2018 brought with it a lot of great poetry. Some revisited older forms or older stories to create something vital and new, while others took bold risks with language in order to illuminate aspects of the present sociopolitical condition. Whether they were causing us to rethink the quotidian or leading us to unexpected places, here are some of our favorite examples of verse that emerged this year.
Jos Charles, feeld
Attempting to describe Jos Charles’s feeld isn’t easy: it takes archaic language and uses it in unexpected ways to deliver a nuanced take on gender and identity. But there’s also something thrilling to Charles’s use of words here, a revelatory quality that borders on the ineffable.
Erica Dawson, When Rap Spoke Straight to God
(Tin House Books)
As the title of Erica Dawson’s poem When Rap Spoke Straight to God suggests, Dawson’s concerns here are both musical and theological, blending the heady with the everyday. But then again, art and the divine have long been interwoven, and Dawson’s book is a fantastic continuation of an old tradition.
Natalie Eilbert, Indictus
With haunting linguistic precision, Natalie Eilbert’s works hearken back to earlier eras of history while confronting horrific incidents rooted in contemporary violence. The effect is instantly memorable and frequently dizzying in its implications.
Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
In this collection of poems, Terrance Hayes explores sociopolitical anxiety, violence, and the state of America during the Trump presidency. The way in which he juxtaposes formal restraint with thought-provoking language creates some of the most essential work of 2018.
Michael J. Wilson, If Any Gods Lived
(Stalking Horse Press)
Michael J. Wilson’s latest collection explores questions of recent history, conceptions of mortality, and the evolution of the self. As with many of the books that impressed us most this year, its blend of the intimately personal and the sweepingly historical resonated deeply.
Jenny Xie, Eye Level
The disparate settings of the poems in Jenny Xie’s collection Eye Level create a powerful sense of the world. But it’s through Xie’s compelling verse that this book emerges as a unified whole — leaving us with a moving sense of how location can affect the mind.
Tommy Pico, Junk
(Tin House Books)
The latest in a series of ambitious poems from Tommy Pico takes on, well, junk. And if you’ve noted that the title could very well have a double meaning — one part philosophical, one part irreverent — well, welcome to the way in which Pico blends seamless craft with unpredictable and wry humor.
Max Ritvo, The Final Voicemails
As the title indicates, these were the final poems composed by Max Ritvo before his death in 2016. What emerges from them is a powerful consideration of mortality and the nature of life itself: unpredictable, deeply moving, and enduring.
Maryse Meijer, Northwood
Classifying Maryse Meijer’s Northwood is nearly impossible: it’s a novella told largely in verse, with an experimental sense of text throughout and numerous allusions to folktales, archetypes, and mythology. The result is a thrilling read, like little else we’ve experienced.
José Olivarez, Citizen Illegal
Addressing questions of immigration, the self, and the body, José Olivarez’s collection creates a deeply felt sense of the psychological effects of some of the most oft-debated subjects in contemporary America. This is a collection that works on scales both personal and national, making for a tremendous accomplishment.