Ilya Kaminsky recommends 6 works of poetry from 2020

Poet Ilya Kaminsky is the author of three collections, including Deaf Republic, a 2019 National Book Award finalist and winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Below, he names his favorite new poetry collections of this year.

Guillotine by Eduardo C. Corral.

Here is a beautiful and moving book of love, immigration, and grief. Switching between Spanish and English, between Eros and exile, it is a lyric testimony to how we live inside bodies, across borders. A pain herein is made into a song.

Obit by Victoria Chang.

A long elegy for the poet’s mother, Obit is the kind of poetry collection that creates a new genre. A reinvention of form? A symphony? A manifesto? All of the above and then some. It is heartbreaking and enthralling. It sings and instructs. It is a world all its own; one that changes ours.

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz.

A Mojave poet offers a great lesson in what a collection of poems can do, from the powerful lyrics for her brother to erotic poems to those about the disappearance of indigenous people to poems about what we do to the natural world. All of it comes together as one hymn: a song of candor and tenderness.

In the Lateness of the World by Carolyn Forché.

This book is filled with poems that speak with ethical urgency. Open it to “The Boatman,” for instance, (“I will see that you arrive safely, my friend”) and you will come under the spell of something as fresh as morning news and as timeless as a parable. It is a book that takes a journey around the world and into the world. Yet there is also something new here for Forché: an even larger scope, a prophetic mode.

Stranger by Night by Edward Hirsch.

Nearly every poem here is one sentence long, given to the loved one who’s lost. In the time of COVID and Zoom funerals, many people will relate to the imagery of being intimately alone with grief, yet at a distance. Hirsch writes movingly about his gradual loss of vision, while addressing all kinds of loss and offering an astonished discovery of what grief might reveal.

Homie by Danez Smith.

This book is so many different things in one: a hymn to friendship, an elegy, and a thrilling, dynamic political stand. There is a warmth in these poems that isn’t something one often finds in American poetry, and humor and sadness. Homie is as exuberant and bold as it is heartbreaking.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.


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