“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does.” – Allen Ginsberg
In honor of National Poetry Month, here’s a spotlight on a selection of our published poetry collections:
The inventor of the speculum, J. Marion Sims, is celebrated as the “father of modern gynecology,” and a memorial at his birthplace honors “his service to suffering women, empress and slave alike.” These tributes whitewash the fact that Sims achieved his surgical breakthroughs by experimenting on eleven enslaved African American women. Lent to Sims by their owners, these women were forced to undergo operations without their consent. Today, the names of all but three of these women are lost.
In Mend: Poems, Kwoya Fagin Maples gives voice to the enslaved women named in Sims’s autobiography: Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. In poems exploring imagined memories and experiences relayed from hospital beds, the speakers challenge Sims’s lies, mourn their trampled dignity, name their suffering in spirit, and speak of their bodies as “bruised fruit.” At the same time, they are more than his victims, and the poems celebrate their humanity, their feelings, their memories, and their selves. A finalist for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, this debut collection illuminates a complex and disturbing chapter of the African American experience.
Black Bone: 25 Years of the Affrilachian Poets
The Appalachian region stretches from Mississippi to New York, encompassing rural areas as well as cities from Birmingham to Pittsburgh. Though Appalachia’s people are as diverse as its terrain, few other regions in America are as burdened with stereotypes. Author Frank X Walker coined the term “Affrilachia” to give identity and voice to people of African descent from this region and to highlight Appalachia’s multicultural identity. This act inspired a group of gifted artists, the Affrilachian Poets, to begin working together and using their writing to defy persistent stereotypes of Appalachia as a racially and culturally homogenized region.
After years of growth, honors, and accomplishments, the group is acknowledging its silver anniversary with Black Bone. Edited by two newer members of the Affrilachian Poets, Bianca Lynne Spriggs and Jeremy Paden, Black Bone is a beautiful collection of both new and classic work and features submissions from Frank X Walker, Nikky Finney, Gerald Coleman, Crystal Wilkinson, Kelly Norman Ellis, and many others. This illuminating and powerful collection is a testament to a groundbreaking group and its enduring legacy.
A Girl’s A Gun
Haunting and candid, A Girl’s A Gun introduces a poet whose bold voice merges heightened lyricism with compelling narrative. Steeped in storytelling traditions, the poems in Rachel Danielle Peterson’s debut collection exhibit linguistic dexterity and mastery of form as the poet mixes lyrical paragraphs, sonnets, and interview-style poems with free verse.
Taken together, the poems present the coming-of-age story of a girl born in the mountains of rural eastern Kentucky, tracing her journey into a wider world of experience. While the early poems are steeped in Appalachian speech and culture—a hybrid of a child’s diction and regional dialect—the language shifts as the collection progresses, becoming more standard. The speaker engages with hard issues surrounding gender and violence in contemporary life and explores what it means to be an artist in a culture that favors a literal interpretation of reality. Exploring issues of identity, place, and the call to create, this collection tackles subjects that will shock, touch, and bewilder readers while giving voice to an underrepresented and perhaps even unprecedented perspective in poetry.
The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry
Jane Gentry (1941–2014) possessed an uncanny ability to spin quietly expansive and wise verses from small details, objects, and remembered moments. The hallmarks of her work are insight into nature, faith, the quotidian, and—perhaps most prominently—the grounding of her home and family in the state of Kentucky. This innovative poet and critic was for many years one of the animating spirits of literary life in the region.
Gentry and her daughters collaborated with editor Julia Johnson to organize this definitive collection. The result is an important literary anthology that assembles Gentry’s most celebrated poems alongside new, previously unpublished works. Johnson uses Gentry’s own methodology to arrange the poems in sequences comparable to those found in her previous collections. This organization showcases the range of the poet’s work and the flexibility of her style, which is sometimes ironic and humorous; sometimes poignant; but always clear, intelligent, and revelatory.
This volume includes two full-length collections of poetry in their entirety—A Garden in Kentucky and Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig. The final section features Gentry’s unpublished work, bringing together her early poems, verses written for loved ones, and a large group of more recent work that may have been intended for future collections. Alternately startling and heart-wrenching, The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry offers a valuable retrospective of the celebrated poet’s work.
The Price of Scarlet
A honeycomb long vacated by honeybees still possesses an “echo of the swarm, / a lingering song.” Living things are made and make themselves: “My bones came first. / Like long needles, / they knitted muscle / and tendon / and tissue and skin. / Filled themselves / with marrow.”
In her debut collection, Brianna Noll fuses the scientific and fantastic, posing probing questions that explore the paradoxes of experience. Interweaving themes of creation, art, and nature, the poet gives voice to animate and inanimate figures such as woolly mammoths, star-nosed moles, cells, mylar balloons, and puzzle boxes. Her vivid poems obscure the line between what is literal and what is figurative. The result is alchemic and ethereal—each verse intricately layered with sharp observation as well as emotional and intellectual exploration and questioning.
Collectively, the poems draw significantly on Japanese culture and language in their imagery, with cultural nuances and implications embedded in words and expressions. They tend to be tied, not to subjects, but to ways of seeing and considering the world. Noll’s lyrical voice reflects a curious and imaginative approach that results in tight poems, typically enjambed, which build together into a thoughtful collection. Her work offers ways of seeing and considering the world that exceed our lived experience, begging the reader to consider how far we are willing to go when faced with roadblocks, doubts, and uncertainties.