National Poetry Month Reading List

Happy National Poetry Month! The University of Nebraska Press is celebrating all month long with a 50% off sale on all poetry collections. Furthermore, our Backwaters Prize in Poetry competition is accepting submissions through May 1.

The poetry published by the University of Nebraska Press has delighted readers with literature of enduring value and consequence for decades. View all of our poetry books on sale here!

Don’t know what to start reading? We’ve curated a list of some of recently published books to help you dive into poetry this month:

Two Opens Doors in a Field (Backwaters, 2023) by Sophie Klahr. The love story at the core of this work, Klahr’s bond with Nebraska, becomes the engine of this travelogue. However far the poems range beyond Nebraska, they are tethered to an environment of work and creation, a place of dirt beneath the nails where one can see every star and feel, acutely, the complexity of connection.

Mine Mine Mine (Nebraska, 2023) by Uhuru Portia Phalafala. Mine Mine Mine is a personal narration of Uhuru Portia Phalafala’s family’s experience of the migrant labor system brought on by the gold mining industry in Johannesburg, South Africa. Using geopoetics to map geopolitics, Phalafala follows the death of her grandfather during a historic juncture in 2018, when a silicosis class action lawsuit against the mining industry in South Africa was settled in favor of the miners.

Keorapetse Kgositsile (Nebraska, 2023) by Keorapetse Kgositsile. Addressing themes of Black solidarity, displacement, and anticolonialism, Kgositsile’s prose is fiery, witty, and filled with conviction. This collection showcases a voice that wanted to change the world—and did.

There Where It’s So Bright in Me (Nebraska, 2022) by Tanella Boni. There Where It’s So Bright in Me pries at the complexities of difference—race, religion, gender, nationality—that shape twenty-first-century geopolitical conditions. With work spanning more than thirty-five years and as one of the most prominent figures in contemporary African literature, Tanella Boni is uniquely positioned to test the distinctions of self, other, and belonging. 

Might Kindred (Nebraska, 2022) by Mónica Gomery. Winner of the Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, the poems in Might Kindred are rooted in the body and its cousins, seeking the possibility of kinship, “in case we might kindness, might ardor together.” Belonging and unbelonging are claimed as part of the same complicated whole, and Gomery’s intersections reach for something divine at the center.

Living Room (Nebraska, 2022) by Laura Bylenok. Deeply phenomenological and ecological, Laura Bylenok’s poems in Living Room imagine the lived reality of other organisms and kinds of life, including animals, plants, bacteria, buildings, and rocks. They explore the permeability of human and nonhuman experience, intelligence, language, and subjectivity.

Mummy Eaters (Nebraska, 2022) by Sherry Shenoda. Winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, Sherry Shenoda’s collection Mummy Eaters follows in the footsteps of an imagined ancestor, one of the daughters of the house of Akhenaten in the Eighteenth Dynasty, Egypt. Shenoda forges an imagined path through her ancestor’s mummification and journey to the afterlife. Parallel to this exploration run the implications of colonialism on her passage.

Cotton Candy (Nebraska, 2022) by Ted Kooser. “Poems dipped out of the air” describes the manner in which Ted Kooser composed the poems in Cotton Candy, the result of his daily routine of getting up long before dawn, sitting with coffee, pen, and notebook, and writing whatever drifts into his mind. Whether those words and images are serious or just plain silly, Kooser tries not to censor himself. 

Produce Wagon (Nebraska, 2022) by Roy Scheele. The poems in Produce Wagon explore the vast and varied circumstances of the human experience. Though most of the poems are set in Nebraska and neighboring states, there is a universality to the subjects Scheele addresses. In these poems anywhere is everywhere.

An Otherwise Healthy Woman (Backwaters, 2022) by Amy Haddad. The poems in An Otherwise Healthy Woman delve into the complexity of modern health care, illness, and healing, offering an alternative narrative to heroics and miracles. Drawing on Amy Haddad’s firsthand experiences as a nurse and patient, the poems in this collection teach us to take a moment to stop and acknowledge the longing for compassion in each of us, what ought to be the immediate human response to suffering.

In the Net (Nebraska, 2022) by Hawad. Through an avalanche of words, sounds, and gestures, Hawad attempts to free this creature from the net that ensnares it, to patch together a silhouette that is capable of standing up again, to transform pain into a breeding ground for resistance—a resistance requiring a return to the self, the imagination, and ways of thinking about the world differently.

Dear Diaspora (Nebraska, 2021) by Susan Nguyen. Dear Diaspora is an unapologetic reckoning with history, memory, and grief. Parting the weeds on a small American town, this collection sheds light on the intersections of girlhood and diaspora.

Sacrament of Bodies (Nebraska, 2020) by Romeo Oriogun. In this groundbreaking collection of poems, Sacrament of Bodies, Romeo Oriogun fearlessly interrogates how a queer man in Nigeria can heal in a society where everything is designed to prevent such restoration. With honesty, precision, tenderness of detail, and a light touch, Oriogun explores grief and how the body finds survival through migration.

Nebraska (Nebraska, 2019) by Kwame Dawes. In Nebraska, this beautiful and evocative collection of poems, Dawes explores a theme constant in his work—the intersection of memory, home, and artistic invention. The poems, set against the backdrop of Nebraska’s discrete cycle of seasons, are meditative even as they search for a sense of place in a new landscape.

Cannibal (Nebraska, 2016) by Safiya Sinclair. Colliding with and confronting The Tempest and postcolonial identity, the poems in Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal explore Jamaican childhood and history, race relations in America, womanhood, otherness, and exile. Sinclair shocks and delights her readers with her willingness to disorient and provoke, creating a multitextured collage of beautiful and explosive poems. 

For further reading, check out some of our different poetry series: Ted Kooser Contemporary Poetry SeriesThe Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry SeriesThe Backwaters Prize in Poetry Series, and African Poetry Book Series.

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