Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate Jackson Neal shares a list of poetry reads to celebrate poetry year-round. From new releases to classics, here are some recommendations, hand-picked with descriptions from Jackson.
Ghost Of by Diana Khoi Nguyen
Nguyen writes about grief and loss with such trembling brilliance. This work does not expel the ghosts, but invites them to gather in the room. “Sound itself can be a form of violence” she writes. This book does not shy away from the violence, but invites us to listen carefully, “it passes through walls it pierces but does not touch”. Reading this work, my own ghosts pass through me, and I wanted to hold on to them.
Some Say the Lark by Jennifer Chang
“I would better understand the beast I am” writes Chang in her most recent collection. The intricacies of geography are unearthed in poems that carry lush and bright ecosystems. “You are a twilight / and a twilight bird,” the poet makes a pastoral of herself and the loved ones of these poems. A gorgeous work that invites one to breathe as though they haven’t in a long, aching, time.
New York Editions by Michael Snediker
“I have /brought my beloved to the river/ but he won’t drink ” says Sneidiker. The collection, based on a twenty-four volume set of Henry James’ fiction, is an eclectic world of subtle warmth and surprising glee. “you were/immune/to Midas/manspreading”, the poet has his own golden touch balancing a cutting wit and true tenderness. Bringing James across genre, the book makes a poetic of “thinking about doing differently”.
Blessing the Boat: New and Selected Poems by Lucille Clifton
The great of greats, Clifton’s collection of poems showcases her lyrical prowess from 1988 to 2000. “May you kiss/the wind then turn from it/ certain that it will/love your back”. Poems of black femininity, of reclamation, staring back without blinking, Clifton asks what it will take for the land to love her back. These poems take the power from a nation and make a new land.
Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith
Written from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, these poems navigate the space of tragedy, what it means to survive, where we go after disaster, who experiences disaster, who doesn’t, what is the economy of loss. “None of them talked about Katrina./She was their odd sister,/ the blood dazzler”.
Newsworthy By Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton
Coming out on April 20th, Mouton’s poems are sure to be a powerhouse. In a brief sneak peak on Instagram, we see gems like, “They will try to sell you/ the myth of my lips”. Mouton’s work often explores violence against the black body, motherhood, and what it means to hold oneself in a time surrounded by destruction. “She says our names/ like they are blood moons/ in a clear sky”. These poems ask you come home when the street lights are blazing.
Exit Pastoral by Aidan Forster
A poet in the business of dazzling, Forster’s craft is a spectacle one must experience. These poems find queerness in the swamps and fields of South Carolina, queering the land that carries first kisses, making a geography of queer desire. “To unlock your body from the water until you feel/ like something loves you”. What is a queer body in the wind? A queer body in the rain? Forster takes us by the hem of our skirt, and leads us into the pasture.
Sink by Desiree Dallagiacomo
Of her mother, this poet writes, “I will tell you that I love her/ still and still again”. Dallagiacomo’s debut book steps into the room where everything happened, and sits, and sinks. These poems unravel what happens on nights that are too quiet. Unraveling themes around family and mental health, this is a poet who will hold your hand and face the wreckage.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Not necessarily a book of poems, but one of the most formative studies on the lyrical lens I’ve ever encountered. Roy’s book of fiction follow twins Rahel and Estha across generations as they recover from a family tragedy. This writer’s ability to carry a moment into an experience is unmatched. Writing of stories not unlike her own, Roy states, “The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings.”
Kin.dred by Ayokunle Falomo
Where do we find fear and how does it find us? This book unravels questions of what we are haunted by and what we haunt. Deeply intimate, at the nerve, Falomo brings his family, his “kin” into this space and you the reader are with him. “Always becoming. I am/ nothing / but dust, ever terrified/ of coming close to those/ closest to me” And maybe he’s afraid of you too. These poems ask where do put that fear when it’s comes?