Reflecting on Winter’s Poetry

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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

Happy Spring Equinox! Born out of a passion for seasons and poems (and after scanning book list after book list for poetry), I’ve daydreamed about a reflective roundup like this for years. This season-inspired post is an effort to applaud new poetry releases throughout the year. You can imagine my delight when I recently crossed paths with kindred winter-minded lists from The Millions and Write or Die Magazine, causing my poetry-adoring heart to swell and yell, More, please!

Often, longtime literary crushes from following a writer’s work to them shouting-out their beloveds lead me to forthcoming books. I happen upon new releases on social media, in bookstore and publisher newsletters, via Goodreads giveaways and early reviews, and on and on. So, ​​I want to praise an annual, invaluable resource by Shade Literary Arts, “2023 Forthcoming Poetry Books by Queer People of Color,” here.

Published between December 21, 2022 to March 19, 2023, this list of poetry collections, with the exception of one spring title, features only books I have finished, a small selection of this season’s amazingness. As I type, Eugenia Leigh’s Bianca and Evie Shockley’s suddenly we adorn my book cart. I track Chen Chen’s Explodingly Yours as it travels to me. This February, Patricia Smith curated “love sonnets” by Black poets for Poem-a-Day, and Unshuttered waits in my reading nook.

Basically, compiling this list made me yearn to read more, more, more. Without further gushing, these poetry collections lit up these chillier months.

Winter Poetry Titles

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

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

On social media, I fell in fandom with Iver’s poems, hearting, rereading, then reserving a holiday indie bookstore gift certificate for a copy. While awaiting its arrival, I read and revisited the opening pages online. The repetition of “In the beginning” in “Nostalgia” hitched my breath in my throat, and the breath-hitching continued. From further along in the first poem: “If you’re wondering what the cardinals would do for you besides moving bright color around, you’re twelve. If you’re wondering what parts of life are survivable, you’re fourteen.” Chosen by Tyehimba Jess, the author of Olio, for 2022’s Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry, this stunning debut reflects on gender, loss, love, and Mississippi.

cover of Decade of the Brain by Janine Joseph

Decade of the Brain by Janine Joseph

Captivated by the speaker, I read this sophomore collection examining the brain and the body, family, home, and identity in one sitting with a don’t-talk-to-me expression on my face. It features a naturalized U.S. citizen who, rear-ended in 2008, experiences memory loss, tinnitus, and additional symptoms following a concussion. Some jolting sentences haunt me, calling me back to the book. From “Coup-Contrecoup”: “She could not tell you where I was though / the depths were in her.” And in “The Specialists”: “At home, I fell the foundation of me.” After the final poem, I immediately scribbled Joseph’s debut Driving Without a License onto my TBR list.

cover of Hood Vacations by Michal “MJ” Jones

Hood Vacations by Michal “MJ” Jones

On the website of Black Lawrence Press, I previewed an excerpt of this compelling debut collection, and the first poem winded me. Experience and observe how the beginning of “Gone” pulls readers in: “We believe we are scarce. We believe / unknowing. I wake unafraid embracing—you” Composed of three parts, these poems explore childhood, parenthood, transportation, and race. All of the love to poets throughout the pages moved me: after after after celebrating Arisa White, Ross Gay, and Airea D. Matthews, to name a few.

cover of Judas Goat by Gabrielle Bates

Judas Goat by Gabrielle Bates

Following the publication announcement, I added this striking debut to my to-preorder list. From “The Dog,” a gut-punching opener, to the comprised-of-couplets “Anniversary,” Bates, of The Poet Salon alongside fellow cohosts Luther Hughes and Dujie Tahat, meditates on animals, longing, mothers, and the South. Have you ever started a book and wanted to dog-ear or sticky-flag something then decided against it? Because if you dog-eared, every page would bend. If you sticky-flagged, attention to every word cluster. This book enveloped me in that dance. That is just one way of saying this collection is absolutely breathtaking.

cover of Chrome Valley by Mahogany L. Browne

Chrome Valley by Mahogany L. Browne

From a palindrome to prose poems, this electric and much-anticipated collection by Browne, a prolific writer, examines Black girlhood and womanhood, desire, friendship, and migration. My mind keeps circling “Stumble Lovely,” a title so beautiful I envision it tattooed obvious and tender places to be carried close always. I marveled over so much: the internal rhyme and alliteration in “Slink Feel Good” (“of swoon & shadow frame / & sickle moon…”) and the repeated tercet (“the body / is most forgiving / here”) in “The Rink.” I also sampled the audiobook while reading along, which I highly recommend.

cover of Couplets: A Love Story by Maggie Millner

Couplets: A Love Story by Maggie Millner

Preceded by “Proem” and ending with “Coda,” Millner’s captivating debut consists of four parts featuring twelve pieces each. It unfolds in rhyming couplets and prose poems, as written in “1.8”: “in the second person: truer to the spirit of that time.” In this intense love story, a 20-something woman resides with her long-term boyfriend and their cat in a New York apartment. One winter, she meets a woman in a Bed-Stuy bar while reading Middlemarch, and her entire universe changes. Full of dreams, intimacy, jealousy, and obsession, I devoured this book in two nights.

Book cover of Promises of Gold

Promises of Gold by José Olivarez, Translated by David Ruano González

Translated to Spanish by Ruano González, Olivarez’s second collection consists of 11 parts from “Folk Tales” to “Glory.” The bilingual edition delves into community, joy, masculinity, and Mexican American identity. Oh my flowers, these love poems! Through eyes blurring with tears, I sent “Let’s Get Married” to friends last summer. A peek: “let’s get married because Chicago. because / St. Louis is a city on a map. because your name / is my favorite word….” To my glee, these pages radiate with love. “Love Poem Beginning with a Yellow Cab” yanked on my heartstrings, as “February & My Love Is in Another State” did, as many of these poems do.

cover of Feast by Ina Cariño

Feast by Ina Cariño

One morning, I listened to “Everything is Exactly the Same as it Was the Day Before” and extra-knew I needed to read Cariño’s extraordinary debut as soon as possible. Organized into three parts, this collection teems with cinematic and unforgettable imagery, like “an apology of fading stars” and “pricked with glint-glass” from “Watch Animals Closely for Strange Behavior.” In awe of “Infinitives,” I wonder over its form and sound — “amid the gum-soft jostle” and “yearned for syncopations” and “fill fissures with birdsong” — across and down the chart. May you reach for this exploration of food, grandmother-love, language, and superstition soon.

A Spring Poetry Title on My Mind

Book cover of Aina Hanau / Birth Land by Brandy Nalani McDougall

‘Āina Hānau / Birth Land by Brandy Nālani McDougall

Right on the cusp of summer (June 2023), McDougall, author of The Salt-Wind: Ka Makani Pa‘akai, is scheduled to release a poetry collection about ancestry, history, interconnectedness, and place from the University of Arizona Press. If reading some work by the newly appointed Hawai‘i State Poet Laureate interests you, turn to “He Mele Aloha no ka Niu” and “Ka ʻŌlelo” in When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through.

This season of standout poetry books has me giddy about what the rest of 2023 holds for us poetry enthusiasts. Spending my days and evenings with these collections enriched my life, and I’m wishing on gleaming stars that this nudges you to seek out these books and others. If you crave more poetry in your bookish life right this second, check out 10 of the Best Poetry Collections of 2022 by yours truly, 15 Spring Poems to Give You Hope After Winter’s Shenanigans, and our poetry archives.