Introductory English lit classes are often packed with the “greats of literature” like Shakespeare or Edgar Allen Poe. Writer and editor Terrance Hayes once described his taste in poems as a “yard with a fence I cannot see.” We’re certainly not knocking Shakespeare and company, but we’d like to help broaden your yard. Check out our latest poetry suggestions—we file these under “new classics” that both break ground and that you won’t be able to put down.
Sherman Alexie: First Indian on the Moon
At their best, instructor-assigned poem writing exercises can be vehicles for learning forms, crafting, and structure. But knowing “the rules” should ideally enable you to successfully break them with practice. American Indigenous writer Sherman Alexie’s book, First Indian on the Moon, shows plenty of rule-breaking examples, shifting between free forms, prose poems, and structured verse, and even mimicking a government informational pamphlet in the poem “How to Obtain Eagle Feathers for Religious Use.” First published in 1992, this intense poetry collection contains exuberant, bitter, and heartbreaking narratives and still captures readers’ imaginations today, regularly eliciting four- and five-star reviews.
Oliver Bendorf: The Spectral Wilderness
As sentient beings, we are transient universes packed with thought, feeling, timelines, and experiences. Sometimes, inhabiting a body can present challenges, uncertainties, and deeper questions, especially for transgender individuals. Oliver Bendorf explores these and more in The Spectral Wilderness, a 2015 collection of LGBT poetry that Lambda Literary reviewer Douglas Ray called “full of beautiful little bodies, written into being.” Bendorf’s work is multilayered and multitextured, demanding to be drunk in through multiple reads. It’s poetry that’s a deeply satisfying experience, with lines ranging from the gorgeous like “Will you be a thing of glass for my body?/The breakable thing I will not break?” to the rough and guttural such as “I am just as full of shit as everyone, incl. you.”
Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon: The US Book
A common trend in modern poetics is the tendency towards an economy of language. However, expanding or contracting one’s word-spaces must be a deliberate craft choice. Publishing as Michael Scott Monje, Jr., Lambda Literary-nominated writer Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon solidly inhabits each page while balancing this with rhythm, structure, and rich imagery in her 2016 poetry collection, The US Book. Described by reviewers as “mic-dropping” and a “music of the spheres,” her book captivates with lines like these:
“I’m performing naked in public with a ski mask on,
skinning myself in slow motion.
I walk around, leaving meaty footprints
on the carpet, making messes of myself
in front of extended relatives
and re-enacting rituals with razor blades
in excruciating patterns with unsteady hands.”
Reading voraciously is always a plus, but great work is simultaneously classic and timely. It transcends temporal boundaries, continuing to speak to readers long after its creation. Our poetry suggestions are just a beginning, but they’re a great start for learning to enjoy the genre and finding reads that excite you.