12 of the Best Poetry Collections from 2023

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Connie Pan

Senior Contributor

Connie Pan is a writer and editor from Maui, Hawai‘i. She earned an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University and a BA in creative writing from Grand Valley State University. Her writing has appeared in Bamboo Ridge, Carve, HelloGiggles, PRISM International, The Billfold, and elsewhere. An excerpt from her novel-in-progress was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Instagram: @csnpan Twitter: @panlikepeter

Every winter, I look forward to hearing about all of the bests, and to my utter delight, this marks my second year of compiling this year-end poetry roundup. So many stellar titles released in 2023, and that I ambled through the seasons with the company of these poems and poets, makes me radiate with gratitude. So far this year, I have read (and reread) 77 poetry books. Still, I crave more.

As I write, a bit of November and all of December remains, and I pen in standing dates with more of 2023’s releases adorning my TBR stacks: Danielle Cadena Deulen’s Desire Museum and Irène Mathieu’s Milk Tongue. Bookmarked on the side table and on devices, Nocturne in Joy by Tatiana Johnson-Boria and Ishii Tatsuhiko’s Bathhouse and Other Tanka, translated by Hiroaki Sato, await. And my tracking information tells me All of Us Are Cleaved by Karen Llagas arrives tomorrow.

Of course, this list features only books I have finished as well as books I revisited, books I own multiple copies of, books I drove along the Gulf Coast to a new-to-me city with because I wanted — and needed — them close, books I preordered with tingling fingers, and on and on. May these 12 poetry titles fill you with awe, and may they keep you reaching for poems throughout the new year.

book cover of Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco by K. Iver

Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco by K. Iver

Selected for the Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry in 2022 by Tyehimba Jess, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olio, this breathtaking debut examines the body, childhood, gender identity, and grief. Recently, I carried this collection in my purse on a dreary, errand-filled Tuesday, studying several poems in a waiting room and the parking lot. I encourage you to tote this stunner in your bag and flip to some of my go-to’s: “Fantasy with No Secrets,” the titular poem, and “Because You Can’t.” Look at this unforgettable sentence from the latter, “There’s a noon rain to get caught in and many / clavicles to behold.”

book cover of Judas Goat by Gabrielle Bates

Judas Goat by Gabrielle Bates

Delving into Alabama, intimacy, religion, and wild creatures, I devoured this front to back three times this year: in February, August, and November. I just finished the amazing audiobook, narrated by the poet, while following along in my sticky-flagged paperback. If where I attached some of those place-keepers interests you, “Eastern Washington Diptych,” “I Asked // I Got,” and “Mothers” yanked at my heartstrings repeatedly. My third time through, I sticky-flagged more. For instance, the ending of “Should the First Calf of Winter Be White, You’re Going to Hate,” “This is the loneliness that turns one superstitious. // For I spilled the salt. For I did not knock wood.”

book cover of Bianca by Eugenia Leigh

Bianca by Eugenia Leigh

Pondering love, memory, motherhood, and tenderness, I wanted to gulp and savor this, hug it to my chest. Comprised of three parts, Leigh’s sophomore collection cuts to the marrow, sidles up to you with the energy of a dearest with the best shoulder for resting a forehead on, whispers late-night wisdoms and secrets that fold into your heart chambers. In it, I count standouts among standouts: “The First Leaf,” “The Part of Stories One Never Quite Believes,” and “Now Show Me Your Glory.” Be moved from the incredible cover to lines like these from “June Fourteenth”: “Maybe there is no cure for this. The way / the brain bends after trauma // and bends the world with it.”

book cover of Return by Emily Lee Luan

Return by Emily Lee Luan

Since first poring over this full-length debut in April on my ereader, I saved a big, hot pink Post-it in my planner listing the things I relished about 回 / Return. Featuring haibun, aubade, and “reversible poems,” this stunning debut collection meditates on familial history, capital-S “Sorrow,” the moon, and worry. Poems like “Ars Poetica” (the verbs in the second stanza alone—“I selfish a leaf / into bleeding…”) left my mouth agape. After its release, I bought a hard copy to marvel anew at the magnificent images (“milk carton mouth / paper and wide open”) and language (“The moon landing of me; / the walls long and clean.”) in “Anger Diaries” and other poems.

book cover of ‘Āina Hānau / Birth Land by Brandy Nālani McDougall

‘Āina Hānau / Birth Land by Brandy Nālani McDougall

Spotlighting poignant “art-maps” and “‘āina-scapes” by Allison Leialoha Milham, McDougall’s captivating second poetry collection unfolds in four sections. This contemplation on mothering and birthing, home and hope, and healing and survival by the Hawai‘i State Poet Laureate called me back to its pages, and page after page winded me. My brain keeps circling so much, including the ending of “Last Coral Standing,” “…Who / will still be here to remember that / we, temporary in such temperatures, / too, were beautiful once?” Seriously, this book stays with you.

book cover of I Do Everything I’m Told by Megan Fernandes

I Do Everything I’m Told by Megan Fernandes

With two versions of Fernandes’ third collection (one for my nightstand and another for my desk), I turned to my second copy without peeking at the first, intrigued by learning what I cherished the initial, second, and both times. Composed of four parts, this dazzling exploration of curiosity, longing, travel, and signs, a title I recommend to bookish friends and strangers often, served as soul balm. A couplet from “Semiotics” that floored both May and November me: “Our optimism is all we have. / Well, that and beauty.” And a sampling of pieces that resonated with me at least twice: “Tired of Love Poems,” “Winter,” and “May to December.” If you enjoy sonnets, consider this a must-read.

book cover of The Ferguson Report: An Erasure by Nicole Sealey

The Ferguson Report: An Erasure by Nicole Sealey

In awe of how this author plays with form, one of my most-admired poems by The Sealey Challenge’s founder include “Cento for the Night I Said, ‘I Love You’” from Ordinary Beast. In the poet’s second full-length work, the whole of The Ferguson Report, the Department of Justice’s investigation of Ferguson’s police department and court system following Michael Brown’s death in Missouri during 2014, is observable. The words redacted by Sealey appear in gray, struck-through text, and what remains arises in black. Near the book’s end, the eight poems — “lifted” — reappear, lineated and punctuated. About this project, Sealey writes in the final pages, “Reimagining a reality in which the outcome is often death is perhaps a step toward bringing about an alternative reality, one in which life might prevail.”

book cover of Grand Tour by Elisa Gonzalez

Grand Tour by Elisa Gonzalez

Organized into four sections, Gonzalez’s first collection of poetry touches on weather and the sea, anger and loneliness, and pleasure and dreams. Beginning with “Notes Toward an Elegy” and ending with “Present Wonders,” I came back to this title at midnight, and my body and brain wouldn’t let me sleep until I finished. My pen ran out of ink with all of the praise I left in the margins. I heard people leaving bars, a train’s whistle, the gate lifting at a nearby factory. Through the curtain slits and door cracks, I witnessed the sky brightening. That feeling when a book you adored surpasses the greatness you remembered.

book cover of We Call to the Eye and the Night edited by Hala Alyan and Zeina Hashem Beck

We Call to the Eye & the Night: Love Poems by Writers of Arab Heritage edited by Hala Alyan and Zeina Hashem Beck

Highlighting a variety of poems — concrete, prose, and ode, this gorgeous anthology ruminates on beauty, desire, loss, and place. Three of the poems I dog-eared consist of Ruth Awad’s “The Sleepwalker,” Carolina Ebeid’s “Auscultation,” and Noor Hindi’s “The World’s Loneliest Whale Sings the Loudest Song & Other Confessions.” Compiling poems by Zeyn Joukhadar, Leila Chatti, George Abraham, and more, don’t miss out on these love poems. In fact, send them to someone you love. (A copy waits for me to wrap and snail mail to my soul sister.) I must stress: browse the bios. Learning the poets’ loves, from “seashells” (Amanda Ghazale Aziz) to “meaningful conversations on a rainy day” (Mariam Gomaa) to “soup in every season” (Zein Sa’dedin), inspired such joy.

book cover of Organs of Little Importance by Adrienne Chung

Organs of Little Importance by Adrienne Chung

Chosen by Solmaz Sharif, the author of Customs and Look, as one of the five winners of the National Poetry Series in 2022, Chung’s striking debut reflects on appearances, devotion, obsession, and memory. In the whirlwind of autumn, I happened upon this book’s spine in San Antonio’s The Twig and added it to my haul without a thought other than, Lucky me! Within days, I gobbled this, appreciating the forms — a ghazal, diptych, and crown of sonnets — and discovering fast favorites such as “Poetics,” “The Day You Left, I Remembered,” and “Lullaby.” Can I leave you with a remarkable sentence? From “Feral Spice”: “Say I chose this.”

book cover of Aster of Ceremonies by JJJJJerome Ellis

Aster of Ceremonies by JJJJJerome Ellis

(In this blurb, I capitalize all “Plants” to celebrate Ellis’s capitalization of them in the collection.) With a bouquet I serendipitously arranged with a sprig of Goldenrod, a member of the Aster family, waving at me from my coffee table, I listened to the audiobook while reading along with my eyes, which I highly recommend. The third installment in Milkweed’s “Multiverse” series and Ellis’s second poetry title, the ebook boasts astounding purple illustrations of “Elder Yarrow” to “Elder Chokeberry,” and the audiobook streams music. Unfolding in five parts, this honors ancestry, names, language, and stuttering. A sentence I keep thinking about: “My stutter is a form of thirst, a calling in the throat, a seeking after the only thing that will quench me: sound, thunder, god.”

book cover of Orders of Service by Willie Lee Kinard III

Orders of Service by Willie Lee Kinard III

After “Bush River Blues,” I needed to put Kinard’s electric debut down, open with its pages kissing the blue couch’s edge. Within reach and ready to read because I wanted a moment to sit with the piece swimming in me as much as I intended to pick the book up again. Told in four sections and including “Hymn”s, elegy, erasures, and more, these crescendoing poems delve into family and Greek mythology, sex and song, and superstition and the South. Seconds into the opening poem, “Self-Portrait as the Cricket,” I dog-eared the page and highlighted eight lines in blue, and, dear reader, that wonder never wavered.

If you’re looking for some wonderful roundups of poets and recent poetry collections, check out some of 2023’s extraordinary poetry posts: 8 Disabled & Chronically Ill Poets to Read for Disability Pride Month, 20 Marvelous Modern Poets, and YA Authors Who Have Made Their Mark With Poetry, Too. And if you’re curious about last year’s list, peruse 10 of the Best Poetry Collections of 2022 by yours truly.