Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Best Poetry of 2018

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Christina Orlando

Staff Writer

Christina is a champion for diversity in the lit community, and is dedicated to supporting marginalized voices across the publishing industry. She lives in New York, sports seven literary tattoos, loves all media, and is a Slytherin forever. Follow her on Twitter @cxorlando

Poets really outdid themselves this year. Poetry has always been political but this year, writers really had us by the throats. They were unabashedly angry, hopeful, and honest. They were loud in their protests and soft in their truths, they had their hearts broken and broke ours in return. The poetic landscape was remarkably feminist, brown, and queer, with major awards and accolades being given to those voices who previously struggled to be heard. It’s safe to say that things are changing, and if this year’s work is anything to go by, the future of poetry is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

There was a lot of incredible work this year, and we are in awe of poets who were able to so thoughtfully and eloquently capture their struggles and joys. Here are a selection of can’t-miss collections from 2018:

The Carrying Ada LímonThe Carrying by Ada Limón

I’ve called Ada Limón the mom of Latinx poetry before, and I meant it—her skill and heart in this collection is just the most recent in a long legacy of profound poetry. The Carrying spans a full life—childhood and motherhood, joy and pain, loss and love. Limón writes a complex and intimate narrative of the body and of selfhood that is vulnerable and exquisite, with a sharp and elegant voice that speaks to all of us.

Oceanic by Aimee NezhukumatathilOceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

A collection unlike any other on this list, Oceanic is an ode to the natural world which places humanity, family, and motherhood at the center. Nezhukumatathil writes with tenderness and compassion, and is a keen observer of the life happening around her. It’s a vibrant and visual collection filled with affection and a worldly consciousness. 

Virgin by Analicia Sotelo poetry poems latinxVirgin by Analicia Sotelo

It’s frankly kind of rude that this is Sotelo’s debut book of poetry, because it’s so good and introspective and so vital that it’s hard to believe she hasn’t lived a million lives already. Sotelo writes about femininity and womanhood, about the body and sexuality, about strength and self-awareness. This collection is a work of magical realism, with truth and myth working together. 

If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar

Fatimah Asghar, 1/6 of the Dark Noise Collective, published an incredible collection centered on her identity as a Southeast Asian queer woman, on culture and religion, on inherited trauma and family. With affecting visuals (“From,” “Microagression Bingo”), Asghar never shies away from difficult subject matter, and in fact embraces them with heart and fearlessness.

not here hieu minh nguyenNot Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen

2018 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship recipient Hieu Minh Nguyen’s collection is a spacious view of sexuality, masculinity, and family relationships. Not Here explores the complexities of growing up queer as a person of color, with cultural expectations weighing on your shoulders. Pulled together by the series of poems entitled ‘White Boy Time Machine’, this collection is vulnerable, thoughtful, and touching.

eye level jenny xie poetryEye Level by Jenny Xie

Shortlisted for the National Book Award this year, Eye Level is a soulful and keen set of observations on selfhood and finding one’s place in the world. With stark imagery, Xie is capable of putting the reader inside a moment that feels so real, and then pulling us out again to look at the bigger picture. The poems are complex, yet economical: with each word and line packing a real punch to the gut: “Now I understand our vocabulary/for what astounds us is thin.”

Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez

Olivarez details his experience as the son of Mexican immigrants in this collection, which centers on the diaspora, as well as the cultural and political realities of growing up Chicano in America. Olivarez writes with a frankness that seems to say ‘I’m here and you will not miss me, I’m here and I have something to say, you will listen.’ And listen, enraptured, we do.

Indecency-by-Justin-Phillip-ReedIndecency by Justin Phillip Reed

It’s no surprise that Indecency won the National Book Award this year. Reed’s work is all heart, and the book is a bold and emotional look at the reality of being a queer black man in our current political landscape. With lyrical lines that feel both contemporary and timeless, Indecency is an incredibly necessary and timely collection.

lo-terciario-raquel-salas-riveralo terciario/The Tertiary by Raquel Salas Rivera

You might notice something unexpected when you pick up this book—one half is entirely in Spanish, and the other entirely in English. The same poems, translated by the poet themself, appearing in both languages, given equal weight and space. Rivera’s collection is incredibly special not only because of this, but because of how deep the emotions run through these poems as they pay homage to Puerto Rico.

TARFIAH FAIZULLAH registers of illuminated villages poemsRegisters of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah

The title Registers of Illuminated Villages is a re-work of the Register of Eliminated Villages, a document which lists 397 eliminated Kurdish villages in Iraq. This sets the tone for an intimate collection of poems that deals with growing up muslim in America, family relationships, sexuality, and femininity. Faizullah’s work feels like a secret shared by a close friend in the middle of the night, something to be kept safe and guarded. This collection is a story of survival and strength in the face of a world that is working against us.

Junk by Tommy Pico

The third in a series that also includes Nature Poem and IRL, Junk is a book-length poem that feels like a long text message from your smartest, most culturally aware friend. Pico chronicles his experience as a queer native poet with beautifully intimate portraits and honest observations. Reading Junk feels like reading something completely new and innovative, yet still truthful and relatable.

tiana clark poetry i cant talk about the trees without the bloodI Can’t Talk About The Trees Without The Blood by Tiana Clark

Clark delves into the ugly history of the South with this collection, which deals with heavy topics of race, religion, cultural memory, and family. Weaving in references to pop culture and mythology, Clark has given us a set of bold, forceful, lyric poems about the black experience. It’s haunting and profound, and these poems are sure to seep into the reader’s soul with no chance of leaving any time soon.

Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith - Book RiotWade In The Water by Tracy K. Smith

Our esteemed poet laureate Tracy K. Smith displays her genius in this collection, with poems that find the beauty in everyday moments and connect us to a larger human experience. The title of this collection is no mistake—at the heart of it is a collection of letter-poems (“I Will Tell You The Truth About This, I will Tell You All About It”) dated between 1864–1867, around the time of the Civil War. Smith explores history and humanity in poems that cut right to the core and leave readers breathless.

nepantla queer poets of color christopher soto lambda literaryNepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color edited by Christopher Soto

Perhaps one of the most important anthologies of poetry, editor and poet Christopher Soto brings together queer and trans poets of color in a way that speaks to both our past and our future. With selections from the greats including James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, alongside contemporary stars like Danez Smith, Natalie Diaz, Chen Chen, and Tommy Pico, this collection gives a full, vibrant view of the queer PoC experience.


For more poetry: Native American Poets You Need to Read Right Now, Latinx Poets Who Are Breaking Down Borders