The 10 Best Poetry Books of 2011

[Our resident poet Jeffery Berg shares his favorite poetry collections of 2011]

10. Lauren Berry, The Lifting Dress

A very strong debut.  Berry’s Southern Gothic poems are unsettling, beautiful, and mysterious.

9. Nikky Finney, Head Off & Split

I’m in awe by the electricity and inventiveness of this collection which pays tribute to the American forgotten and also the emblematic in such poems as “Red Velvet,” a moving elegy for Rosa Parks and the compelling “concertos” for Condoleezza Rice.

8. Sommer Browning, Either Way I’m Celebrating

Browning’s fun, eclectic book features her own comic drawings and dry-wit poems which travel to places like the Walt Whitman Mall and a bland hotel for a pay-per-view fight.

7. Michael Montlack, Cool Limbo

A book about growing up gay in the era of Stevie Nicks and feathered bangs, Montlack’s celebratory poems look back and forward with  a refreshingly earnest and hopeful eye.

6. Marcus Jackson, Neighborhood Register

In these moving, clear-eyed poems, Jackson recalls growing up in the dying industrial towns of the Midwest.  He can also be dryly funny as in his odes to “the hater,” to his old friends and to Kool-Aid.

5. Paul Foster Johnson, Study in Pavilions and Safe Rooms

Johnson’s clean, immediate and brainy poems explore varied kinds of spaces: chat rooms, panic rooms, and Soviet pavilions turned into shopping malls.

4. Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars

Awestruck but rooted (“like a gangly doll”), Smith memorializes her father (who worked as a developer for the Hubble) and ponders sci-fi kitsch, David Bowie, and everyday existence.

3. Elaine Equi, Click and Clone

These poems are disarmingly funny.  Describing a lavishly revamped bank or looking over the shoulder of a fellow subway rider’s book, Equi finds ways to express “the sanitized decadence of our times.”

2. David Trinidad, Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems

A favorite poet of mine.  His varied poems, whether bemusing punk, Barbies or Valley of the Dolls, even when (cleverly) contained in strict forms, are poignant and wildly free.

1. Tim Dlugos, A Fast Life: The Collected Poems

Dlugos, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1990, was one of the premier poets of the New York scene in the late 1970s and 1980s.  This vibrant collection, meticulously and lovingly edited by David Trinidad, features his stunning, moving, and often playful poems.

Jeffery Berg is a poet who lives in Manhattan and a regular contributor to Frontier Psychiatrist. His recent reviews include the Drive soundtrack and Foster The People. He edits poetry for Clementine and Mary and writes about film, guilty pleasures, and various obsessions on jdbrecords.

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