2012’s Best Books of Poetry by Women

2012 was a great year for poetry, and an even better year for poetry by women. Here’s my impossibly non-comprehensive list of the best poetry picks for 2012, in no particular order:

+ I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women, edited by Caroline Bergvall, Laynie Browne, Teresa Carmody and Vanessa Place (Les Figues Press)

This anthology was highly anticipated and does not disappoint. It features influential texts by Kathy Acker, Dodie BellamyBernadette Mayer, Harryette Mullen, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and so many more (64 women total, representing 10 countries)—and it’s the first compilation of conceptual writing by women. Ever. Each author’s poems are accompanied by critical texts on the topic of conceptual writing. A must-own.

** Also from Les Figues Press: check out Negro Marfil/ Ivory Black by Myriam Moscona, translated by Jen Hofer, winner of the 2012 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award and the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.

+ Danielle Pafunda’s Manhater (Dusie Press)

The title pretty much says it all. Pafunda, an assistant professor of English and women’s/gender studies at the University of Wyoming, is no stranger to feminist politics. This slim book flips ideas of motherhood, the female body, cloning, sex and illness on their head. The results are at times incredibly humorous, at other turns completely moving.

+ Holly Melgard’s The Making of Americans (Troll Thread)

Published by the innovative Troll Thread collective, Melgard’s conceptual homage re-imagines Gertrude Stein’s 925-page The Making of Americans by erasing all repetitive language (of which there is a lot!). The result is a concise 32-page book that leaves you wondering just how much time it took Melgard to pull this off. You can get this book for free, or order a print copy at Troll Thread’s website.

+ Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser (BOA Editions Ltd.)

Just two years after her death, this 769-page collection is a welcome anthology, representative of more than 40 years of Clifton’s writing. If you’re not yet familiar with Clifton’s incredible mix of the familial and the political, this is one book you need right now.

+ Diana Hamilton’s Okay, Okay (Truck Books)

This book is full of people crying in public and private places, and with thoughts about our gendered associations with feeling. Loosely set inside cubicles, the bedroom and a country club, this book will make you laugh—and cry somewhere you shouldn’t.

+ Angela Veronica Wong’s How to Survive a Hotel Fire (Coconut Books)

Wong’s first full-length collection contains playful, melancholy, conflicted poems with a narrative quality that makes beauty and tragedy out of ordinary womanhood, good bread and writerly love affairs.

+ Lyn Hejinian’s The Book of a Thousand Eyes (Omnidawn)

Composed of poems, mini-myths, short meditations and philosophical musings, this collection took two decades to complete. The pieces draw their inspiration from sleep, nighttime and the bedroom. The collection is dedicated to the totally feminist Scheherazade who, in Arabian Nights, saves herself by telling stories.

+ Dorothea Lasky’s Thunderbird (Wave Books)

Lasky has that insane ability to expose loneliness and make you giggle at the same time. Her poems will remind you what it would sound like if we all just said what we were thinking. From the poem “Death and Sylvia Plath”: “Why do young women like Sylvia Plath?/Why doesn’t everyone?” We might say the same about Lasky.

**Also from Wave Books: Snowflake/different streets by the incredible Eileen Myles.

+ Kate Durbin’s Kept Women (Insert Blanc Press)

The newest chapbook from Los Angeles-based Insert Blanc Press‘s PARROT series, this book is only 12 pages long but, like all of Durbin’s work, it is thoroughly Hollywood and completely feminist. In an eerie real-estate-catalog-meets-fairy-tale voice, the poems describe the Playboy mansion in exhausting detail, though never directly reference the infamous bunnies or Hef, creating a complex commentary on the objectifying Hefner franchise. Also check out her Tumblr project “Women as Objects”!

+ Engine Empire by Cathy Park Hong (Norton)

These poems take us from the frontier West to Shangdu to a futuristic techno-capitalism. Included in the book are ballads, adventures, and fables that explore the many faces of global empire.


Amanda is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles, where she earned her MFA in Critical Studies & Writing from California Institute of the Arts. She recently completed a memoir, and is now working on book of poems, as well as a series of essays exploring the dynamics of forgiveness, reconciliation and national recoveries from mass atrocities. Her work has appeared in Ms. Magazine, Explosion Proof Magazine, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art (MIT Press), Delirious Hem, Nanofiction, Night Train and others. She was a nominee for the 2010 Million Writer's Award.