apple Store to fix my phone. (Side note: some girl walked up to me and said “You look like someone who knows how to find a specific author here. Where can I find…?” and I ended up selling her a book. You’re welcome, Barnes & Noble!) As I flipped through it, I was immediately drawn by some of the lines that I read. When I managed to sit down and read it in its entirety, I wasn’t disappointed. Definitely a rec from me! Pardon the pun, but speaking of recs…
No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay
Following the success of her breakout poem, “B,” Sarah Kay releases her debut collection of poetry featuring work from the first decade of her career. No Matter the Wreckage presents readers with new and beloved work that showcases Kay’s knack for celebrating family, love, travel, history, and unlikely love affairs between inanimate objects (“Toothbrush to the Bicycle Tire”), among other curious topics. Both fresh and wise, Kay’s poetry allows readers to join in on her journey of discovering herself and the world around her. It’s an honest and powerful collection.
I’ve written about this one before as well, but it doesn’t count because I hadn’t finished it yet. Like everyone else who has read this collection, I absolutely loved it (I also love the cover; it’s one of those velvety ones!). Sarah Kay has such a lovely way with words. Some were heartbreaking, some were fun, some I had to read multiple times (that’s the best kind). I’ll be recommending this to many people as well!
Little Anodynes by Jon Pineda
The third collection by the prize-winning Asian American poet Jon Pineda, Little Anodynes is a sequence of lyrical, personal narratives that continue Pineda’s exploration of his biracial identity, the haunting loss of his sister, and the joys–and fears–of fatherhood. With its title inspired by Emily Dickinson, Little Anodynes offers its poems as “respites,” as breaks in the reader’s life that serve as opportunities for discovery and healing. Pineda deftly uses shortened lines and natural pauses to create momentum, which allows the poems to play out in a manner evocative of fine cinema, as if someone had left a projector running and these narratives were flickering and blending endlessly in an experience shared by the viewer, the storyteller, and the story itself.
Okay, I admit it. I’ve also written about this one. Pineda taught at my alma mater, and I heard him read at the most recent JRW Conference, so I was a little nervous about writing about it, but I shouldn’t have worried. I loved this collection (it’s even better when he reads it). It’s definitely going to be one of those collections that I read more than once; there was so much to unpack, and the writing was so beautiful, that I can’t wait for my next read.
Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong’s first full-length collection aims straight for the perennial “big”—and very human—subjects of romance, family, memory, grief, war, and melancholia. None of these he allows to overwhelm his spirit or his poems, which demonstrate, through breath and cadence and unrepentant enthrallment, that a gentle palm on a chest can calm the fiercest hungers.
I was screaming internally pretty much the entire time I read this collection. This is one of the most highly-praised collections out now, and for good reason. Vuong does an incredible job carefully crafting each poem, as well as incorporating a range of emotions in each. I can’t recommend this collection enough.