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As we gather our most-read poems of the year, we would like to think that the simple fact that you have clicked and arrived here, where poems are, bespeaks a collective resilience. The presence of readers of these remarkable poems, our honor to publish, buoys and sustains the work we are trying to do on the poetry pages of Boston Review. “Frederick Douglass is irrevocably dead,” writes Joshua Bennett, but he urges that fugitive spirit to “Make us / brave as the flock in the fist / of a storm.”
It is a tall order for any spirit and any flock. The year in poems, like the year itself, marks episode after episode of dismaying breaches of justice and decency, even as it invites us into cul-de-sacs of wish, of wit and discernment, and of aching beauty. An end-of-year roundup of poems is often an occasion to stake a claim for why poetry matters, but it may be the case that it doesn’t, not the way we wish it did. Poems never have, and probably never will, measurably diminish the damage of floods, the slaughter of crowds, the incineration of forests, the assaults on dignity, or the exploitation of millions at the hands of the corrupt and rich. Yet week after week, the poets we have published have offered not answers or remedies but instants, instantiations of the power of the lived word as it unfolds for readers in real time.
In Zachary Pace’s poems, that instant is a “shock: your encounter with another’s oneness,” and then an “aftershock: encounter with your own otherness.” In Elijah Bean’s, it’s an unmasking: “White Jesus is a lie, / and we can’t lie in church.” In Alyssa Moore’s, it’s an appeal: “I’d asked for a sharper tongue and a calmer disposition.” In Phillip B. Williams, resoundingly, it’s “duh one bout music comin from duh eyes,” and it’s the rug pulled out from under the entire enterprise, the poem that makes hope possible and impossible at once.
We invite you to revisit these poems, these instants, and instances of power. Every one of the poems we published this year uniquely offers an immediacy and energy we are grateful to have harbored. This list gathers the top twenty-five poems (or groups of poems) published on our website since January, arranged alphabetically by author’s last name.
—Timothy Donnelly, BK Fischer, Stefania Heim
with its elliptical leavesdangling, light and dry
as an abandoned chrysalis,
A. H. Jerriod Avant, Ode to a Pronoun
it hung aroundthe airwith wet hair and sweat it
A long time ago
A group of old white men
Sat in a wopped circle just like this
In weird worship
Joshua Bennett, Frederick Douglass Is Dead
& might very well remain that way,
despite the best attempts
of our present overlord to resurrect
him without a single living
black mother’s permission.
Stephanie Burt, Peter Gizzi, Dorothea Lasky, Lynn Melnick, Khadijah Queen, Monica Youn, Six Poems for Political Disaster
What would it be like to belong
entirely in your own body, or in your own country, or at
your own address?
Bill Carty, Not a Moat
You will have grown too old
for the haircut before it grows back;
that’s the future perfect tense.
Jennifer Chang, Lost Child
It is possible I’ve written all I can
about her, my friend, who once saw
my coldness, young as we were, as
might. Wordless, slow,
In the language of flowers // I am the one who says // fuck you
I won’t be anyone’s nosegay // this Mary is her own // talking bouquetnever let a man speak for you or call you // what he wants // I learned that
the hard way // amorphophallus titanum // it sure sounds pretty in a dead tongue
Mia Kang, 2017 Poetry Contest Winner
Because I had no body I was looking for one.
Mars saw a body in me.
We bodied up against each other to prove it.
I proved it. I was no body to come home to.
This book documents white American identity as it occurs in everyday moments of a
life andThis book attempts to document s awhite American identity as it occursaccrues in moments of amyWriting that documentsshows wherewhiteness clearlyso I can revise see Mybook attempts to documents thean accretion of whiteAmerican in my life and from across whiteness history
James Henry Knippen, Erika Luckert, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Courtney Faye Taylor, Discovery Poetry Contest Winners
Yes I’m thinking of a number between my nephew and Rikers. No, preeclampsia won’t woo my womb this year.
I give birth to a boy and girl. I don’t know which child
belongs to which man until they are old enough to curse me.
Ricardo Maldonado, Two Poems
Unable to begin, under the incandescent
ongoingness of this—late capitalism would give the bitter
fruit its malignancy.
Carly Joy Miller, Dayshift as Conduit
My mother told me I live
like a beast and like a beast
I will die. So goes the omen:
my family tree rooted in animal
Alyssa Moore, [I Had Three Wishes]
I had three wishes
& I did not ask
for beauty so beauty was not
what I was given
“Every time North-Americans feel ‘unsafe,’ others get killed abroad. If there is something that North-Americans critical agents need to learn, it is to feel ‘unsafe’”I see that I am frequently unsafe
Zachary Pace, Three Poems
So to defuse the dynamite of desiring someone
(shock: your encounter with another’s oneness)
(aftershock: encounter with your own otherness)
resist any impulse to tire of detonating desire.
Trace Peterson, NO ONE COULD SEE THE VAST CROWD
They entrap a womb to leverage mani-pedi channels
Actually, I don't have a mani-pedi lack.
Resistance comes back.
Justin Phillip Reed, THE PERSONAL ANIMAL
It must be my lust for the musk of the master.
Nights it finds me. In the knick
between vertebrae, it flickers ambition to future inferno.
Ariana Reines, Eight Poems
Sitting there lyke a ladye
In a stained glass windo
Pretty cut on me thumb
Color of a rip’ning plum
We haven’t moved from this pier in a couple years.
All we need to do to be happy is point out fish.
Sure, we’re just pointing at ripples,
but we know they’re fish
Raquel Salas Rivera, Poet's Sampler
if you don’t understand i’m talking about this gender,
it’s because you haven’t seen the statistics that say
i probably won’t survive
the climatic changes
i harbor in my chest.
I feel a nessness
and it grows
in color and size
until I can no longer sit
Christopher Soto, Two Poems
Champagne chandeliers // & bourgeois bubble-baths // in East Hampton
How did I get here // with introverted architects // discussing astrology &
Afrofuturism // my anatomy in black // leather jackets // taxidermy bats
Phillip B. Williams, “They sure do love them some black pain.”
Tell us duh one bout yo grandmammy’s hands:
callused and cookin, cansuh everywhere but her hands
Tell us bout her mouf too: “Oh Lawdy Jesus” “Wrench around…”
“Bout scared me half to DEATH” she make purty sounds
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Draconian individual punishment distracts from systemic change and reinforces the cruelest and most racist system of incarceration on the planet.
Our well-being depends on a better understanding of how the logic of labor has twisted our relationship with pleasure.
“I was my father’s son. My father was Nai Nai’s least favorite.” A Taiwanese American man, driven from home by a secret, reevaluates his childhood memories of his grandmother.