2012’s Best Books of Poetry by Women

blog12012 was 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.


blog2Danielle 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.


blog3Holly 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.


blog4Collected 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.


blog6Angela 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.


blog7Lyn 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.


thunderbird.front_rev.1Dorothea 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.


blog9Kate 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”!


blog10Engine 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.


  1. You forgot “Later Poems,” (Norton) , the last collection of her poems supervised by Adrienne Rich.

  2. I’d like to recommend two favorite contemporary poets, both available at exotbooks
    Adriana Scopino’s “Let me Be Like Glass”
    This collection of 24 poems, each as delicate and sharp as the substance itself–each illuminating moments both tender and terrible with a careful, clarity, stunning in it’s simplicity.

    Wendy Videlock’s “What’s That Supposed To Mean”
    A spare collection of mystery, wit and wisdom, it is “a delicate gift to die for”*. This poet is a deft shape shifter, a modern wizard–erudite, and just plain delightful.

    *Timothy Murphy, author: Very Far North

  3. I just realized retrospectively, that both these titles were published previous to 2012, however, Wendy Videlosck has a new collection avilaible at Able Muse Press, and Adriana Scopino is still writing. None the less, both poets are well worth finding. You won’t be disappointed.

  4. And let’s not forget Half of What They Carried Flew Away by Andrea Rexilius:


  5. I’d also recommend Arco Iris by Sarah Vap, The Girls of Peculiar by Catherine Pierce, and My Scarlet Ways by Tanya Larkin.

  6. Joey in NYC says:

    Umm… Anyone who wouldn’t include Vievee Francis’ “Horse in the Dark,” (Northwestern University Press) and dg nanouk okpik’s “Corpse Whale,” (University of Arizona Press) on their best of 2012 list obviously doesn’t know what’s up.

    (Although I def. agree that “Engine Empire” and “I’ll drown my book” were two of the best books to come out last year.)

    • “Here’s my impossibly non-comprehensive list of the best poetry picks for 2012, in no particular order:”

      Apparently you can’t read caveats. But thanks for knowing “what’s up” in the strictly objective appraisals of contemporary poetry.

  7. Debra Di Blasi says:

    I recommend Elizabeth J. Colen’s new collection, WAITING UP FOR THE END OF THE WORLD: Conspiracies. … Gorgeous musings on memory, human relationships, and history as they intersect with a host of whacky conspiracy theories.

  8. Also Hoa Nguyen’s As Long as Trees Last and Jasmine Wagner’s Listening for Earthquakes.

  9. Hello,

    Our new poetry book is in English, French and 3 poems in the Shetland dialect. For more information please go to my Official Website, thank you in advance.

    All good things,
    Donna Allard Canada & Nat Hall Shetland Islands

  10. Julia Stein says:

    One of the truly wonderful poetry books of 2012 by a woman in the U.S. was Carol Tarlen’s “Every Day Is an act of Resistance: Selected Poems by Carol Tarlen.” I co-edited the book. Jack Hirschman did an introduction. Tarlen, who died in 2004, was a rarity–a stone brilliant working class woman who could write her heart out and yours too. Tarlen speaks for the huge majority of U.S. women.

  11. Charles Alexander says:

    And where is Jennifer Bartlett’s (a) lullaby without any music (chax Press)? Definitely one of my favorites, one of the best.

  12. Deepest thanks for the list and discussion! I’d like to suggest
    a world class poet many have yet to discover. The book is Unthinkable, New & Selected Poems
    by Irene McKinney (Red Hen Press).

  13. Danny Stewart says:

    Check out Kerri Webster’s second collection, the Iowa Prize winning “Grand and Arsenal.” If you haven’t discovered her yet, you’re in for a zap! Her poems feel whispered, but cause avalanches.

  14. Of course we all have our favorites, and it’s nice to see the small presses get their due. But might I recommend my spouse Kass Fleisher’s Dead Woman Hollow, released by Excelsior Editions (SUNY Press) last summer? I think readers who appreciate demanding narrative, and difficult writing, will not soon forget the three Appalachian tales that comprise this novel.

  15. Amanda Montei says:

    These are such wonderful books! Please keep them coming!

  16. You forgot three important books:

    Olives, by A.E. Stallings–the best book of American poetry since Ariel

    Love, an Index, by Rebecca Lindenberg–a fantastic view of a love lost and a life rebuilt

    I Was There For Your Somniloquy, by Kelli Anne Noftle–brilliant, weird, and funny

  17. Also see Aileen Muhammad’s Cowards and Angels.

    In the early 1930s, young Ace Smart is eight years old when his father, a physician, is found hung in his office, and his mother, a writer in the Harlem Renaissance, dies soon after. He grows up bitterly, marries, and raises two daughters. This is the story of the spiritual journey of one of his daughters. Evidence of the past and feelings of the family emerge as Mia is hospitalized in a mental hospital.

  18. I have a feeling 2013 is going to be an even bigger year for women in poetry. Kicking it off in Ottawa, Canada Saturday, January 26th, the VERSeOttawa woman’s slam championship is happening at the Mercury Lounge at 6:30pm. Twelve beautiful souls are going to share their words and four will be chosen for a feature spot at Ottawa’s VerseFest in March 2013. How exciting is that?

  19. Mary Meriam says:

    I highly recommend Kathryn L. Pringle’s “fault tree” –

  20. I just love poema

  21. I would like to let you know I have started a blog featuring early women poets. I hope you will stop by sometime!

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