“Flyover Country” (Princeton), by Austin Smith is a marvelous collection that conveys deep insights and exquisite details about life in the Midwest. Smith, who grew up on a dairy farm in Illinois, recalls the fortitude of people he knew as well as the many forms of violence toward animals or the land. Fences, for example, divide pastures or “surround the farm,/ Keeping the world/ Out and the herd in.” He also turns his gaze toward wars the United States is waging abroad and toward foreign nations and cultures. What links his subjects, as the title suggests, is the fact that seemingly invisible actions taken by Americans have lasting consequences in places we typically choose to view only from a distance.
J. Michael Martinez interweaves short, analytical prose pieces and poetic inquiry in his third book, “Museum of the Americas” (Penguin), which was selected for the National Poetry Series and longlisted for the National Book Award. This fascinating hybrid collection explores how current events reflect long-held prejudices about Mexicans and people of color, as evidenced by Mexican casta paintings and the lynching postcards of Walter H. Horne. Throughout the work the speaker relays his concern and frustration about how he and other Mexican Americans continue to be classified and objectified.
In these new and selected poems, Marilyn Chin grapples with identity, cultural assimilation and feminism. Bold and unapologetic, the work shows why she has been a prominent voice in American poetry over the last three decades — and how she has evolved as a literary activist. Ranging from clear, radiant lyrics to experimental, subversive pieces, “A Portrait of the Self as a Nation” (Norton) illustrates “that this wild-girl poet is engaged in perpetual renewal and that there is more raucous work to come.”
“Hold” (Copper Canyon), the ninth book by Bob Hicok, urges readers to consider our faults as a nation — environmental destruction, gross financial inequities, police brutality. By turns wry and witty, Hicok’s plain-spoken writing highlights some of the pleasures and pains in this world, and humanity’s need for reflection. In the poem “Getting there,” he muses: “How far would we get with war/ if every man first asked his mother,/ Can I kill? Most of whom would say, / ‘It’s may I kill, and no, you may not.’”
“Dangerous Household Items” (Copper Canyon) is the quirky, engaging poetry debut by the critic David Orr. As he considers commonplace objects around him — a kitchen knife, tea leaves, plastic bags — he reveals a fascinating view of suburbia and people’s hidden emotional lives. In the poem “Inflatable Pool” he writes: “Consider the end of the world. Consider that there is no/Grief or fear, but only forward movement/Until movement is no longer possible./Consider the lack/Of reflection and the lack of mourning for this absence.” The writing is so fresh and delightful that Orr may forever change how readers view banal tasks and happenstances.
An earlier version of this story misattributed the cover image for “Flyover Country.” This post has been updated.
Elizabeth Lund writes about poetry each month for The Washington Post.