If you fell asleep on poetry in 2014, you might not actually be asleep: you might be dead. Poetry this year not only proved itself the liveliest and healthiest genre of writing, it also showed itself to be the most intellectually voracious. (I would even argue that one of the best American novels of 2014 was written by a poet.) Here are the ten best books of poetry from 2014. Frankly, they may just be the ten best books.
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, Patricia Lockwood (Penguin)
From “The Arch”:
Was a gift from one city to another. A city cannot travel to another city, a city cannot visit any city but itself, and in its sadness it gives away a great door in the air. Well a city cannot except for Paris, who puts on a hat styled with pigeon wings and walks through the streets of another city and will not even see the sights, too full she is of the sights already. And within her walk her women, and the women of Paris looking like they just walked through an Arch…
Mature Themes, Andrew Durbin (Nightboat Books)
From “Monica Majoli”:
I’m so in heaven when I Google image Rafael Nadal, and find him radiating solar joy on the front page of nytimes.com after having just advanced in some open I’ve already forgotten the name of, proving to us that the champions of the world still wear jockey shorts. I might even collapse in a heap he’s so hot. Bruce has been everywhere in my life recently. Last night, I went to a party and ran into Alan Gilbert. We discussed Bruce’s really great new piece on Monica Majoli in Artforum.
Rome, Dorothea Lasky (Liveright / WW Norton)
From “Lilac Field”:
To perform death is something only humans would do No animal would sit there With a blank look on its face Just because the camera is there No no an animal would look directly in it Or cover its face, like the overweight Woman in the picture in the magazine By the room where I keep my bed What people don’t understand about beauty Is that after all it is not fleeting After all it is so gross to be that way That someone sees among you
If the Tabloids Are True What Are You?, Matthea Harvey (Graywolf)
From “The Straightforward Mermaid”:
The straightforward mermaid has already said to five sailors, “Look, I don’t think this is going to work,” before sinking like a sullen stone. She’s supposed to teach Rock Impersonation to the younger mermaids, but every beach field trip devolves into them trying to find shells to match their tail scales. They really love braiding. “Look,” says the straightforward mermaid. “Your high ponytails make you look like fountains, not rocks.” Sometimes she feels like a third gender—preferring primary colors to pastels, the radio to singing.
Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones (Coffee House Press)
From “Prelude to Bruise”:
In Birmingham, said the burly man— Boy, be a bootblack. Your back, blue-black. Your body, burning. I like my black boys broke, or broken. I like to break my black boys in. See this burnished brown leather belt? You see it, boy?
(You can read our feature on Jones here.)
Citizen, Claudia Rankine (Graywolf)
When the stranger asks, Why do you care? you just stand there staring at him. He has just referred to the boisterous teenagers in Starbucks as niggers. Hey, I am standing right here, you responded, not necessarily expecting him to turn to you. He is holding the lidded paper cup in one hand and a small paper bag in the other. They are just being kids. Come on, no need to get all KKK on them, you say. Now there you go, he responds. The people around you have turned away from their screens. The teenagers are on pause. There I go? you ask, feeling irritation begin to rain down. Yes, and something about hearing yourself repeating this stranger’s accusation in a voice usually reserved for your partner makes you smile.
Repast: Tea, Lunch, and Cocktails, D. A. Powell (Graywolf)
From “[the cocktail hour finally arrives: whether ending a day at the office]”:
we need a little glamour and glamour arrives: plenty of chipped ice a green jurassic palm tree planted. a yellow spastic monkey swinging a pink classic flamingo impaled upon the exuberant red of cherries dash of bitters. vermouth sweet. enough rye whiskey to kill this longing: I take my drinks still and stuffed with plastic. like my lovers my billfold full of rubbers. OPENs my mouth: its tiny neon lounge
Mala, Monica McClure (Poor Claudia)
Who looked at my bottom lip quivering and wanted to touch it but didn’t My hair is falling out because someone wanted to pull my curls but didn’t My whole body is sliding out between my knees and everyone stares making puchetos Don’t be so chiflada with your fingers in your mouth all day Ojo is what sickens you when they want to touch what they see and don’t
The Second Sex, Michael Robbins, (Penguin)
From “The Second Sex”:
After the first sex, there is no other. I stick my gender in a blender and click send. Voilà! Your new ex-girlfriend. You cuckold me with your husband. I move a box with Ludacris. The captain turns on, we begin our descent. Be gentle with me, I’m new to this. I say the wrong thing. I have OCD. My obsessive compulsions are disorderly. I say the wrong thing, did I already say? I drive my dominatrix away.
Titanic, Cecilia Corrigan (Lake Forest College Press)
Honey, honey, honey, are my people the enemy? If you would be so sweet, and only— There are those who will avail themselves of the rich traditional, a healthy degree, took down to the sodden base, there are those who people my people people past. There were those who say, we will pay for your abortion (Aetna is their God). They say, we will open your checking account (Aetna is also their God). Your aesthetic starts to wear on me. The architecture of the houses is wildly disparate.