If you fell asleep on poetry in 2014, you might not actually be asleep: you might be dead. Poetry this year not only proved itself the liveliest and healthiest genre of writing, it also showed itself to be the most intellectually voracious. (I would even argue that one of the best American novels of 2014 was written by a poet.) Here are the ten best books of poetry from 2014. Frankly, they may just be the ten best books.
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, Patricia Lockwood (Penguin)
From “The Arch”:
Was a gift from one city to another. A city
cannot travel to another city, a city cannot visit
any city but itself, and in its sadness it gives
away a great door in the air. Well
a city cannot except for Paris, who puts
on a hat styled with pigeon wings and walks
through the streets of another city and will not
even see the sights, too full she is of the sights
already. And within her walk her women,
and the women of Paris looking like
they just walked through an Arch…
Mature Themes, Andrew Durbin (Nightboat Books)
From “Monica Majoli”:
I’m so in heaven
when I Google image Rafael Nadal,
and find him radiating solar joy
on the front page of nytimes.com
after having just advanced in some open
I’ve already forgotten the name of,
proving to us
that the champions
of the world
still wear jockey shorts.
I might even collapse in a heap
he’s so hot. Bruce
has been everywhere
in my life recently. Last night,
I went to a party
and ran into Alan Gilbert.
We discussed Bruce’s
really great new piece
on Monica Majoli in Artforum.
Rome, Dorothea Lasky (Liveright / WW Norton)
From “Lilac Field”:
To perform death is something only humans would do
No animal would sit there
With a blank look on its face
Just because the camera is there
No no an animal would look directly in it
Or cover its face, like the overweight
Woman in the picture in the magazine
By the room where I keep my bed
What people don’t understand about beauty
Is that after all it is not fleeting
After all it is so gross to be that way
That someone sees among you
If the Tabloids Are True What Are You?, Matthea Harvey (Graywolf)
From “The Straightforward Mermaid”:
The straightforward mermaid has already said to five sailors, “Look, I don’t think this is going to work,” before sinking like a sullen stone. She’s supposed to teach Rock Impersonation to the younger mermaids, but every beach field trip devolves into them trying to find shells to match their tail scales. They really love braiding. “Look,” says the straightforward mermaid. “Your high ponytails make you look like fountains, not rocks.” Sometimes she feels like a third gender—preferring primary colors to pastels, the radio to singing.
Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones (Coffee House Press)
From “Prelude to Bruise”:
In Birmingham, said the burly man—
Your back, blue-black.
Your body, burning.
I like my black boys broke, or broken.
I like to break my black boys in.
See this burnished
brown leather belt?
You see it, boy?
(You can read our feature on Jones here.)
Citizen, Claudia Rankine (Graywolf)
When the stranger asks, Why do you care? you just stand there staring at him. He has just referred to the boisterous teenagers in Starbucks as niggers. Hey, I am standing right here, you responded, not necessarily expecting him to turn to you.
He is holding the lidded paper cup in one hand and a small paper bag in the other. They are just being kids. Come on, no need to get all KKK on them, you say.
Now there you go, he responds.
The people around you have turned away from their screens. The teenagers are on pause. There I go? you ask, feeling irritation begin to rain down. Yes, and something about hearing yourself repeating this stranger’s accusation in a voice usually reserved for your partner makes you smile.
Repast: Tea, Lunch, and Cocktails, D. A. Powell (Graywolf)
From “[the cocktail hour finally arrives: whether ending a day at the office]”:
we need a little glamour and glamour arrives: plenty of chipped ice
a green jurassic palm tree planted. a yellow spastic monkey swinging
a pink classic flamingo impaled upon the exuberant red of cherries
dash of bitters. vermouth sweet. enough rye whiskey to kill
this longing: I take my drinks still and stuffed with plastic. like my lovers
my billfold full of rubbers. OPENs my mouth: its tiny neon lounge
Mala, Monica McClure (Poor Claudia)
Who looked at my bottom lip quivering
and wanted to touch it
My hair is falling out because someone
wanted to pull my curls
My whole body is sliding out
between my knees and everyone stares
Don’t be so chiflada with your fingers
in your mouth all day
Ojo is what sickens you
want to touch what they see
The Second Sex, Michael Robbins, (Penguin)
From “The Second Sex”:
After the first sex, there is no other.
I stick my gender in a blender
and click send. Voilà!
Your new ex-girlfriend.
You cuckold me with your husband.
I move a box with Ludacris.
The captain turns on, we begin our descent.
Be gentle with me, I’m new to this.
I say the wrong thing. I have OCD.
My obsessive compulsions are disorderly.
I say the wrong thing, did I already say?
I drive my dominatrix away.
Titanic, Cecilia Corrigan (Lake Forest College Press)
Honey, honey, honey, are my people the enemy?
If you would be so sweet, and only—
There are those who will avail themselves of the rich traditional,
a healthy degree,
took down to the sodden base, there are those who people
my people people past.
There were those who say, we will pay for your abortion (Aetna is their God).
They say, we will open your checking account (Aetna is also their God).
Your aesthetic starts to wear on me.
The architecture of the houses is wildly disparate.