The Definitive List of Must-Read Poetry Books from 2016 (So Far)

We’re starting a monthly column that will feature short reviews of new poetry collections, although, as in this case, not all of those collections will have been released during the month in question. Here we’re playing catch-up. Many of these books were released earlier this year. Still, the reader will be none the worse for considering each of them in their entirety. — Shane Barnes and Jonathon Sturgeon




The After Party, Jana Prikryl, (June; Tim Duggan Books)

“Reality’s my kind of metaphor,” Jana Prikryl writes in The After Party, to my mind the year’s most impressive debut. The speaker of the poem imagines herself as Claudia Quinta in a “real” painting by Benvenuto Tisi, only the painting depicts a quasi-mythological scene: the Vestal Virgin is tugging a massive boat into harbor by herself. It’s a strong metaphor for what Prikryl does throughout The After Party, a book that finds projective power in a pervasive tonal loneliness.

This is to say that Prikryl seems preoccupied with the ratio of the personal. How much self to give the reader? Though the autobiographical moments here ring with the tone of the poems (“So childhood was one long influenza / and I made reparations to myself in the form / of a terrible sympathy with each new fact”), they never dominate the reader, who is otherwise offered images that transcend any reasonable expectation of the debut collection: “His feeling is metaphor so complete / it’s the hum alone on loan from the hive.”

The sealed emotion of The After Party leaves room for humor, too. “The Letters of George Kennan and John Lukacs Interspersed with Some of My Dreams” escapes surrealism because it’s exactly what it purports to be. It’s effect on me was weird and new, and I laughed even when I wondered if I was supposed to. And Prikryl’s guardedness reveals itself as a mode of delayed gratification. In “Ars Poetica,” one of the collection’s more anthology-ready entries, the speaker begins by suggesting that what we’re “most easily seduced by” tells us something about ourselves; it ends with her own seduction: “Goodness that shows / every sign of being also / resourceful has always been / difficult to refuse.” A genuine if not overpowering moral passion guides the collection to shore. – JS