Poetry Roundup: Great Books of 2013

BookReviews_HeaderDecember 1, 2013

As we gear up to say adiós, we wanted to do something about all the great poetry collections that came out this year that we didn’t have time to review. We decided to put together a capsule-style roundup of some of our favorite 2013 titles. This list started out very ambitious—at one point we had over fifty books to review—but time constraints and holiday travels held us back. We ended up with twenty nine books: fifteen micro reviews (limited to three sentences or less) and fourteen recommended titles we didn’t even have time to write three sentences on before deadline. (List at the bottom.)

This roundup is in no way meant to be a comprehensive or “best of” list, but merely a collection of books we liked and wanted to review in-full. Note, we gave special treatment to small presses and the presses that sent us review copies. We also gave special consideration to former contributors.


Hello, The Roses | Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge

New Directions

Roses_CoverI tend to resist words like “soul” and “enigma” as they’re often overused and somewhat empty, but in the case of Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s new collection, the word enigmatic—with a positive connotation—perfectly describes her work. Made up of curiously detached yet empathetic sectioned poems written in Berssenbrugge’s trademark long lines, Hello, the Roses is about communication between people and nature and nature and nature and people and each other, and it’s beautiful and fascinating and difficult to pin down.  -Kevin O’Rourke



Metaphysical Dog | Frank Bidart


Bidard_CoverMetaphysical Dog not only captures Bidart writing in top form at seventy-four, it’s also one of his most candid and personal books. I’m still pissed this one didn’t win the National Book Award. -Jeff Simpson






Circuits | Jennifer K. Dick

Corrupt Press

Circuits_CoverJennifer K. Dick’s latest book is a rich exploration of human memory, the mind’s biological wiring, and the (re)considerations neural research and technology ask of us in determining what makes us what we are. Complex, esoteric, delightfully laden with jargon and the scientific method: Circuits explores tough subjects at high magnification. -Jeff Simpson






H_NGM_N Books

Hart_CoverDebacle Debacle is Matt Hart’s most personal book, and it’s also his best. Just when you think he can’t get any better or more acrobatic, he invents a new ollie that leaves us dazed and bewildered. It’s a book of quiet, Thoreauvian observations pushed through the amp at max wattage. -Jeff Simpson





The Biscuit Joint | David Kirby

LSU Press

Kirby_CoverYou can always count on Kirby to deliver big, zany poems that’ll deliver as much humor as a night of stand-up and as much warped beauty as a highway truck stop. The Biscuit Joint doesn’t disappoint. -Jeff Simpson






Annotated Glass | Alyse Knorr

Furniture Press Books

AnnotatedGlass_CoverAnnotated Glass is a novel in verse that follows Alice, a semi-Carollian character, and her lover, Jenny, through the Wonderlands of the American South. These exquisite lyrics peer through the looking glass of adolescence and the landscapes of adulthood: love, loss, desire, sex, and family. But it’s Knorr’s sense of humor and willingness to be playful in the darker moments that gives this collection depth. -Jeff Simpson




It Would Be Quiet | Jan LaPerle

Prime Mincer Pess

LaPerle_CoverJan LaPerle’s debut is one of the best books about family and motherhood that’s come out in some time. LaPerle sucks you into the interiors of the seasons—of kitchens and bedrooms, summer gardens and long road trips—and then overwhelmes you with the richness and terror of the domestic life. -Jeff Simpson





Diplomacy | Tony Mancus

Horse Less Press

Mancus_CoverTony Mancus writes ghostly, vaporous poems that you don’t so much read as absorb. His latest chapbook-length poem, “Diplomacy,” moves with a pace and a restraint that allows you to experience the poem’s architecture at once. This one stays with you long after the close. -Jeff Simpson





Blood | Shane McCrae

Noemi Press

Blood_CoverNo other book this year is as haunting or sweeping in its scope. McCrae’s mashup of slave narratives, family histories, and dramatic monologues of white supremacists spanning the decades before and after the Civil War, pushes all to the brink. Blood is the story of America we pretend is behind us. -Jeff Simpson




Permission | Katie Peterson

New Issues

Permission_CoverPermission wanders through landscapes and interiors, searching the perimeters for the place where the self and natural world dissolve. Talk about a wonderful and surprising book. -Jeff Simpson






Right Now More Than Ever | Nate Pritts

H_NGM_N Books

RNTME_CoverNate Pritts is the Tom Waits of contemporary poetry. There’s a fragility and a grit he combines with the terminal beauty of the Romantics to deliver ballads that, despite their sorrow or win-loss records, look forward to the spring thaw. Right Now More Than Ever captures Pritts writing as lovely and charged as ever. -Jeff Simpson





Gross Ardor | Bill Rasmovicz

42 Miles Press

GrossArdor_CoverBill Rasmovicz is a poet and a pharmacist. Like the best of prescriptions, Gross Ardor is a special concoction meant to be picked up after hours in the alley to make us love-buzzed and resonant. There’s wizardry at play, and science, and a sort of Newtonian logic smart enough to factor in a little black magic and alchemy for the age. -Jeff Simpson.





Black Aperture | Matt Rasmussen

LSU Press

Rasmussen_CoverMatt Rasmussen’s heart-breaking book about his brother’s suicide looks at a single event from every angle in an attempt to see—not make sense of, not explain, not judge—but see how a single moment can topple everything. It’s an amazing debut. –Jeff Simpson






Praise Nothing | Joshua Robbins

U. Arkansas Press

Praise_Nothing_Cover_2Joshua Robbins’s stunning debut is a spiritual guide for the suburban age of strip-malls, “Wash ‘n’ Shops,” and the states of grace we aim for and botch with the smallest of catastrophes. And to top it off, the final, long poem of the book, “A Pattern of Fire, a Gathering of Ash,” might be the best poem of 2013. Praise Joshua Robbins, and praise this collection. -Jeff Simpson





Dear Mark | Martin Rock

Brooklyn Arts Press

Rock_CoverMartin Rock’s chapbook is a poetic study of Mark Rothko’s “multiform” paintings from his late period. Rothko once advised viewers to sit as little as 18-inches from the canvas in order to experience the intimacy and immanence of his work, and it seems Rock took this advice literally. Dear Mark spends hours staring into those blocks of color to find meaning and companionship in Rothko’s work. -Jeff Simpson





Fourteen More Books to Check Out


O Holy Insurgency | Mary Biddinger
Black Lawrence Press

Self-Portrait as Missing Person | Justin Boening
Poetry Society of America Chapbook

The Declarable Future | Jennifer Boyden
U. Wisconsin Press

Flood Bloom | Caroline Cabera
H_NGM_N Books

X | Dan Chelotti
McSweeney’s Poetry Series

The Earth is Not Flat | Katharine Coles
Red Hen Press

Sonnets to the Humans | T. Zachary Colter
Ahsahta Press

It Becomes You | Dobby Gibson
Graywolf Press

Ain’t No Grave | TJ Jarrett
New Issues

Mezzanines | Matthew Olzmann
Alice James Books

Cloud Vs. Cloud | Ethan Paquin
Ahsahta Press

Portuguese | Brandon Shimoda
Octopus/Tin House Books

Frost in the Low Areas | Karen Skolfield
Zone 3 Press

Companion Grasses | Brian Teare