Three New APA Poetry Collections to Warm You in the New Year

3 New APA Poetry Collections to Warm You in the New Year. (L to R: Cover images of LOVES YOU by Sarah Gambito (Iron wok full of colorful vegetables moving over a lit flame ring), OCULUS by Sally Wen Mao (Woman with long black hair against a pale blue background, her face and body obscured by a camera and white stargazer lilies), and SCAR AND FLOWER by Lee Herrick (red and white title text overlaid on a photograph of brown eggs nestled into the straw in the corner of a rusty hen house).
L to R: LOVES YOU by Sarah Gambito, OCULUS by Sally Wen Mao, SCAR AND FLOWER by Lee Herrick

Happy New Year! 2019 promises to be another exciting year in the world of APA poetry, and so thought we’d start the year off with a bang—by celebrating three fantastic new books that are the top of our reading list this January. For this month’s roundup, we’ve gathered three collections that explore lineage lost, erased, revived for the poets to come. They are precious works that speak to the interdependencies and support that are central to writing and bearing witness, generation after generation. We hope you’ll enjoy these books as much as we have and that, in savoring them, you’ll be able to engage in your own times of reflection this January—to consider those who came before and those who will come after.

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Oculus by Sally Wen Mao (Graywolf, 2019)

Sally Wen Mao’s Oculus is a jolting lyric study of the white heteropatriachal gazes that have vivisected racialized bodies throughout history. This tradition begins early—Afong Moy, for instance, was the first female immigrant in the US, who was sold to an Orientalist exhibition. In a series of persona poems, Mao envisions Moy aching for home, hollering, and smashing trinkets—small acts of agency even as she is trapped under an exploitative system of tokenism. Then, in “Anna May Wong Makes Cameos,” Mao revives and reimagines the famed Chinese American movie star in movies of the early 2000s, only to illustrate how she would be cut from the scene, crushed underfoot. These poems bring to mind literary scholar Anne Cheng’s Ornamentalism, in which she writes of the defiled body, “Having been made stranger to oneself by unimaginable brutality means that one must reapproach the self as a stranger.” By reencountering the body stripped of self and agency, by reasserting the place of women of color in history, Mao’s poetry stages a form of reencounter that is ultimately protective so that those who follow can be freely generative—to “cross the text out,” to “rewrite this” (10).

Scar and Flower by Lee Herrick (Word Poetry, 2019)

The latest collection from Lee Herrick, Scar and Flower, considers what it means to make room in a brutal system of continuous war, climate disaster, mass shootings, deportations, and suicides. As Herrick builds psychic dwellings for repair, the poems in Scar and Flower bring to mind the etymology of “stanza”—a room, a resting point, a space to breathe. By drawing from familiar words and worlds, Herrick gives dimension to these spiritual spaces: the sky’s numerous stars are a reminder of his heritage as a man “born on the other side / of the world” (46); water reminds us of our “resting state” (23); the body is “a song called birth,” venturing out into the world, seeking out and losing its lyrics (48). Lee’s rhapsodic moments return to inherent contradictions of pain and desire—and guide the reader as these knots are worked out through communion with self, other, and world.

Loves You by Sarah Gambito, (Persea, 2019)

Reading Loves You by Sarah Gambito is like thumbing through a grandmother’s scrawled cooking notes, like setting the table for one’s chosen family. Central to Gambito’s collection are poem-recipes, which gain significance through context—“Watermelon Agua Fresca (For When You Need Me),” for instance, takes the form of a list of instructions but ends as a subtle, loving address: “Serve in ice-filled glasses and know how much I love you” (64). At the same time, cooking, as in the poem “Cento,” can just as easily become absorbed, commodified, and twisted into demands for a domestic worker to “do the food,” followed up by: “You cannot cook Filipino food in the kitchen” (18). Even as Gambito never lets her readers forget that love, too, is labor shaped by the legacies of capitalism, imperialism, and colonization, Loves You is a crucial reminder that cutting up chicken and piping lychee cream can be sacred gestures of abundant love, crucial links to homes an ocean away.

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What poetry collections have you been reading to start out your new year? And what books are you looking forward to in the coming months? Share them with us in the comments or let us know onTwitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@LanternReview).

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