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An Ode to National Poetry Month

For National Poetry Month, the University of Notre Dame Press is proud to feature the exceptional collections of some of our most inspiring poets. Debut publications, award-winning volumes, and cherished Press classics are all included here.

Winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, Stepmotherland, Darrel Alejandro Holnes’s first full-length collection, is filled with poems that chronicle and question identity, family, and allegiance. This Central American love song is in constant motion as it takes us on a lyrical and sometimes narrative journey from Panamá to the USA and beyond. The driving force behind Holnes’s work is a pursuit for a new home, and as he searches, he takes the reader on a wild ride through the most pressing political issues of our time and the most intimate and transformative personal experiences of his life. Exploring a complex range of emotions, this collection is a celebration of the discovery of America, the discovery of self, and the ways they may be one and the same.

The rude girl is with child in the Instagram pic. It’s not her baby.
She wears a costume that conservatives may describe as exotic and revealing.
I call her mi pana and mi pai. The baby pulls sequins off her bustier.
But she’s not afraid she won’t shine. I was raised by her kind.

from Rihanna & Child

The Rivers Are Inside Our Homes is a collection of incandescent poems by Cuban American poet Victoria María Castells exploring how we can salvage our notion of paradise in an overspent Eden. In thwarted homes located in Havana and Miami, Rapunzel and her prince, persecuted nymphs, Morgause, and Bluebeard’s wife speak to us directly, all in need of returning to safety. Confronting machismo, illness, heartbreak, and isolation, the poems depict how women are at the mercy of men, either husband or oligarch. Yet all generations of Cubans are bombarded with this need to return or to leave, to have both, to have neither. Through these poems, dictators, grandmothers, mythical characters, and buccaneers are given voices of equal strength, challenging what constitutes truth under a prism of fantasy and desire.

You knew his hands
were useless without golf clubs,
without air, without bread to hold,
small tasks to complete,
to order others and to proclaim.
You knew this was a trial,
bad story, the world that demanded
everything from you, another complaint to
seed and grow inside your skin.

from Caretaker

Buland Al-Ḥaidari might fairly be considered the fourth pillar holding up the dome of modern Arabic poetry. Alongside his famous contemporaries Nāzik al-Malā’ika, Badre Shākir Al-Sayyāb, and ‘Abdulwahhāb Al-Bayyāti, Al-aidari likewise made significant contributions to the development of twentieth-century Arabic poetry, including the departure from the traditional use of two-hemistich verses in favor of what has been called the Arabic “free verse” form. A few of Al-Ḥaidari’s poems have been translated into English separately, but no book-length translation of his poetry has been published until now. In Buland Al- Ḥaidari and Modern Iraqi Poetry, ʻAbdulwāḥid Lu’lu’a translates eighty of Al-Ḥaidari’s most important poems, giving English speaking readers access to this rich corpus.

Die on the field, my son.
What good is it that we live
And the world
Cannot build a house for me,
Cannot bring me a thing?
No road to the homeland,
No green land from my homeland.
Who knows
If there is any green left in my land

from Call of a Nation

Behind the wheel of Auto/Body is an insistent, humorous voice whose experiences have lent themselves to a deep, intimate knowledge of survival, driven by the pursuit of joy and exalted pleasure. Raised in and near auto body shops, Vickie Vértiz remembers visiting them to elevate the family car to examine what’s underneath, to see what’s working and what’s not. The poetry in this book is also a body shop: but instead we take our bodies, identities, desires, and see what’s firing. In this shop we ask: what needs changing? How do our bodies transcend ways of being we have received so that we may become more ourselves? From odes to drag, to pushing back on the tyranny of patriarchy, to loving too hard and too queer, to growing up working-class in a time of incessant border violence and incarceration, this collection combusts with blood and fuel. In other words, Vértiz writes to dissolve a colonial engine and reconstruct a new vessel with its remains.

Talk to me
Talk because
a chain-linked high
is hard on the knees

And though he’s used to ignitions
I burn. We are
friends and gasoline

from I Take—and Keep—My Flesh

Listen to the Mourners introduces readers to one of the most influential Iraqi poets of the twentieth century. Nāzik Al-Malā’ika pioneered the modern Arabic verse movement when she broke away from the formalistic classical modes of Arabic poetry that had prevailed for more than fifteen centuries. Along with ʻAbdulwahhāb Al-Bayyāti and Badre Shākir Al-Sayyāb, she paved the way for the birth of a new modernist poetic movement in the Arab World. This accessible, beautifully rendered, and long overdue translation fills a gap in modern Arabic poetry in translation.

The dawn is up,
Listen to the beat of the walkers’ footsteps
In the silence of the dawn, hearken, look at the mourners’ procession.
Ten dead, twenty.
Do not count, listen to the mourners,
Listen to the voice of the poor child.

from The Cholera

Santa Tarantula explores the tension between fear and reprieve, between hopelessness and light. Jordan Pérez lends voices to the forgotten: to the political dissidents, gay men, and religious minorities imprisoned in the forced-labor camps of 1960s Cuba; to biblical women who were deemed unworthy to name; to survivors of sexual violence who grapple with paralyzing fear and isolation. With rich detail, these poems weave together the stories of those who go unheard with family memories, and explore moments of unspeakable tragedy with glimpses of a life beyond the trauma. Santa Tarantula pushes through the darkness, cataloging unspoken pain and multigenerational damage, and revealing that, sometimes, survival is in the telling.

Papa, your hands are now
my father’s hands,

your bruisebelt is his own.
We are running through the wheat

off 78, two generations
of quiet

sucking each other’s pain
as you might a snakebite.

from Letter to My Grandfather in April

Barefoot is rich in elegies, meditations on lost love, and celebrations of new love. The title speaks of mourning, pilgrimage, and the direct sensuous contact of flesh with earth. Never before has Kevin Hart stretched his range of inspiration quite so far; while continuing to draw from Christianity, he also responds to the rich heritage of American Blues, and reveals a wit as sharp as a razor’s edge. The poetry is at once religious poetry and love poetry; indeed, the “religious poetry” is itself love poetry. Always, Hart speaks to us in words that seem inevitable in their simplicity.

Still of our world, dear father, in your grave
Or at my winter window, looking hard
Into a life you never knew in life:

This house of books, this fire that cracks a whip
At cats and shadows when they cross the room,
Vast silences that swallow days alive.

from Barefoot

A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying is filled with the nuanced beauty and complexity of the everyday—a pot of beans, a goat carcass, embroidered linens, a grandfather’s cancer. A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying journeys through the inherited fear of creation and destruction. The histories of South Texas and its people unfold in Laurie Ann Guerrero’s stirring language, including the dehumanization of men and its consequences on women and children. Guerrero’s tongue becomes a palpable border, occupying those liminal spaces that both unite and divide, inviting readers to consider that which is known and unknown: the body.

No importaba que no eras negro, pero que no eras gringo.
No, it didn’t matter that you weren’t black, grandpa says
pushing himself from the table, but that you weren’t white.

He lived his life this way: silent, like every man after him:
opening his mouth only to eat, holding his head above
the cotton, between white men and black boys.

from Sundays After Breakfast: A Lesson in Speech

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