7 Dazzling May 2021 Poetry Releases

Trigger warning: Some of these recommendations have themes of trauma and abuse, which are briefly discussed in this article. 


May presents an opportunity to delve into excellent new poetry releases. From collections that reflect on nature to anthologies that celebrate Native voices, May’s titles offer something surprising and meaningful for every reader. 


1. Art in Time by Cole Swensen

Release Date: May 4, 2021


A Guggenheim Fellowship winner and finalist for The National Book Award, Cole Swensen brings her distinctive love of hybrid genres and visual art to her 20th book. A blend of poetry and personal essay, this lyrical work explores landscape art as a way to connect with nature and to appreciate it as an active, vital force. Swensen addresses pivotal artists and works of art directly, bringing them into a multimodal, environmental conversation. 


2. Soft Thorns Vol. II by Bridgett Devoue

Release Date: May 4, 2021


Soft Thorns Vol. II picks up where its predecessor, Soft Thorns, leaves off, bravely journeying into dark, turbulent times once again in search of healing and self-love. “Why does love become abusive? And when does pain become a lesson?” stand out as just two of the evocative and universal questions this collection strives to answer. 


3. Poetry Rx: How 50 Inspiring Poems Can Heal and Bring Joy to Your Life by Norman E. Rosenthal 

Release Date: May 4, 2021


Poetry is good for your health, psychiatrist Norman E. Rosenthal argues in this uplifting anthology. Rosenthal organizes Poetry Rx into different chapters that speak to common and impactful human experiences, from losing a loved one to dealing with anger. He gathers some of poetry’s most influential voices, including Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, and William Shakespeare, into one volume, drawing on how their wisdom can translate to today. Along the way, Rosenthal explains fascinating parallels between poetry and science. 


4. Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry edited by Joy Harjo 

Release Date: May 4, 2021


Native representation in poetry is crucial, and Joy Harjo has advocated for this throughout her time as U.S. Poet Laureate. Living Nations, Living Words represents her cumulative project in this role, and it accomplishes a truly ambitious and powerful feat: dozens of Native voices in one stunning collection. The anthology spotlights the fact that there are more than 500 indigenous nations, making the Native experience, reality, and struggle complex and diverse.


5. Hoarders by Kate Durbin 

Release Date: May 4, 2021


In a world that seems increasingly strange and surreal, Kate Durbin jumps headfirst into absurdism, channeling Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett in her fourth collection. Durbin is known to find inspiration in pop culture, reality TV, and celebrity obsession, having previously written a collection about the E! television network. Hoarders once again embraces reality TV as a theme, taking its name from the guilty pleasure show. By creating portraits of each hoarder and the objects that make up their collection, Durbin considers consumerism and trauma with clear empathy. 


6. The Renunciations by Donika Kelly 

Release Date: May 4, 2021


The Renunciations, Cave Canem Prize winner Donika Kelly’s second collection, contemplates how trauma can inform one’s life and how to embrace possibility in spite of it. The emotional and fierce collection, described as “a lion-hearted odyssey of the self” by Oprah Magazine, shows its speaker grappling with child abuse, a broken marriage, and the connections between these two forms of abandonment. Ultimately, The Renunciations encourages both its speaker and its readers to break harmful cycles and courageously forge their own destiny. 


7. The Essential June Jordan by June Jordan, edited by Jan Heller Levi and Christoph Keller

Release Date: May 4, 2021


The Essential June Jordan celebrates and amplifies June Jordan’s impactful legacy, containing poems that span from 1971 to 2001. With themes that include police brutality and violence against women, the anthology showcases Jordan’s continued relevance and radical wisdom. Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown introduces the collection with a new, thoughtful forward, contextualizing Jordan’s poems and power for modern readers. 


Happy reading!