Poetry, while often a wrongfully underserved artform, is one of the most inspiring literary modes there is — therefore we’ve compiled a list of some favorite poets, both seasoned and new, that we believe will get you in the mood for reading in verse. So in honor of National Poetry Month, Editor-in-Chief Paris Close and Contributor Leah Rodriguez are proposing you six poets whose verses have rendered us craving more.
Kaveh Akbar’s poems appear in The New Yorker, Poetry, The New York Times, Paris Review, The Nation, Best American Poetry, The New Republic, The Guardian, American Poetry Review, The Poetry Review, PBS NewsHour, and elsewhere. His debut full-length collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, is out with Alice James in the US and Penguin in the UK, and his chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, was published by Sibling Rivalry Press. The recipient of honors including a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, a Pushcart Prize, the Levis Reading Prize, and a Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, Kaveh was born in Tehran, Iran, and teaches at Purdue University and in the low residency MFA programs at Randolph College and Warren Wilson.
Reasons to read, presented by Leah: When poems are good, you can taste them. Akbar’s work shape-shifts on the tongue—at times it is warm honey pooling at the base of one’s throat; at other times it contains bone, something that will bite back into the flesh. His chapbook Portrait of the Alcoholic was my introduction to his work and everything of his I’ve encountered since showcases the flexed muscle of a master craftsman.
Despite My Efforts Even My Prayers Have Turned Into Threats
Holy father I can’t pretend
I’m not afraid to see you again
but I’ll say that when the time
comes I believe my courage
will expand like a sponge
cowboy in water. My earth-
father was far braver than me —
coming to America he knew
no English save Rolling Stones
lyrics and how to say thanks
God. Will his goodness roll
over to my tab and if yes, how
soon? I’m sorry for neglecting
your myriad signs, which seem
obvious now as a hawk’s head
on an empty plate. I keep waking
up at the bottom of swimming
pools, the water reflecting
whatever I miss most: whiskey-
glass, pill bottles, my mother’s
oleander, which was sweet
and evergreen but toxic in all
its parts. I know it was silly
to keep what I kept from you;
you’ve always been so charmed
by my weaknesses. I just figured
you were becoming fed up with
all your making, like a virtuoso
trying not to smash apart her
flute onstage. Plus, my sins
were practically devotional:
two peaches stolen from
a bodega, which were so sweet
I savored even the bits I flossed
out my teeth. I know it’s
no excuse, but even thinking
about them now I’m drooling.
Consider the night I spent reading
another man’s lover the Dream
Songs in bed — we made it to
“a green living / drops
limply” before we were
tangled into each other, cat
still sleeping at our feet. Allow
me these treasures, Lord.
Time will break what doesn’t
bend — even time. Even you.
Hala Alyan was born in Carbondale, Illinois. She holds a BA from the American University of Beirut, an MA from Columbia University, and a PsyD from Rutgers University. She is the author of four books of poetry, including The Twenty-Ninth Year (Mariner Books, 2019). She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Reasons to read, presented by Paris: Alyan and I crossed each other’s paths by way of her latest poetry collection, The Twenty-Ninth Year, a radical triptych of the calamities of cross-cultural conflicts, a family in shambles, and a daughter’s desire for escape and self-discovery. I swallowed these poems whole, and like The Socratic Method, among my favorites of the book, is a covenant to the ways in which we are tethered to what harms us most.
The Socratic Method
The last morning of December, I asked my father if he ever has night-
mares. My father said no. He’s as lonely as Wyoming, a perfect country
for no one to see. Baba, did you want the tailgating, the silver Dodge,
the dog you fed waffles? No wonder I can only love two men at a time.
No wonder I threw away every instrument I touched. In the mornings, I
clutch my chest and chant God forbid God forbid. I have dreamt your death
a thousand times. You were born for this, to haggle over cafe tables,
lining up for the donut peaches in Vierzon’s market. It takes a romantic
to leave a city; I understand this now. Those cardboard boxes, how they
opened faithfull for you, little brown hearts, how they carried every-
thing you would ask of them.
Chelsea Rathburn is an American poet. Rathburn was raised in Miami, Florida, and earned an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Criterion, Hudson Review, and Pleiades, and other journals.
Reasons to read, presented by Paris: I was fortunate enough to receive a gifted copy of Rathburn’s third poetry collection, Still Life With Mother and Knife, by the indelible Kelly Forsythe, author of Perennial, this winter — and what a blessing it was. Rathburn writes with a shade of darkness and haunting language that is at once beautiful and severing, and her latest body of work demonstrates a poet in her most fearless form.
The Face in the Chalice
When my neighbor crosses the lawn between our houses
brandishing the antlers of a freshly-killed buck,
red tissue still clinging to the nubs, and interrupts
a family picnic, he can’t know the mornings
my husband and I have stood by the window
watching the sleeping deer beneath the trees,
their appearance ghostly, holy. He can’t know
that earlier this month a damaged man
opened fire in a warehouse, shooting seven,
among them someone I once loved, whose life
hung between breath and mechanical breath,
his eyes still opening, closing, crying, but empty,
or that I am raw with disbelief. In fact,
our neighbor does not see me at all.
Breathless with joy, he describes his son’s kill
to my husband, who stands before my chair.
Watching the antlers in my neighbor’s hands,
trying not to scrutinize the pulpy flesh dangling,
I see what is not there as well as what is,
the old optical illusion of the chalice become
two faces gazing. Would you say the soul
left my friend when the bullet entered the body
and the brain emptied of oxygen, or when life support
was pulled two weeks later? Minutes pass
before my neighbor notices me bend
over the baby in my lap, still trying not to look.
He flushes as if to say he’s sorry. The baby,
focused only on my face, doesn’t see a thing.
Claire Wahmanholm received her BA from UW-Madison, her MFA from the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Utah. Her chapbook, Night Vision, won the 2017 New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM chapbook contest. Her debut full-length collection, Wilder, won the 2018 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, the Society of Midland Authors Award for Poetry, and is a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award. Her second collection, Redmouth, is forthcoming from Tinderbox Editions in 2019. Her poems have most recently appeared in, or are forthcoming from, The Los Angeles Review, The Paris-American, anthropoid, Fairy Tale Review, Winter Tangerine, New Poetry from the Midwest 2017, Saltfront, PANK, Bennington Review, The Collapsar, Newfound, Bateau, DIAGRAM, Best New Poets 2015, Handsome, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Journal, The Kenyon Review Online, and Third Coast. She lives and teaches in the Twin Cities.
Reasons to read, presented by Paris: Wahmanholm’s poems were, without a doubt, some of my greatest discoveries last year. I received an advanced edition of her latest collection, Wilder, and was completely floored by the rapture of her words. With the universe at her disposal, Wahmanholm envisions the apocalypse and the afterlife thereafter with a voice both alarming and glamorous.
Books of note: Wilder, $10.84; Night Vision, .
Where I Went Afterward
On Earth I had been held, honeysuckled
not just by honeysuckle
but by everything — marigolds,
bog after bog of small sundews,
the cold smell of spruce.
This planet is nothing like that.
Here, I comb lank alien grass out of my hair.
I wade through monochrome swarms
of weeds, through ankle-high piles of ash.
I used to miss desire, but that was eons ago.
I used to miss the sound of my voice,
but that was before I pulled my name
from my throat like a pit and set fire
to the field of my face. When I say
my skin is lace, I mean I used to find it
lovely. Now there is nothing I miss.
If I stumbled upon this place again,
I would not know it.
I hold myself in my arms.
I bend against myself like grass, like this.
Born Asa Bundy Sheffey on August 4, 1913, Robert Hayden was born into a poor family in the Paradise Valley neighborhood of Detroit; he had an emotionally traumatic childhood and was raised in part by foster parents. Due to extreme nearsightedness, Hayden turned to books rather than sports in his childhood. After graduating from high school in 1932, he attended Detroit City College (now Wayne State University) on scholarship and later earned a graduate degree in English literature from the University of Michigan. As a teaching fellow, he was the first Black faculty member in Michigan’s English department. In 1975, Hayden received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, and in 1976, he became the first black American to be appointed as a consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress (later called the poet laureate). He died in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on February 25, 1980.
Reasons to read, presented by Leah: Robert Hayden remains one of America’s finest poets. His ability to capture flashes of daily life—like this Sunday morning—and lay bare its most essential parts is exemplary.
Books of note: Robert Hayden: The Collected Poems, $14.73.
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Born in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. and raised in Apopka, Florida, Nicole Sealey is the author of Ordinary Beast, finalist for the PEN Open Book and Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards, and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, winner of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. Her other honors include a 2019 Rome Prize, the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from The American Poetry Review, the Poetry International Prize and a Daniel Varoujan Award, grants from the Elizabeth George and Jerome Foundations, as well as fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, CantoMundo, Cave Canem, MacDowell Colony and the Poetry Project. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and elsewhere. Nicole holds an MLA in Africana studies from the University of South Florida and an MFA in creative writing from New York University. Recently named a 2019-2020 Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, she is also the executive director at Cave Canem Foundation, a visiting professor at Boston University and the 2018-2019 Doris Lippman Visiting Poet at The City College of New York.
Reasons to read, presented by Leah: This particular poem knocked me all the way out when I first read it. “O, how we entertain the angels / with our brief animation.” How good is that?! When I encounter poems as perfect as this, I am reminded just how technical a craft poetry is. And the brilliance of Nicole Sealey will inspire envy in anyone quietly hoping to capture beauty like this.
We wake as if surprised the other is still there,
each petting the sheet to be sure.
How have we managed our way
to this bed—beholden to heat like dawn
indebted to light. Though we’re not so self-
important as to think everything
has led to this, everything has led to this.
There’s a name for the animal
love makes of us—named, I think,
like rain, for the sound it makes.
You are the animal after whom other animals
are named. Until there’s none left to laugh,
days will start with the same startle
and end with caterpillars gorged on milkweed.
O, how we entertain the angels
with our brief animation. O,
how I’ll miss you when we’re dead.