The 5 best poetry collections of 2022

This year’s best collections offer a variety of pleasures — dreamlike landscapes full of symbols, images drawn from nature, linguistic playfulness, traditional forms and experiments in style.

‘Names and Rivers’

By Shuri Kido (Copper Canyon)

Shuri Kido is well-known in his native Japan, and his work at last comes to the United States in this lovely bilingual selection, translated by Tomoyuki Endo and Pulitzer Prize winner Forrest Gander. Kido’s poems are frequently spiritual dramas set in a dreamlike landscape of symbols, in which a central, isolated figure encounters mysterious phenomena while making ambiguous progress toward an inscrutable goal. “Elusive water,” he writes in “Some Thoughts on Kozukata.” “You draw it up, / pour it over yourself. / Today courses by like yesterday, / today floats like a cork on tomorrow. / And that’s why you draw water.”

‘The Slain Birds’

By Michael Longley (Wake Forest University Press)

In a time when many poets feel compelled to turn up the volume to try to gain the public’s attention, the hushed and gentle beauty of Michael Longley’s work feels like an exquisite antidote to — or a radical rebuttal of — our chaotic cultural sphere. Now in his early 80s, Longley continues to build his poems around images drawn from nature, allusions to classical literature and the musical place names of his native Ireland, while celebrating the textures of commonplace quotidian speech. “How much of what we scribble down survives— / Sappho’s miraculous bits and pieces, / Dialect words for kitchen-utensils, / See-through dresses, moonbeams — somebody / At a busy street corner advising / Where to shop for lipstick and mascara.” (“Sappho”)

‘Please Make Me Pretty, I Don’t Want to Die’

By Tawanda Mulalu (Princeton University Press)

Tawanda Mulalu’s first book is an energetic and energizing assemblage of restlessly shifting modes, juggling forms and shuffling styles. The linguistic playfulness that animates his poems conceals neither their serious intent nor their underlying melancholy. A poem titled “Ear” begins with a line August Kleinzahler might envy: “Van Gogh’s ear is lying now without Zyrtec in a field.” “American Elegy” begins: “I know no music for how a country should end.” (I’m not sure I do either, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Mulalu were the one to invent it.) “Everyone is dying,” he observes in one of four poems titled “Prayer.” And, he adds: “There are such pretty words for this.”

‘Flight and Metamorphosis’

By Nelly Sachs (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

First published in 1959, Nelly Sachs’s “Flucht und Verwandlung” has been bought back to life in a fresh translation by Joshua Weiner (with Linda B. Parshall). Sachs, a Jewish writer who fled the Holocaust to Sweden in 1940, wrote compressed, spiritually intense poems composed in short, tentative lines that quiver with solemnity and anxiety. Reading them, you feel like you are being enticed toward an encounter with some unknown divinity, then left trembling on the verge: “For there’s no refuge / to be found / in the flying dust / and only the windscarf / a movable crown / signals, still flickering, / blazoned with restless stars / the course of the world—”

‘This Afterlife’

By A.E. Stallings (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

A.E. Stallings is that rare poet who can write in a traditional form (sonnets! sestinas!) without letting the form squeeze the life out of the poem. “This Afterlife,” which selects from more than two decades of work, solidifies her virtuoso status. Much of the pleasure comes from her precise, imaginative eye, as when she describes a violin as “Light as an exile’s suitcase, / A belly of emptiness” (“Two Violins”). “Pop Music” — one of several little masterpieces here — is addressed “for a new parent.” It begins: “The music that your son will listen to / To drive you mad / Has yet to be invented” and builds to a minor-key epiphany worthy of Philip Larkin: “Thus it has always been. Maybe that’s why / The sappy retro soundtrack of your youth / Ambushes you sometimes in a cafe / At this almost-safe distance, and you weep, or nearly weep, / For all you knew of beauty, or of truth.”

Troy Jollimore’s most recent book of poems, “Earthly Delights,” was published in 2021.

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