By Justin Phillip Reed

“The Malevolent Volume” reminds us that poetry can be playful and deadly serious in the same moment. Reed, whose first poetry collection won the National Book Award, is the kind of poet who will write a poem from the point of view of the alien in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic “Alien,” or compose a caustic and terrifyingly accurate portrait of contemporary American life from the perspective of the oppressed and title it “Leaves of Grass.” He piles on anxious images and quasi-logical connections to create a gratifying weirdness: “Yes, I am delectable, and therefore/a spiral of buzzards descends in helix/or a whole horde of countrymen perfects/the custom of puzzling my flesh.”

By Joanna Klink

The hushed and meditative poems in this intensely lovely book manage somehow to feel simultaneously old-fashioned and cutting-edge. Amidst the chaotic noise and incessant annoyances of contemporary life, Klink’s poetry carves out a space in which we are reminded what it is like for an individual consciousness to encounter the awesome mysteries of both the outer universe and the inner self. “I am unable to/picture anything so whole/ it doesn’t crush what’s/ missing,” she writes. And elsewhere: “I cannot tell/what is unbearable in me/from what is opening.”

By Carl Phillips

“Am I not the animal by belief alone I myself make possible?” asks Carl Phillips in his latest collection. As always with Phillips, I am mystified, yet at the same time know precisely what he means. Almost no one, to my ear, charts the perpetually shifting moods and meanings of the interior psychic landscape as sensitively, or as beautifully, as he does. This book is one of his finest, an intoxicating cocktail of passion mixed with tentativeness, precision mixed with ambiguity, that trains our attention on the intimations of the divine that are frequently hidden in everyday landscapes and encounters.

Still Life

By Ciaran Carson

The Northern Irish poet Ciaran Carson has always taken time as his primary subject. In this posthumously published book, written while Carson was undergoing treatment for cancer, his experience of time is focused by an awareness of impending death, and refracted through the exquisitely close attention he pays to the paintings that provide the poems’ subjects and occasions. As in the work of James Schuyler, whose spirit often seems to hover over these poems, it is life itself — mortal, splendid, quotidian and almost unutterably beautiful and precious — that ultimately emerges as the book’s heroic protagonist.

By Wanda Coleman

“Wicked Enchantment,” which selects poems from the books Coleman published with Black Sparrow Press between 1979 and 2001, provides a fantastically entertaining and deeply engaging introduction to a poet whose talent and significance were not fully appreciated during her lifetime. Her “American Sonnets,” which have influenced many later poets (most notably, perhaps, Terrence Hayes, who has edited and provided an introduction for this volume) are potent distillations of creative rage, social critique, and subversive wit. Her excoriating exfoliations of the many varieties of American false consciousness perfectly capture our contemporary disillusionment and dismay: “Screams of protest come cheap,” she writes. “All that stomp about equality was just stomp.”

Troy Jollimore’s new book of poems, “Earthly Delights,” will be published in 2021.

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