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The 5 best poetry collections of 2018

(Graywolf; Copper Canyon; Graywolf)

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

By Terrance Hayes (Penguin)

In these 14-line, free-verse poems, all with the same title, Hayes, who won the National Book Award in 2010, examines what it means to be an American, to belong and to be haunted and hunted by violent racism. Hayes uses a variety of approaches to take aim at the sins of the nation and employs surprising rhythms throughout. Expect to be challenged on almost every page by a speaker who knows “It is not enough/ to love you. It is not enough to want you destroyed” and warns that “You will never assassinate my ghosts.”

The Carrying

By Ada Limón (Milkweed)

A desire for connection runs throughout Limón’s work, as does the tension created by the gap between how life could be and how it really is. Limón, who was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award in 2015, is always a careful witness, accurately recording the moment rather than trying to transcend it. Evocative dreams and pivotal memories help make this collection a powerful example of how to carry the things that define us without being broken by them.

New Poets of Native Nations

Edited by Heid E. Erdrich (Graywolf)

Erdrich, an Ojibwe poet and scholar, chose 21 poets who have published books since 2000. Some — including Layli Long Soldier and Tommy Pico — have earned critical acclaim for their shrewd, distinctive work that fearlessly explores their relationship to American history, the natural world and the traditions they learned from forebears who were powerless to defend their lands.

So Far So Good

By Ursula K. Le Guin (Copper Canyon)

Le Guin, loved by millions for her fantasy and science-fiction novels, ponders life, death and the vast beyond. This astute and charming collection was finished weeks before her death in January. Fans will recognize some of the motifs here — cats, wind, strong women — as well as her exploration of the intersection between soul and body, the knowable and the unknown.

Wade in the Water

By Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf)

Smith, poet laureate of the United States and a Pulitzer Prize winner, shows tremendous range in these rich, humane poems as she shifts from lyricism to direct speech, from meditative passages to wry humor. The centerpiece is a cycle of pieces drawn from letters by black Civil War veterans and their widows seeking the pensions they were owed. Smith brings great intelligence and sensitivity to her poems, leading readers deeper into other people’s stories — and ultimately into their own humanity.

Elizabeth Lund reviews poetry every month for The Washington Post.

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