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BEST POETRY OF 2023

Here are 6 of our favorite poetry collections in 2023

This year’s poets were not afraid to wrestle with larger questions of history and existence

Our six favorite poetry collections of 2023.Courtesy of Coffee House Press, FSG, Wesleyan University Press, Fordham University Press, Tin House and Graywolf

In a year full of questions, I found myself looking for language and art that might help me move beyond the need for easy answers. The books on this highly subjective list of 2023′s best poetry do just that. Written by both established and emerging poets, these collections wrestle with grief, identity, and the meaning of art in politically dire times. They dig through personal and historical archives to find something worth saving for the future. In terms of style, the six writers highlighted here make use of more traditional verse, invented forms, and even images. Their words sprawl across the page, mapping our complex world with wit, grace, and unwavering truth.

1. Suddenly We

by Evie Shockley

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One poem’s title asks, “what does it mean to be human?” This question reverberates throughout Shockley’s book, where “we” are fugitives and factory workers, Black girls perched at the edge of selfhood, the millions displaced by violence worldwide, witnesses and artists — in short, anyone who believes that humanity is capacious enough to share. Words dance across the page in this collection, and Shockley’s imagination dances with them.

2. I Do Everything I’m Told

by Megan Fernandes

“Let me begin / with my vices,” Fernandes writes in this book dedicated to the restless. But with her pen, the poet transforms and elevates our human mistakes and imperfections into modes of vibrant survival. A candid voice tells us about sex and aging, travel and loss. In couplets, sonnets, and free verse, Fernandes writes fearlessly into the messy clamor of life.

3. In Gorgeous Display

by Ugochukwu Damian Okpara

A quieter but equally fierce rebellion takes shape in Okpara’s deeply affecting debut. In Lagos bars, in childhood rooms, between cars, and in lovers’ arms, the queer men in these poems find themselves and one another. In “Joy for Yet Another Night,” Okpara writes, “there’s a lineage of men running // to lick their griefs clean like the moon.” In this book, that lineage becomes a constellation, shining a way forward.

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4. The Lights

by Ben Lerner

Light takes many forms in these poems: Stars, fireflies, flashes of silver, “city lights, the necklace / lights of bridges.” Perhaps most enlightening of all is Lerner’s ability to lift up art, gentleness, and a certain slowness without dismissing the urgency of our present. In precise verse and time-bending prose, these poems are meditative, not at all rushed. Fans of Lerner’s fiction are sure to find another favorite here.

5. Removal Acts

by Erin Marie Lynch

In this sharp debut, words are bracketed and struck through, placed in columns and alongside arrows. But Lynch does not revel in experimentation for its own sake: The book’s title references the 1863 act exiling the Dakota people (the poet’s ancestors) from their homelands. With each deliberate letter, Lynch deconstructs a violent past and present, while allowing herself and the reader to search for paths toward an as-yet unknown future: “Hereafter / I desire / to become.”

6. Village

by LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs

If you have not yet encountered Diggs’s unforgettable language — as multilingual as the Harlem streets she calls home — now is the time. “Village” builds a monument to a community while telling the truth about the ways in which all of our villages can fall short. Diggs uses inventive forms and images from her own life to piece together difficult truths about poverty, mothers and daughters, grief, neglect, and love. As she writes, “warning: this contains admissions & allegations.” Among these confessions, there is also laughter and a deep appreciation for words.

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Dasia Moore, a poet and journalist, is a former staff writer for The Boston Globe.