2022 IPPY Poetry Medalists PLUS
Here are 15 Great Books of Poetry
Poetry is cool again. Sure, it's always been cool, and not just the Beat poets, but old-timers like Dickinson, Frost, Whitman...their poems are cemented into American culture much the same as great works in all the arts: music, movies, dance... But this new wave of young, hugely popular and successful poets are bringing it back to the mainstream and raising its visibility to a whole new level. Amanda Gorman's stunning recitation of The Hill We Climb
at the Biden inauguration brought a new awareness to American poetry. The printed edition became the biggest first-week-of-sales poetry book in the history of publishing.
The time is certainly right for it: expressions of discontent and calls for social justice are rampant. The Covid-19 pandemic caused a scourge of isolation and self-reflection. Instagram is the perfect medium to share it on, and sites like PoetryNation and AllPoetry make publishing your poetry a breeze. Can reading and writing poetry improve our mental health? It's certainly more accessible and affordable than therapy.
And so, it is not surprising that the Poetry category entries into the Independent Publisher Book Awards have increased steadily over the past few years, and so has the quality of the entries. April is National Poetry Month, and it was also the month we judged the 2022 IPPY Award entries, so we joined the celebration and completed the grueling task of picking out what we considered to be the "best of the best."
It's never easy, because of so much quality, so much innovation, so much creativity. But it is a true pleasure, for those same reasons, and we were able to come up with gold, silver and bronze medalists -- but because there were so many fine contenders, I've decided to highlight the five medalists -- and also list the ten "almost" winners.
The poems in Andrea Gibson's IPPY Gold Medal-winning You Better Be Lightning
"range from close examination of the deeply personal to the vastness of the world, exploring the expansiveness of the human experience from love to illness, from space to climate change, and so much more in between," according to the Button Press
Almost unbelievably, this is Gibson's second gold medal in 3 years: their previous collection, Lord of the Butterflies, won the 2019 IPPY Award. As one of the judges who rated both books, I can assure you I had no recollection of who the author was when I began to read this new collection. In fact, we make a point to not pay much attention to author or publisher names while judging -- since there are about 125 entries, we don't have time for it! I think this just demonstrates how great Gibson's poetry is, and how well-deserved the gold medals are. The poems are raw-edged and real, and meant to be read out loud, so maybe you could say that is the style of poetry that wins IPPY Awards.
In any moment,
on any given day,
I can measure
by this question:
Is my attention on loving,
or is my attention on
who isn't loving me?
Andrea Gibson is a queer author of five full-length collections of poetry, including Lord of the Butterflies
(Button Poetry 2018) which sold over 20,000 copies worldwide. The winner of the first Women’s World Poetry Slam, Gibson has gone on to be featured on BBC, Air America, CSpan, and has also released seven full length albums of spoken word.
How to Kill Yourself Instead of Your Children
, by Quincy Scott Jones, is this year's other Poetry Gold Medalist. "At a certain point, BIPOC families must have 'the Conversation,' a discussion and set of instructions for surviving a world of policing, presumed guilt, and the racial inequities that threaten our very lives,"
says the C&R Press
website. "It’s labeled 'the Conversation,' but this discussion is never an intimate moment, never a one-time event. Instead it’s a constant choir of dissent and disembodied voices whispering and wailing night and day. Through a mix of lyric, found text, and hybridity, How to Kill Yourself Instead of Your Children
highlights some of these voices: adults and children, murderers and victims, bookshelves and wanted posters, carnival barkers and political pundits. How to Kill Yourself Instead of Your Children
calls upon the past and present in an attempt to find a language higher than the circular rhetoric that falls in and out of mass media, to hold a conversation that is constant even in silence, to escape the cycle of violence and Black death."
Here is another "raw-edged" collection that describes "The Conversation" all African-American parents must have with their children to help them avoid police brutality, and captures the heartbreaking reality of this cruel truth better than anything we've seen before. So timely, and so heartfelt, with just the right blend of anger and compassion. This is poetry as socio-political statement, written because its message desperately needs to be heard.
HOW TO BE NICE
The first time a white boy calls you nigger
or calls out nigger while you are near
not knowing he's calling you out your name
your sisters' and brothers' and mother's mothers
don't be angry at your silence.
You are in shock
and you can always come back
to this later when you see him again.
You will see him again.
When you see him walk up
with a softness and come to him
with neither smile nor frown
take the back of his neck
like you would a newborn
and throw his head into a table.
A good table. Solid table.
I recommend wood.
Wood has a give and this is an act of giving.
Give him unconsciousness
so he will have something upon which to reflect.
Give him your all -- a sharpness and strength
sequenced from centuries of dealing with this mess
and if you do it right
I mean do it just right
unlike you he won't even feel a thing.
Quincy Scott Jones' work has appeared in the African American Review, the North American Review, the Bellingham Review, and Love Jawns: A Mixtape. He teaches in the NYC area and is working on his first graphic narrative.
One of our two Silver Medalists is September 12
by Andrea Carter Brown, who was at home just a block from the World Trade Center when the planes crashed into it on 9/11. Brown's eyewitness account of the attack and its aftermath won the James Dickey Prize from Five Points, the River Styx International Poetry Prize, the Puddinghouse Press Chapbook Competition, The MacGuffin National Poet Hunt, and is cited in the Library of Congress Online Research Guide to the Poetry of 9/11. Featured on NPR, her poem “The Old Neighborhood” has been widely anthologized. Split This Rock chose her poem “After the Disaster: Fragments” as their Poem of the Week for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. September 12
is published by The Word Works
"The morning of 9/11, I was sitting in my apartment a block from the World Trade Center drinking coffee and reading the paper. Shortly after the North Tower was hit, I fled on foot and, by a circuitous route through Staten Island, New Jersey, and Rockland County, was reunited that night with my husband in Westchester. Four days later we returned to our apartment under armed guard to retrieve important papers. Six months later, when we were allowed to move back, there was still no phone service or transit or any stores within a mile. Tourists gawked at us as we tried to go about our lives."
"Although it was months before I could write anything about that day, I felt very early on that my story, a domestic odyssey prompted by a terrorist attack, unique in its own way, needed to be told."
"When other people started writing about what they had witnessed, I realized that my perspective, and hence my memories, were completely different from what was being reported in the media or described by other writers. For example, having taken a different escape route, I didn’t see the iconic images of the towers on fire: I saw them instead from the west and south, initially from my living room window and then from nearby streets. When the first tower fell, I was in a berthed Staten Island Ferry. The world went black, but I had no idea what had happened."
Let’s not romanticize bodies
falling. Others may use float
or dance; I refuse to pretend.
They were not graceful, quiet.
They fell unbelievably fast.
Straight down. Head first.
Some screamed. The sound
they made landing? Forget
thud. Louder than the wind.
Poet and editor Andrea Carter Brown is the author of three previous poetry collections: The Disheveled Bed
(CavanKerry Press, 2006) and two chapbooks, Brook & Rainbow
(winner of the 2001 Sow’s Ear Poetry Review chapbook contest) and Domestic Karma
(Finishing Line Press, 2018). Her current manuscript, American Fraktur
, was chosen by Jane Hirshfield for the 2018 Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award from Marsh Hawk Press.
Our other Silver Medalist, Cindy Veach, grew up in literary family, her father an English professor who read poetry to her as a child. She lists influences as Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and James Wright.
"Set against the historical backdrop of the Salem Witch Trials, Her Kind
is a book about women viewed as witches, women making their own choices, women fighting for freedom, women who are innocent, and women who are used or disregarded by their cultures," says the publisher, CavenKerry Press
. "The lyrical poems in this collection skillfully braid together narratives of the female victims of the Salem Witch Trials with the experiences of contemporary women viewed as witches for their personal histories, their political circumstances, or for speaking out and making their own choices. A blend of lyrical and narrative poems, Her Kind
celebrates women refusing the victim role and reclaiming their magic."
"This book began with an intense desire to counter the witch kitsch narratives of Salem, MA, but as I wrote those poems my vision for the book evolved and became more complicated," she told the MassPoetry website. "I discovered that the book wanted/needed to connect that history with contemporary events that were both personal and political. What excites me the most about Her Kind is that my vision for it was realized and that these narratives both historical and contemporary are now out in the world."
So what if I woke up changed it's not like I'm a wild hog
or some Evill thing not a Reall hog
that follows you home Jumps into the window
a Munky with Cocks feete w'th Claws don't believe
what my Accuser says or believe it
the fact is my divorce attorney's building
sits on the site of the prison where they kept the Accused
in Chaines in 1692 I came there with a silk scarf
worn loosely at the neck borders looped
with colored thread he came with daisies dark
chocolate and proclaimed
my wife came towards me and found fault with me
downstairs in the dungeon they chained us to the walls
to keep our spirits from escaping in the Liknes of a bird
Cindy Veach is the author of Her Kind
, (CavanKerry Press), a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal, Gloved Against Blood
(CavanKerry Press), named a Paterson Poetry Prize finalist and a Massachusetts Center for the Book 'Must Read' and the chapbook, Innocents
(Nixes Mate Press). Her poems have appeared in The Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day Series, AGNI, Chicago Review, Prairie Schooner, Sugar House Review, Poet Lore, Michigan Quarterly Review, Diode, The Journal, Nimrod, North American Review, Verse Daily, Salamander
and elsewhere. Cindy received an MFA from the University of Oregon where she was a Graduate Teaching Fellow and an assistant poetry editor for Northwest Review
. She is co-poetry editor of Mom Egg Review
Our Bronze Medalist, George Murray "is a strange beast," according to his publisher, Toronto-based ECW Press
. "Lauded as one of Canada’s leading poets, his work has been published around the world, but here at home, he has never really 'fit in' with his contemporaries. By turns archly formal and thoughtful, insouciant and hilarious, each of his books seems intent on staking out its own identity, standing alone in stark contrast to all others."
is a considerable body of poetry from a mind that obsessively wanders the edges of thought and language, working to identify what boundaries may or may not exist. From early narrative poems to lyrical explorations of the metaphysical to investigations of the colloquial and contemporary, Murray’s work roams a landscape that includes everything from happiness to regret, love to loss, doubt to faith, anxiety to acceptance."
"This collection not only represents the best of Murray’s earlier poems, but also surprises readers with a section of never-before-seen new work, revealing a life spent wrestling with what it means to arrive, live, and leave."
Problematica is "the term scientists use to designate animal kingdom species and whatnot that don't fit with anything else," Murray told the CBC. "So many of my books were so radically different from one another. A number of my contemporaries and critics have been like, 'We don't know where to place you in these groups and hierarchies and whatnot within the Canadian literary scene.'"
"It makes me feel like an old man when I look at it and I say, 'Oh my gosh, I've been doing this for so long.' But I've hit middle age and turned 50 this year. It's an interesting perspective or retrospective to look back at work that you did that is basically juvenilia."
"I look at that younger fellow and think, 'Geez, he wasn't a dummy.' It doesn't feel like me. It feels like somebody else because it's so long ago. But I have to honour, to some degree, who that person was at the time, even though it might not be my ideal now."
How many feet was it in front of my home
that I fell in the ditch that opening night
fifteen years back, drunk and rank of some town
girl's perfume? The bank and weeds' tall theatre
drew a blackout curtain over my prone
form and swayed, a shushed and respectful crowd
viewing a well-known/well-appointed corpse
laid out in the roadside's funeral home.
From a civil bed to the misty primal;
spin me, stars, until I am erect.
Take me by the neck like a mother would, that first
clutch at the nape, lift me to your breast.
Dumb, the cars' searchlights passed my dim cradle.
Dumber still, I lay agape and slept.
George Murray is the award-winning author of eight books of poems and aphorisms as well as a book for children. His poems have appeared in magazines and journals around the world. He grew up in rural Ontario and has spent time abroad in Italy, Mexico, and New York City but now calls St. John’s, Newfoundland, his home.
* * * * *
Here are the afore-mentioned "almost winners," listed in random order, that also greatly impressed our judges and deserve recognition and support. Along with the medalists, they represent what I feel is the best selection of poetry entries the IPPY Awards have ever seen, and this points to a great future for independently published poetry.
A Fine Canopy, by Alison Swan (Wayne State University Press)
Savage Flower, by Anna B. Sutton (Black Lawrence Press)
The Trouble with Daydreams: Collected & New Poems, by Mark Vinz (North Dakota State University Press)
Leap Thirty, by Diane Lowell Wilder (June Road Press)
Politics of the Minotaur
, by karla k. morton (Texas Review Press)
Ordinary Psalms, by Julia B. Levine (Louisiana State University Press)
What Happens is Neither, by Angela Narciso Torres (Four Way Books)
A Selected History of Soul Speak, by Andrea Thompson (Frontenac House Poetry)
How To Carry Soup, by C.M. Rivers (Homebound Publications)
Tension: Rupture, poems by Cutter Streeby; paintings by Michael Haight (Tupelo Press)
* * * * *
Congratulations to all of the IPPY Awards Poetry category entrants on your fantastic work!