By My Precise Haircut by Cheryl Clarke

“no thanks to you america”

BY MY PRECISE HAIRCUT by CHERYL CLARKE / The poems make clear the pain inflicted by a number of atrocities (the slave trade, the assassination of Medgar Evers and Hurricane Katrina, for example) and also the humanity of those lost. Clarke’s work begs the question: if *this* America is the nation experienced by so many, isn’t it the America experienced by all?

Groundspeed by Emilia Phillips

“the glories of their mundane”

GROUNDSPEED by EMILIA PHILLIPS / Our suffering truly is ordinary, and in treating it as such, Groundspeed mimics for us what life is actually like: one long road trip, hotel overnights and stops at home, all interspersed with encounters we have, dramas large and small, our own and everyone else’s.

“tv ate my sensitive heart”

HALF-HAZARD by KRISTEN TRACY / As likely as we are to fall down, break up, stumble or choose wrong — or, when the stakes are even higher, to die — we can’t despair about it all the time. Quite simply, these poems exist in a very familiar space: Being Human, Planet Earth.

“bowls of teeth, bellies full of flies”

THE SECOND O OF SORROW by SEAN THOMAS DOUGHERTY / As a huge fan of the prose poem, I found a lot in this collection to admire. The prose poems in The Second O of Sorrow both contain narratives within their margins and fail to contain them, which I mean as a compliment. The sentences and fragments in this book’s prose poems take us on wild rides and cover incredible distances.

“who knew it wasn’t real”

MISERY ISLANDS by JANUARY GILL O’NEIL / There’s so much tenderness in this book, and that’s such a surprising response to these lived experiences (illness, betrayal, divorce, racism, etc.). I know there’s also rage. It’s not just backdrop for the poems but in a couple of instances it’s front/center. However, overall I receive these poems as tender blessings.

A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon

a cruelty special to our species

A CRUELTY SPECIAL TO OUR SPECIES by EMILY JUNGMIN YOON / Yoon’s delight in manipulating words based on their sounds contrasts with the heavy subject matter, and the search for the right word creates an experience for the reader: do we even have words for these horrors?

What I Learned at the War by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish

what i learned at the war

WHAT I LEARNED AT THE WAR by JEANETTA CALHOUN MISH / These poems assert that women’s stories matter. They hold space for the female body and its wars. They get down in the dirt of place (region, town, house, room) and of poverty and the working class.