National Poetry Month: Staff Book Picks

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Throughout National Poetry Month, Cave Canem has been providing writing weekly prompts generated by some of our fellows, as well as reading recommendations for those who are not writers. This project,
Literary Balms, is only one way we’ve been engaging with poetry during this special month. As always, our staff has also been discovering new books and returning to old favorites. Here is a list of what we’ve been getting into this month, with hopes that this glimpse into our reading practices inspires you to find new reads for the months ahead. 


Natalie Desrosiers
Programs & Communications Assistant

  • Woodie King and Earl (editors), Black Poets and Prophets: A Bold, Uncompromisingly Clear Blueprint for Black Liberation (New American Library, 1972)

National Poetry Month encourages me to not only read poetry, but to read about poets, their lives and political thought, all of which inform their work. I’ve enjoyed returning to this collection of essays written by Black thinkers and writers of all genres who offer important frameworks for thinking about Black art, literature and freedom, however contested. This book reminds me of the importance of reading poetry through its historical and theoretical contexts. I especially appreciate the opening essay by Frantz Fanon, who often employs a literary style of writing, and an essay by C.L.R James, who is often forgotten as a playwright and fiction writer. It’s a stimulating and critical read that affirms the power of the languages and literatures to raise our political consciousness and guide us toward a freer world.


Della Green
Workshops and Administrative Assistant

  • Nikki Giovanni, My House (William Morrow, 1972)
  • Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi (editors), Women Poets of Japan, (New Directions, 1982)

Women Poets of Japan and My House by Nikki Giovanni both have poems that deal with the political implications of daily observations and intimate moments. It’s beautiful and grounding to read work from other women that is resonant and relatable. It’s amazing to see how shared experiences span both place and time…from 1970’s New York all the way back to 6th century Japan!


Malcolm Tariq
Programs and Communications Manager

  • Elizabeth Alexander, The Black Interior (Graywolf Press, 2004)
  • Tommye Blount, Fantasia for the Man in Blue (Four Way Books, 2020)
  • Toi Derricotte, “I”: New and Selected Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019)
  • Jessica Lanay, am·phib·ian (Broadside Lotus Press, 2020)
  • Eric Tran, The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer (Autumn House Press, 2020)
  • Adeeba Talukder, Shahr-e-jaanaan: The City of the Beloved (Tupelo Press, 2020)

I haven’t finished a book of poems in quite a while, so I’ve been spending my time indoors becoming reacquainted with book projects, especially debut collections. For the past several months I’ve been waiting anxiously for the first books of Tommye Blount, Jessica Lanay, Eric Tran and Addeba Talukder. They have not disappointed at all. Each of them is filled with fresh, distinct language and complex narratives about love, sexuality, gender and loss. I’ve also finally had time to read Toi Derricotte’s collection of new and selected poems that I heard her read from at the 2018 Cave Canem Retreat. It’s been such a rewarding experience to experience new books of poetry while practicing social distancing. They have provided me with unexpected ways of engaging with the outside world and other people. There is a simultaneous escape from so much bad news, and hope for new models of living and critical engagement with the world in the wake of devastation.