By Carmen Gimenez Smith (Graywolf)
Moving between short lines and prose poems, Smith’s verse can be sharply political or tenderly intimate, confronting the persistence of racism or exploring her mother’s decline into dementia. A long piece near the end of “Be Recorder,” a National Book Award finalist, starts with a common parental question - whether to order her son a video game - and spins out miraculously into a vast reflection of maternal anxiety and the future of civilization. - Ron Charles
By Ilya Kaminsky (Graywolf))
Kaminsky’s collection, a National Book Award finalist, presents a sweeping drama about a fictional town where residents are oblivious to the military occupation around them. This continues until a deaf boy is murdered, and the people rebel by pretending they can’t hear the commands of the soldiers. Kaminsky, who is hard of hearing himself, uses each poem to contribute to the larger narrative arc, which parallels the life story of his own family, who fled Ukraine in the early 1990s. - Elizabeth Lund
By Matthew Zapruder (Copper Canyon)
Firmly situated in our political moment, “Father’s Day” is anchored by a compelling gravity and urgency. Zapruder juxtaposes a traumatic private event (his son’s autism) and a traumatic shared public one with considerable grace and delicacy. Reading these poems reminds us how great - in times of confusion, frustration and shared anxiety - is our human need for tenderness and forthright yet gentle speech. - Troy Jollimore
“The Tiny Journalist”
By Naomi Shihab Nye (BOA))
This powerful collection opens with a poem about Janna Jihad Ayyad, a Palestinian girl who began using her mother’s cellphone at the age of 7 to record anti-occupation protests on the West Bank after two members of her family were killed. Nye also recalls her own experience living between Jerusalem and Ramallah as a teenager. The result is a moving testament to the impact one person can have and the devastating effects of occupation. - E.L.
By Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon)
A National Book Award finalist, “The Tradition” illustrates how racism and violence have shaped both the past and the present, our national identity and the individual experiences of those who have been harmed by entrenched wrongs. As Brown confronts history and the fears and beliefs handed down through generations, he raises important questions about trauma and how people endure when injustice touches nearly every aspect of life. - E.L.