11 Poetry Collections for National Poetry Month

Plus, a few must-reads to add to your list

It’s been a minute, but Orion poetry editor Camille Dungy and friends are back to recommend some newish collections to help celebrate National Poetry Month. Take a look!

Camille recommends: 


by Liza Katz Duncan 

“You’d have to be crazy to call home / a strip of sand that will be underwater in fifty years,” Liza Katz Duncan writes in the opening poem of her gripping debut collection, Given. “My God,” the poem continues, “what does that make me?” These are poems of deep tenderness, connection, attention, and despair. These poems, written in the long shadow of Superstorm Sandy, describe personal, communal, and global catastrophes. I waded through them as one might wade through the aftermath of a hurricane, finding evidence of love and grief, and, also, importantly, persistent hope. (Autumn House Press)


The Badass Brontës

by Jane Satterfield 

I don’t often think of the Brontë sisters separately of considering the Yorkshire moors in which they wrote, but in this delightful and informative collection of well-researched and finely crafted poems, Jane Satterfield both widens and deepens my understanding of the reasons it is impossible to untether the lives of Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Brontë and their family from the landscape, climate, and greater-than-human bounty of their simultaneously small and enormous world. “Once three sisters watched the world,” Satterfield writes. Full of hawks and robins and gorse and nettles and “the pumped up clouds of industry,” Satterfield’s formally adventurous poems show us how, situated as they are at a birthplace of the Anthropocene, this family “wrote through geographies of grief.” (Diode Editions)


The Ants

by Sawako Nakayasu 

This book is astonishing. I am almost at a loss for how to describe it because the observations in the book are so accurate as to feel nearly mundane. At the same time, the book is transcendent. Yes. A book about ants is transcendent. The way Sawako Nakayasu looks at the lives and activity of ants and humans is refreshing and startling and wholly alive. These little prose poems revived my exhausted attention. They made me want to look more carefully and closely at the world around me. (Les Figues Press)


The Language of Trees: A Rewilding of Literature and Landscape

by Katie Holten

Unlike any anthology I’ve ever seen, this book translates the work of some of my favorite writers (and some who were new to me) into trees. The book contains writing by Jorge Luis Borges, Carl Phillips, Forrest Gander, Maya Lin, Zadie Smith, Radiohead, Winona LaDuke, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Plato, Richard Powers, Ross Gay, Sojourner Truth, Kinari Webb, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and many more. Each offering appears alongside a translation that gives each letter a correlative image of a tree. A=apple, H= horsechestnut, N= nannyberry, Y= yellowwood. The translations create green groves I feel like I could spend hours wandering through. Fascinating and provocative, this book is simultaneously whimsical and earnest. (Tin House Books)

Next on Camille’s big ol’ To Read pile:

These months have been particularly busy for me and I haven’t had the chance to dig into all the poetry books I’d like to engage with, but here’s a peek at my current stack I’m excited to spend time with in the near future:

But wait! More recommended
reading from
Orion friends!

Sean Prentiss recommends:


Hackable Animal

by Ian Ramsey

In Hackable Animal, Ian Ramsey wonders “how to chase beauty in the newsfeed of tragedy.” That question is what Hackable Animal unravels, beautiful poem after beautiful poem. How do we survive this double crisis of environmental destruction and technological takeover? This collection is smart, passionate, worldly, and, most of all, perfect for this exact time of ours. I am in love with this book. (Wayfarer Books)

Derek Sheffield recommends:

Tales of a Distance

by Andrew C. Gottlieb

Although Tales of a Distance is Andrew Gottlieb’s first full-length collection, it reads more like a mid- or late-career book. The poems are so finely wrought! My students and I read this book together and kept finding passages of concise, gorgeous word music. Because of this special singing, more than one student chose to memorize one of Gottlieb’s poems for their in-class recitations. Another thing we noticed is how many of the poems, like “Cold Box of Night,” are able to make us feel located in place even as they lead us into the ineffable. Gottlieb explores intimacy and relationship among people, rivers, animals, and plants in a way that feels real, that feels like he’s drawing from his own sensory experience. Always the human world feels part of the natural world, as in the masterful poem “Parsing My Wife as Lookout Creek.” This is a book that was made to be read again and again, for the wildness without is what lies within. (Wandering Aengus Press)

Derek Sheffield also recommends:

Self-Portrait with Cephalopod

by Kathryn Smith

When Spokane poet John Whalen sent me a copy of Self-Portrait with Cephalopod by Kathryn Smith, I thought the big room of Nature Poetry in the great house of Poetry had acquired a new couch, but then I realized Smith’s voice was calling to mind another favorite Cascadian poet, Lucia Perillo. I so admire how Smith, like Perillo, can write poems that are so incisively hilarious about deadly-serious subject matters. This tonal variety is so refreshing in a genre that often addresses such topics as species extinction and climate urgency. On this note, about poems that warn versus poems that invite, Mary Oliver said “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” In a sense, Smith mixes the honey with the vinegar as she adds a dash of Tabasco sauce and the result is nothing short of yummy. Just listen to some of these poem titles: “When I Stepped on the Mouths of Other Creatures, I Did Not Apologize,” “There Are So Many Ways to Decide What to Kill and What to Rescue,” and “Ode to Super Friends and Nature Television.” Thank you, Kathryn Smith, for these poems! You had me at “Wonder Twin Powers, Activate!” (Milkweed Editions)

Isaac Yuen recommends:

Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry

edited by Elizabeth Bradfield, CMarie Fuhrman, and Derek Sheffield 

Here is a literary field guide that merges fact with art and verse to impart a sense of the bioregion known as Cascadia. Here text flows around images of its inhabitants: Map Lichen, Sword Fern, Tufted Puffin—all capitalized to acknowledge the intrinsic merits of their respective namebearers. Space is made and held not only for contributors and readers, but also for the entities and the worlds they are bound to, live by. Cascadia thus resounds as an assemblage of voices, offering a rich and vital approach to contemplate the Pacific Northwest, varied, expansive, everchanging. (Mountaineers Books)

Elizabeth Bradfield recommends:

What a joy to recommend recent books I’ve loved. I decided to focus on writers with poems in Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry because seeing their work in the anthology has made me all the more appreciative of the literary vibrancy of this region.


But She is Also Jane

by Laura Read

Laura Read’s poems floor me with their surprising leaps that, in the end, bring us right to the heart of the matter, though the heart wasn’t really where I thought it was at the start. Her focus on the female body as it moves through banal, small-town, middle-class life and the dangers those spaces hold even for those privileged in their race and class is potent and, somehow, perfectly terrifying. Her poems are direct, limpid, and astounding.  (University of Massachusetts Press)



by Jennifer Perrine

Jennifer Perrine is a poet I bow before at their ability to draw a real poem from a prompt. Jennifer’s belle absente/beautiful outlaw, Sickness (published with Broadsided Press as part of our folio engaging the pandemic), astounds me with its technical skill and emotional resonance. The poems of Jennifer’s most recent book, Again, are rich with sound—I could listen to these poems for a looonnng time—and are unflinching, artful, and bardic in their grapple with our dystopian, American moment. (Airlie Press)


How Not to Be Afraid of Everything

by Jane Wong

Jane Wong’s How Not to Be Afraid of Everything lays out the entangled legacies given to the poet by her ancestors, both Chinese and Chinese-American. These poems range through lands and time, they are full of meals and grandparents and insects, and they sprawl across pages, holding space for the complexities they engage and allowing time for surprising connections to emerge, connections too often erased in simplified public discourse about racism, family, and nation. (Alice James Books)


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