by Jordan Scott)
So, it's National Poetry Month, and the last book of poetry you read was a tattered edition of Leaves of Grass 10 years ago. Where do you begin?
If you're eager to pick up some new releases, look no further than the world of small presses. These independent publishers exponentially publish more poetry than the “Big Five”—often because smaller poetry publishers are poets themselves and less concerned with the commercial failure of low sales. Because of this, said publishers are more willing to take creative risks with the books they put out. As a result, there are as many flavors of poetry out there in the world as there are genres of fiction. You like biography, urban fantasy, cookbooks? I guarantee there is a book of poetry out there that matches your taste in prose.
With online literary magazines, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, social media, and poetry's historical connection to chapbooks (small, handmade books, generally between 24-48 pages), there's more space than ever for mass production, sharing, and consumption of poetry. The members of this community are empowered both as writers and publishers working together in a support system.
Here are 10 titles from 2014 that come from 10 different small publishers. And stay tuned later this month, where I will be recommending equally adventurous and gripping new releases from bigger publishers.
Go Find Your Father/A Famous Blues by Harmony Holiday (Ricochet Editions—January 2014)
This tête-bêche book (two different works combined into a single book) featuring poetry, lyric essays, and letters pulls readers deep into a personal interrogation of love and family legacy—directed at Holiday's father, the late singer-songwriter Jimmy Holiday. All children distill their identities from memories like these (good or bad, tender or violent), and all adults will appreciate this collection.
E! Entertainment by Kate Durbin (Wonder—May 2014)
Durbin breaks down reality television and transcribes it into a vivarium of microdetail. The scripted moments of the Real Housewives shows transform into something else entirely when beamed from televised drama into ecosystems of language, fashion, and class. The turned page mimics the click of a remote control: channels shifting from Kim Kardashian’s fairytale wedding to the empty rooms of the Playboy Mansion—each room itself centered around the absence of The Girls Next Door and becoming a chamber of its own through descriptive prose poems.
Troy, Michigan by Wendy S. Walters (Futurepoem—May 2014)
We can’t put it much better than poet Dawn Lundy Martin: Walters' Troy, Michigan, named after the predominantly white suburb north of Detroit, "approximates a psyche flattened by middle class desires, racist anxieties, and inexplicably terrifying violence. [Her] quiet, haunting utterances are beautifully precise mappings of the measure of a city's weight and thereby its dark (or darkened) soul."
Death & Disaster Series by Lonely Christopher (Monk Books—February 2014)
Lonely Christopher’s Death & Disaster Series confronts death, as many poems do, but through the context of capitalism. Borrowing a title from Warhol, this debut poetry collection is brazen, sharp, and speaks with a tone of passion and anger, as Christopher confronts the premature end of his mother's life.
Dead Horse by Niina Pollari (Birds, LLC—September 2014)
Almost like an inverse to E! Entertainment’s fascination with celebrity culture, Dead Horse focuses on the mundane bookends to our everyday lives: the tension and boredom of air travel, suffering through doctors’ exams, using your smartphone in the bathroom. However, what elevates Pollari’s collection is the utter grotesqueness (and the vulnerability and bravery therein) of her wordplay.
Wet Land by Lucas de Lima (Action Books—March 2014)
Wet Land is anchored in the reality of de Lima losing his best friend in Florida after an attack by an alligator. The events of this attack, the unearthing of grief (through the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek), and the experience of being haunted all come together in this elegy.
Scarecrone by Melissa Broder (Publishing Genius—February 2014)
Following Broder’s previous book Meat Heart (Publishing Genius, 2012), Scarecrone continues the gritty joyride through a landscape riddled with holes. This latest collection is half Catholic iconoclast and half 10th-grade séance. Fallen angels, cherry soda, and psychic giggles fill the void in this lusty, dark volleyball game between Eros and Thanatos.
The Grey Bird: thirteen emoji poems in translation by Carina Finn & Stephanie Berger (Coconut Books—April 2014)
Finn began texting Berger strings of elaborate emoji, telling a story in a block of pictographs. Berger then translated these colorful icons from iPhone to English. Operating as a secret language between girls, these 13 poems centered around a single emoji—the grey bird—swing with love letters and broken hearts. These discrete lyric poems are sure to enchant anyone who easily crushes on graphic memoirs or Apple products.
The Feel Trio by Fred Moten (Letter Machine Editions—April 2014)
Duke University professor Moten’s latest collection pulls its title and subjects from the real-life Feel Trio: musicians Cecil Taylor (himself a poet, too), Tony Oxley, and William Parker. Moten also draws from the trio’s influences as well, using Alabama and James Brown to create a sense of atmosphere. “But coalition can't be too easy,” the description for this book warns. “It's in our nature not to come naturally lyrically, beautifully violently. The organizing principles, in our extramusical tailor's retrofit of fitting, sharp as a tack from the tone worlds of east by southeast of Sheffield, the Bronx's compassionate project/s and fly, flaired, flared Corona: listen to everything, relax the shape, approach with love, be worthy of a lovely t!"
Fat Daisies by Carrie Murphy (Big Lucks—Fall 2014)
What does it mean to be a young woman in an age of heavily self-curated and performative social media? What does it mean to have privilege, to have luxury? How does a poet talk about “whiteness”? Murphy explores all of this in a fabric woven out of Anthropologie, Internet comments, bikini selfies, “bourgie”-ness, mean girls, Netflix, body weight, sugar-slicked hair, and ovaries. Murphy continues the road trip that began in Pretty Tilt (Keyhole Press, 2012) as she tackles how femininity factors into the digital age.