The Most Anticipated Poetry Books of 2016


From much-needed surveys of our greatest practicing poets, like Kevin Young’s Blue Laws, to new collections from post-war masters, like Adrienne Rich’s 1950-2012, this year looks to be one that lays the groundwork for poetry that will be taught, read, and discussed in the coming years. Otherwise: startlingly assured, original debuts and recovered poetry from Pablo Neruda. It’s still early in the year, but there’s already much to anticipate.

Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015, Kevin Young (February, Knopf)

Cinema, visual art, the blues, food and drink, loss and grief, the story of the Amistad rebels — there is virtually no aesthetic, emotional, or intellectual world untouched by Kevin Young’s poetry. And Blue Laws, published next month, will survey almost the entirety of this astonishing output. It is one of the most important books of the year in any category.

Widening Income Inequality: Poems, Frederick Seidel (February, FSG)

It’s impossible not to think of Yeats’ gyre when considering the title of Seidel’s new collection, which is, as far as I’ve read, a return to form — or, as Seidel would have it, a return to form breaking. And for those who have yet to let the man into your dreams:

Now open your heart. Now open your art. Now get down on your knees in the street And eat.

All the Poems: Stevie Smith, ed. William May (February, New Directions)

For some reason, Stevie Smith isn’t widely known in the US, even though she was a favorite of Sylvia Plath (and is a favorite of Morrissey). This enormous book of “all the poems” she wrote is a welcome corrective. One of the weirdest and most interesting popular poets of the 20th century, Smith deserves to be on as many bookshelves as Dr. Seuss.

Rapture: Poems, Sjohnna McCray (April, Graywolf)

Chosen by Tracy K. Smith for the 2015 Walt Whitman Award, this collection looks to be one of the most accomplished debuts of the year. While you await its release, you can read some of McCray’s work at the Academy of American Poets. “Agnostic Front” is one of my favorites.

Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda, Pablo Neruda, trans. Forrest Gander (April, Copper Canyon)

It’s a collection of recently discovered works by one of the great 20th-century poets — it speaks for itself. You can read it animated by the fury of knowing he was probably murdered and was definitely snubbed for the Nobel Prize 50 years ago.

Collected Poems: 1950-2012, Adrienne Rich (intro, Claudia Rankine) (April, W. W. Norton & Company)

Over a half-century’s worth of pathbreaking work, without which a vast cut of present poetry would never have been written and would otherwise be impossible to contemplate. And it’s introduced by Claudia Rankine. No more necessary book of American poetry will be published this year.

Collected Poems: 1974-2004, Rita Dove (May, W. W. Norton & Company)

Narrative and lyric, tradition and experimentation: no shift or formal movement was too difficult for Dove in the 30-year span covered by this collection, which showcases the sweep and the intimacy that rightly made her one of the most decorated American poets of the final quarter of the 20th century.

Look: Poems, Solmaz Sharif (July, Graywolf)

Based on the formal ingenuity and political acuity of her recent poetry — check out Adam Fitzgerald’s wonderful breakdown of her poem “Exile Elegy” at Literary Hub — no debut poet of 2016 has me more intrigued than Solmaz Sharif.