When we were in New York in the summer of 2019, on a rather special family trip to Canada and the USA, I made a diversion one afternoon to visit Berl’s Bookshop in Brooklyn. There aren’t many bookshops like it. It only sells poetry. Imagine – a bookshop that only sells poetry! Where poetry isn’t relegated to a dark corner on the third floor next to the lift or loos. Where the window display doesn’t show some ghost written nonentity celebrity memoir or blockbuster novel, but new poetry books instead. Nirvana!
Sadly of course, Berl’s is currently closed – but you can make online purchases via their website here. http://www.berlspoetry.com/
I picked up a few individual collections and chapbooks, (some which I may comment on later), but today’s poetry from my bookshelf post is a brief introduction to New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Heid E. Erdich, and published by Graywolf Press. It’s not currently available on Bookshop.org, so if you decide to buy a copy then I guess you’ll have to order directly from a bookshop or use Amazon.
In view of the new US government’s decision to cancel the Keystone Pipeline, which would have run through important first nation lands, it seemed as good a time as any to write about this book.
New Poets includes work by 21 different poets, all of whom’s first books were published since the year 2000. The book is 284 pages long, so each poet has enough space to show their craft and writing style. Certainly enough to make a judgement on whether to seek out their full collections.
There is huge variety in subject matter covering contemporary politics, urban & rural life, relationships, memory and history as well as what might be perceived as traditional First Nation subjects. There are significant differences in form, language and approach used by each poet.
If you want to search them out online, they are Tracy M. Atsitty, Trevino L Brings Plenty, Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Laura Da, Natalie Diaz, Jennifer Elise Foerster, Eric Gansworth, Gordon Henry, Jr., Sy Hoahwah, LeAnne Howe, Layli Long Soldier, Janet McAdams, Brandy Nalani McDougall, Margaret Noodin, dg nano okpik, Craig Santos Perez, Tommy Pico, Cedar Sigo, M.L. Smoker, Gwen Nell Westerman and Karenne Wood.
This is forward looking, contemporary poetry, not something rooted in aspic. I could give a few examples, but I’m wary to do so in view of such variety – from Tommy Pico’s book length poems (three excerpts are given here) heavy in references to 21st century New York City, to Jennifer Elise Foerster, writing from the perspective of a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, from Craig Perez (Guam) to dg nano okpik (Anchorage) the voices are as varied as the geographical and cultural spaces between each writer. How could this not be the case?
If you are feeling jaded about contemporary poetry, or just want to read something very different to what you are used to, then this is definitely worth getting hold of. New Poets of Native Nations is vibrant, invigorating and challenging. The quality of writing is outstanding. I return to it often.
If you want to read more in depth reviews as opposed to my ramblings, try this from the Harvard Review
or this from the Star Tribune
New Poets of Native Nations was the winner of the American Book Award in 2019. I fully understand why. It’s a superb book.