By Monica Youn (Graywolf)
In this collection, titled after the legal term for a hypothetical piece of land, Youn, a former lawyer, constructs subtle arguments about desire and loss, including her own inability to have a child. What readers might notice first is the sparseness of her opening section, in which every word is essential and resonant, as several speakers address the limits and architecture of the body. Later sections include a variety of styles and other kinds of acres — greenacre, brownacre — as the work builds to two poems titled “Blackacre.” Youn reminds readers that poetry is essential because of how it says what can’t be expressed through prose.
By Kevin Young (Knopf)
Young brilliantly conveys the struggles and triumphs of those oppressed by slavery, economic hardship after emancipation, Jim Crow laws and the prejudice that still tinge life today. The poems — encompassing 20 years of his work — demonstrate Young’s rare ability to give voice to a broad variety of people, such as artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, boxer Jack Johnson and poet Phillis Wheatley. Everything builds toward the gorgeous works from “Book of Hours” (2014) where the speaker deals with the loss of his father and his own impending parenthood.
By W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon)
These quietly powerful poems were written as Merwin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate, was losing his eyesight. That alone makes the book noteworthy. What makes it memorable is that Merwin addresses the loss with honesty, humanity and a singular poetic vision that allows him to find beauty even as his sight dims. The meditative collection opens with several poems that consider light and dark, shadows and distance, both literal and metaphorical, prompting the speaker to ask, “Is it I who have come to this age/ or is it the age that has come to me/ which one has brought along all these/ silent images on their shadowy river.”
By Solmaz Sharif (Graywolf)
This remarkable debut collection challenges readers to consider the suffering caused by war. Sharif, who was born in Istanbul to Iranian parents who fled their homeland after the 1979 revolution, recounts some of her family’s experiences with exile and immigration as they made their way to the United States and were forced, early on, to separate. As the speaker grieves for those who have been killed, she uses words from the Defense Department, recasting them to show how war distorts language and perception. Every piece underscores the importance of how we view and name things. Even the book’s title, a term that refers to mine warfare — admonishes readers to think about their own ideas and impressions.
By C.D. Wright (Copper Canyon)
This posthumously published collection features seven poem sequences that show Wright’s tremendous range in style and approach. As she considers, among her topics, dark intuitions about human nature, she also nudges readers to question who is telling the story and where one’s thought can lead. She explores parts of the psyche that may be disconcerting to some readers, but those who persist will be rewarded by the final lines of the book’s closing piece: “From a Tree of Tomorrows/ Don’t shut it I said We lack for nothing/ Indissolubly connected/ Across the lines of our lives/ The once the now the then and again.”
Elizabeth Lund reviews poetry every month for The Washington Post.