Happy New Year guys! 2016 had been a roller coaster in the most literal sense. A lot can really happy in a year! But here’s to surviving that year and hoping that 2017 will be kinder.
So to end the year right and start yet another awesome and fruitful (yes I am claiming it), I’ll be sharing with you the Top 16 Poetry Books I have read this year. 2016 has been a year of discovering new poets, meeting one of them, and finding new favorites. It was an amazing year, literature wise. And I wouldn’t be ending the year without sharing with you the books that made me feel plethoras of emotions, may it be pure joy or immense pain. So without further ado, here are the poetry books that made it to my list. You can also check my Top 16 Books of 2015.
1. Hai[Na]Ku and Other Poems by AA Patawaran
Hai[Na]Ku and Other Poems by AA Patawaran
This book was one of the first poetry books written by a Filipino that I have read. I was never exposed to Filipino poetry and that is the problem I need to remedy sooner rather than later. We have a rich culture and it is just right to read more of it and give the appreciation that is due them. Hai[Na]Ku and Other Poems
is a great place to start, Sir AA Patawaran had the gift of putting relevance and humanity in his poems. Hai[na]ku
is about celebrating life, reflection of the society through certain places and certain norms, it was about love, too, it was so much more than what it is. You have to read it out loud, savor the words in your very mouth, because that’s the best way to taste the beauty of it.
Excerpt from his poem It’s Not What I Thought:
I used to think that love was simple; that it was all a matter of finding it, until I found it – and it’s harder because , unless I constantly work on it, I feel as hollow as I feel full, I feel unsure as I feel certain, I feel as lost as I feel found.
I used to think that sadness was a form of self-indulgence, until I got depressed – and it’s harder now when I feel sad because, long swept under the rug, cast in the shadows, dismissed and denied, the emotion feels so strange, so foreign, so unexplored.
I used to think that happiness was the result of good things happening, until I found happiness on the bleakest day, like a ray of light in the darkest night – and it’s harder, much harder now to know that, no matter what happens, no matter how great my sorrows, no matter how terrible my tragedies, happiness will always be a choice.
2. Lace Bone Beast by N.L. Shompole
Lace Bone Beast is more than what its synopsis tells you about. Though it is not officially released yet, fret not, it will be available by the 10th of January, thanks to the publishing team, editor and NL Shompole for providing me an advance copy. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t know the brilliance of this collection of poetry.
Let me first put the blurb for you guys, so you would know what you are in for:
Here is emptiness. Here is a mouth after a recent excavation, black with soot, devoid of kisses. Here are hands, trembling against the soft ache of morning, here are eyes, wet, wide, half-full of sky and loneliness. Here is belly, back, femur, spine, ragged and smooth all at once, all at once. Here are dreams, ink black and speckled, lost behind the eyes. Here is a muted elegy, crow’s feet feathered over the eyes like lace. Here are the last strains of a dirge, wild, discordant, free.
The play on words was simple yet with impact. Raw yet sincere. There was beauty to it that I cannot fully assess, something that enthralls you without overdoing it. I loved how it sounded personal to the author yet fully relatable. If you are a fan of Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey and The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace then this book is right up your alley.
Here are some of the poems I adored:
no one is coming to save you & other fairytales for wicked children
There will be blood
there will be tears
there will be despair
there will be days so dark
they bleed into night
from the other
There will be storms
there will be ruin
there will be wreckage
there will be fire
that will raze the everything
down to the bone, down to ember,
down to ash.
& if you want it
there will be hope
only if you want it,
only if you want it.
the heart is a casket for forgotten things
Love the body through
all the stages of ruin, and
Love the body through
the dark winter, and
Love the body
for it has housed you
through the collapse, and
meditations & other mantras for the soft-hearted
When you are offered magic, take it. When you are offered joy, curl your fingers around it, revel in it. Drink, until your stomach is stretched full against the jagged edge of your ribcage. when you are offered love, accept it. Even if it os only for a day, an hour, even if it’s only for a second.
3. Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones
Prelude To Bruis
has got to be one of the most powerful and evocative poetry book I have read this 2016. Saeed Jones works as editor of BuzzFeedLGBT. This collection of poetry hits you with such impact that will leave you in awe. The way every poem was phrased and the way it tells a story, made you feel it under your very skin. It was an amazing poetry book tackling the issue of sexuality, gender and race, and all the struggles that go with it. I wouldn’t deny, this book gave me goosebumps. Saeed Jones’ voice offers something different, it was bold and brave, never hiding its message into subtleties neither sugar coating them, it was what it was, and it is damn beautiful.
Here’s a poem I loved:
You answer his fist and the blow
shatters you to sparks.
Unconscious is a better place, but swim back in yourself.
Behind a door you can’t open, his drinks
to keep loving you,
then wades out into the blue hour,
Still on the floor, waiting for your name
to claim your mouths,
Get up. Find your legs, leave.
4. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
Were you surprised to find milk and honey
here? Nah. I think it is already a given. 2016 was a great year for Rupi Kaur’s book, it is literally everywhere, read and adored by many, (me, definitely included). At first I tried to resist to buy a copy, I don’t know why, but I’m not one to join in a hype. I can’t even remember what pushed me into actually getting myself a copy, but I am happy I did. This collection of poetry, though simply written, provides you with sense of empowerment and at the same time a feeling of melancholy. Rupi Kaur’s poetry is proven to be universal, fully relatable and speaks of everyone’s heartbreaks and struggles without losing its essence. It talked about every facet of human life, especially that of women – from love, loss, despair, femininity and everything in between. I say it is a must read for everyone, especially when you are new to poetry, this is a good place to start. And though I was not completely in awe of the depth of Rupi Kaur’s poetry, I did not miss the simplicity of her poetry and the message it was sending across. I can’t wait to read more of her works and see her talent evolve into a more profound work of art.
5. Dear Almost by Matthew Thorburn
is another one of a kind collection of poetry. I never thought I would love it so much, especially when the poems revolve around the immense pain of parents losing a child due to miscarriage. It wasn’t something I went through, but the way the author had put together the words, I couldn’t help but feel what the people in the poems actually felt. And that was the beauty in it, the way it was able to transcend despite the utter difference in the situation of its readers. There was something raw and heartrending that warranted a positive response from me. Matthew Thorburn wrote each poems with full emotions without any reservations, it was pure and sincere. You can not simply miss the way it was able to touch a person in ways only good poetry can.
Here is a poem I loved:
So give me a sign if
you’re out there, if you’re
the light swaying, swinging
between trees, that light
growing faint, drifting deeper
into the shadowy woods,
if you’re that pale glow between the elms and alders.
What star do you steer by?
Where are you going?
Tell me you can hear this
if that’s you who pauses
beside a ragged oak,
head cocked to one side
like a doe, light bouncing back
from your dark eyes,
if that’s you moving under
starlight and moonlight,
waiting for a gauze of cloud
to dim the worldso you can slip away
once more. Tell me, are these
your footprints I find
in the morning in the dark
wet earth, faint traces
in the muck and loam
that slowly fill with water?
6. Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon
Bright Dead Things
is another exceptional collection of poems. It was just by accident that I found this one. I was in the mood for something uplifting and empowering, and when I read the synopsis of this book and discovered that it was written by a known feminist, I just knew right then and there I need to read it, like one needs air in order to survive – and it was brilliant. It was beautiful in ways you cannot fully grasp. It is a reflection of every soul you encounter just as much as it is a reflection of your own. It was easily digestible and was not phrased in a way that is intimidating but at the same time still eloquent, perfect for new poetry lovers. Her poetry sticks with you, much like every lesson in life.
Here is a poem I loved:
In the black illegible moment of foolish want, there is also a neon sign flashing, the sign above the strip joint where my second big love worked as a bouncer and saved the girls from unwanted hands,
unpaid-for hands. Thin lipped ladies with a lot on their minds and more on their backs, loaded for bear, and for the long winter’s rain, loaded for real, and I’ve always been a jealous girl, but when he’d come home with a 4a.m. stomp in his boots and undress to bed, he was fully there, fully in the room, my sleeping body made awake, awake, and there was a gentleness to this, a long opening that seemed to join us in the saddest hour. Before now, I don’t know if I have ever loved anyone, or if I have ever been loved, but men have been very good to me, have seen my absurd out-of-place-ness, my bent grin and un-called-for loud laugh and gave wanted to love me for it, have been so warm in their wanting that sometimes I wanted to love them too.
And I think that must be worth something,
that it should be a celebrated thing,
that though I have not stood on a mountain under the usual false archway of tradition and chosen one person forever, what I have
done is risked everything for that hour,
that hour in the black night, where one flashing light looks like love, I have pulled over my body’s car and let myself believe that the dance was only for me, that this gift of a breathing one-who-wants was always a gift, was the only sign worth stopping for, that the neon glow was a real star, gleaming in its dying, like us all.
7. Today Means Amen by Sierra DeMulder
I first heard of Sierra DeMulder on youtube, she was a known Spoken Word artist, I have watched few of her performances and was immediately drawn to her craft. Today Means Amen
is a proof that DeMulder’s talent deserves every spotlight. I suggest that you watch her performances first before immersing yourself with the written words, I promise you would appreciate her more. Today Means Amen
evokes positivity amidst the chaos of our daily lives. It is the affirmation you needed to hear at the end of a cruel day. It was a beacon of light, but ultimately it was the amalgamation of every person’s trials and triumphs, of believing in a higher being and knowing one’s worth.
“Dear you, whoever you are, however you got here,
this is exactly where you are supposed to be.T
his moment has waited its whole life for you.
This moment is your lover and you are a soldier.
Come home, baby, it’s over. You don’t need
to suffer anymore. Dear you, this momentis your surprise party. You are both hiding
in the dark and walking through the door.
This moment is a hallelujah. This moment
is your permission slip to finally open that love
letter you’ve been hiding from yourself,
the one you wrote when you were little
when you still danced like a sparkler at dusk.”
8. Tuwing Ikatlong Sabado by Words Anonymous compiled by Juan Miguel Severo
Tuwing Ikatlong Sabado
is another collection of
poems by Filipino poets. These are originally spoken word poetry performed by various poets at Sev’s Cafe in Manila. What I loved about this collection is that it touches you in ways you didn’t know possible. There is depth, sense, flavor and more importantly heart. Should I dare say that this collection represent every plight of every human? May it be about heartbreak, sexual identity crisis, society’s ugly side, depression – this poetry collection got it covered.
Here are some of my favorites:
Para sa Naghihintay at Naiinip
and Women Need Saving
9. Apology for Want by Mary Jo Bang
Mary Jo Bang is a known poet for quite sometime already, and it is only in 2016 that I have learned about her. Apology For Want
had a melancholic tone to it, something you could not simply miss, but also it had assertiveness . It was a perfect mixture of push and pull, of gentleness and aggressiveness, of longing and wanting. It was something that you would go back to over and over, for each poem takes on a different meaning every time you encounter them.
Here is a favorite poem from this collection:
How bare the soul – unmasked, deveined,
picked clean. How smooth the flesh
in death. Someone has arrived
to wash the dust away. Mulberry stains.
Indelible marks in hidden places.
Look at you. No longer resisting, unfolding
with ease; revealing scars
from wounds that were slow to heal.
The body remembers. You never won
but dearly battled. The sky here
is streaked with tile.
The scientific community
and the mildly curious have all come
to watch. You bloom in this forest of white.
10. Laws of My Nature by Margot Schilpp
Margot Schilpp is another poet I honestly never heard of. (Oh the joys of discovering new poets!) Laws of My Nature
if I am not mistaken is Schilpp’s second book of poetry, the first being The World’s Last Night. Laws of My Nature
is a collection of poetry that was personal, something that builds connection from the author to its readers. A bond that you didn’t know existed until you turn the very last page. Her poems speak to you in an emotional as well as intellectual level.
Here is a favorite poem from this collection:
by Margot Schilpp
Heartsound: thunk and paddle
up the stream of appetitte that cloaks
me in sleep. In the split
of my personality, there’s you and
everything else, all the parallelograms
and missiles hiding in the silos.
Or deep, way down in the water,
you’ll find the torpedoes, their mischief
and fickle heads, thinking
about the kill, the kill. If
our nights together aren’t to be, why
play awake during the day?
Duck your head if you’re too tall
to enter the familiar
nothing of regret. You’ll fit.
You’ll fit nicely. I’m going
back to origami and the alphabet,
where order reigns. I’m going
back to original, where at least
I’ll have a sense of humor.
This life splits me:
one half, red. The other,
blue. Very red. Very blue.
But I can conjure. I can cast. I can bring
you in. The weeds in my garden
have it all over the perennial
11. Love Poems by Pablo Neruda
Of course I wouldn’t let the year pass without reading a work of my favorite poet of all time – Pablo Neruda. Love Poems
is about sensuality and sincerity of the poet’s feelings towards Matilde Urrutia. It was erotic yet romantic, you will fully understand the depth of Pablo Neruda’s emotions, adoration and devotion to his love. Again, it captivated me just as much as his other collection Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair.
Here is an excerpt from one of my favorites
“But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me.”
12. Double Shadow by Carl Phillips
I have to admit, I have a love-hate relationship with Carl Phillips’ poetry. I already have read four of his collection namely: Tether, Speak Low, Double Shadow
and Riding Westward.
I adored Speak Low
and Double Shadow,
and Riding Westward
didn’t connect to me the way poetry should. Half of the time I have no idea what he was talking about, sometimes it felt like they are all just words all jumbled into one poem, but there are also times that his poetry leaves me in awe – just like his poems here in this collection. Double Shadow
is lyrical and haunting. It is
about life’s contrasts, of how two shadows are cast from one origin.
Here is a favorite poem from this collection:
Tonight – in the foundering night, at least,
of imagination, where what I don’t in fact
believe anymore, all the same, is true –
the stars look steadily down upon me. I look
ip, at the stars. Life as a recklessly fed bonfire
growing unexpectedly more reckless seems
neither the best or worst of several choices
within reach, still. I wear on my head a crown
of feathers – among which, sure, I have had my favorites.
Fear, though, is the bluest feather,
and it is easily the bluest feather that the wind loves most.
13. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver is another known poet whose works I was just recently exposed to. I started this poetry book the very first week of 2016 and I think this was what set my great reading streak when it comes to poetry books. I should probably start another poetry book by her this January 2017. Hmmm.
Mary Oliver’s writing style is unique and captivating. She mostly uses animals and plants in her poetry, incorporating them as a metaphor for something profound and at times larger than life. The use of animals and the nature in her poetry simplifies her poems yet also gives off that comfortable vibe, something astounding and not pretentious. Why I Wake Early
is an affirmation of everyday blessings that we often take for granted. Mary Oliver has a way of showing you the little things that are far more important that anything else.
Here is a favorite poem in this collection:
Some Things, Say the Wise Ones
Some things, say the wise ones who know everything,
are not living. I say
you live your life your way and leave me alone.
I have talked with the faint clouds in the sky when they
are afraid of being left behind; I have said, Hurry! hurry!
and they have said: Thank you, we are hurrying.
About cows, and starfish, and roses, there is no
argument. They die, after all.
But water is a question, so many living things in it,
but what is it, itself, living or not? Oh gleaming
generosity, how can they write you out?
As I think this, I am sitting on the sand beside
the harbor. I am holding in my had
small pieces of granite, pyrite, schist.
Each one, just now, so thoroughly asleep.
14. The Truro Bear and Other Adventures by Mary Oliver
The Truro Bear and Other Adventures is another of Mary Oliver’s brilliant work. This is another great collection of poetry about the nature and the beautiful creatures in it. And good god, I loved the poems about Percy! Mary Oliver’s poems are always a pleasure to read. Her poetry is something you always go back to over and over and each time is another fresh experience.
Here is a favorite poem in this collection:
I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life
Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.
Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
15. Habang Wala Pa Sila by Juan Miguel Severo
Habang Wala Pa Sila
is another Filipino poetry book, as I have mentioned I am remedying my lack of exposure to Filipino poetry. Habang Wala Pa Sila
is a good place to start. Juan Miguel Severo is a known spoken word artist, and this collection of poem though written in such a simple way will still hit you where it is supposed to. Habang Wala Pa Sila
solidifies the truth that every heartbreak and longing is universal, it may vary from one person to another but the immense pain or the sense of fulfillment of loving someone until it hurts is worth it. I have always been drawn to poems about love, it may be the easiest topic to write about but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the words are any less true.
16. The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
And of course this list wouldn’t be complete if a classic poet is not included. I have finally read The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
and she is loved by many and even idolized my most authors for a reason. Emily Dickinson’s writing is addictive. This collection is a good place to start if you want to know about Emily Dickinson’s poetry without being overwhelmed. I think I read this book in piece meal, I didn’t rush in finishing it as I wanted to savor all the words and the beauty and subtlety of how she perceived things, life and love.
Here is an excerpt of a poem I loved:
Life is but Life! And Death, but Death!
Bliss is, but Bliss, and Breath but Breath!
And if indeed I fail,
At least, to know the worst, is sweet!
Defeat means nothing but Defeat,
No drearier, can befall!
I hope you are able to find new poetry books to read! Here’s to hoping our 2017 will be filled with beautiful words and great stories! Have a lovely year ahead!
You can check my Top 16 Books of 2016 here.