Poetry in 2022 (work & joy & religion)

It’s become a private tradition to read poetry in this wintry span of time between the end of one academic term and the beginning of the next. I think it’s because poetry helps me center myself, dial down stress, and look away from my inbox. I’m definitely hit at the end of the calendar year by guilt at my to-be-read stack–but I think a craving for calm matters more. I’ve used books my whole life as a mood regulator, and probably built my career around them for similar reasons. As I put it in “Oral Culture” in my book Heterotopia, poetry is “work and joy and religion.”

I just posted at the Aqueduct Press blog about the speculative edge of my 2022 reading, noting that this was a difficult, distractible year during which certain books sunk in deeply and others skated past. To focus on poetry, here are a few things I noticed among recent poetry collections:

  • It takes a while for the effects of public disaster to trickle into poetry magazines, let alone books, and you can never be sure when the poems in any given book were written, yet I thought I saw indirect pandemic effects through an emphasis on solitary natural observation (not what everyone was experiencing, but for nonessential poets who didn’t get seriously ill, it was common enough). Ada Limón’s The Hurting Kind struck me that way, with all its looking-out-of-windows poems. Victoria Chang’s book of meditations, mostly in brief Japanese forms, has that quality, too, although The Trees Witness Everything is also big and ambitious in its apparent smallness–this one will win prizes. Cynthia Hogue’s beautiful chap Contain directly concerns Covid-19.
  • I never thought a poetry book about academia would work–too insidery?–but this year brought a couple of fabulous outsidery ones: Jenny L. Davis’ Trickster Academy and Melissa Studdard’s Dear Selection Committee. Adrienne Raphel’s Our Dark Academia is on my short list, but academic life is getting in the way of reading it…
  • I’m attracted to books about how difficult it can be to survive life in a woman’s body, and I found some dazzlers this year. Interestingly, as I noted in the Aqueduct piece, Jessica Cuello’s Liar and Jennifer Givhan’s Belly to the Brutal are also spiritual books. With its fresh slant on historically informed poetry, Athena Kildegaard’s Prairie Midden is another one to savor.

All the other books on the full list below are strong, too–I don’t finish ones I don’t like! Lauren Slaughter’s Spectacle and Anna V. Ross’ Flutter, Kick are beauties I picked up at the C.D. Wright conference, and there are more in that pile I look forward to spending time with. Currently I’m reading an ebullient first book, Bright Shade, by Chelsea Harlan, who’ll have a poem in the spring issue of Shenandoah. That’s the last poetry book I’ll finish for a while, though, because storm and security lines permitting, we get on a plane to India tomorrow, at which point I’m going to do my best not to read social media or email. I’ll look for the poetry in this adventure, though, so I can post about it in the new year.

“Nature Documentary,” pictured below, is by Harlan and “Late Wonders” by Chang (interesting how many anti-fame-and-social-media poems populate her book!). Further down: my lists.

You’ll see I keep notes on WHY I chose these books. As someone trying to get news of my own books out there (Poetry’s Possible Worlds is also 2022!), I’m curious about how much preestablished fandom and friendship dictate my choices versus conference/ festival encounters, reviews, and word of mouth. At any rate, I read 114 books this year, so “work and joy and religion” adds up.

*=Published within the last year or so–another element I track.


  • 1/18 McLarney and Street, Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia (reread for class)
  • 1/25 Petrosino, White Blood (reread for class)
  • 1/30 Brown, The Adjacent Possible* (reread for class)
  • 2/7 Cooley, Breach (reread for class)
  • 2/20 Smith, Goldenrod* (fandom)
  • 2/24 Shire, Our Men Do Not Belong to Us (reread for class)
  • 3/2 Carson, Autobiography of Red (reread for class)
  • 3/3 Miller, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (reread for class)
  • 3/10 O’Neil, Rewilding (reread for class)
  • 4/2 Harjo, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (reread for class)
  • 4/7 Cuello, Liar* (friends’ recommendations)
  • 4/15 Meitner, Useful Junk* (writer I admire)
  • 4/16 Berssenbrugge, A Treatise On Stars (reviews)
  • 4/17 Reddy, Underworld Lit (reviews)
  • 4/20 O’Tuama, Sorry for Your Troubles (friend’s recommendation)
  • 4/22 Shire, Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head* (fandom)
  • 5/07 Schwartz, Nightbloom & Cenote (same cover art as PPW!)
  • 5/8 Kearney, Sho* (friend’s recommendation)
  • 5/8 Veach, Her Kind* (friend’s recommendation)
  • 5/18 Whiteside, Writing Your Name on the Glass* (Shenandoah author)
  • 5/19 Hogue, Contain* (fandom)
  • 5/23 Kildegaard, Prairie Midden (fandom)
  • 6/10 Gander, Twice Alive (research)
  • 6/12 Hurt, The J Girls* (a friend’s recommendation)
  • 6/17 Robinson, Simple River (by a friend)
  • 6/19 Williams, Mutiny* (fandom)
  • 6/22 McAdams, Búfalo en seis direcciones* (fandom)
  • 6/23 Studdard, Dear Selection Committee* (recommended by friends)
  • 6/28 Bell, The Book of the Dead Man (research)
  • 6/29 Chingonyi, More Fiya* (teaching)
  • 7/31 Priest, Patriarchy Blues (met at reading)
  • 8/1 Womer, Cost of Living* (colleague)
  • 8/10 Michael, Strange Ladies* (fandom)
  • 8/13 Givhan, Belly to the Brutal* (fandom)
  • 8/19 Schwabacher, Omma* (pressmate)
  • 8/21 Davis, Trickster Academy* (friend’s recommendation)
  • 8/27 Tran, Mouth Sugar & Smoke* (fandom)
  • 9/1 Anonymous, Beowulf (reread for a college First Year Read program)
  • 9/1 Beatty, Skydog* (fandom)
  • 9/2 Torres, What Happens Is Neither (met at a reading)
  • 10/5 Gómez Jatti, trans. Heeden and Lott, Almost Obscene* (gift)
  • 10/30 Carson, Autobiography of Red (reread for teaching)
  • 11/6 Slaughter, Spectacle* (trade at a conference)
  • 11/19 Hedge Coke, Look at this Blue* (fandom)
  • 11/20 Ross, Flutter, Kick* (bought at conference)
  • 11/7 Chingonyi, More Fiya* (reread for class)
  • 12/5 Shire, Bless the Daughter Raised by the Voice in Her Head* (reread for class)
  • 12/18 Chang, The Trees Witness Everything* (fandom and word of mouth)
  • 12/19 Limón, The Hurting Kind* (fandom)
  • 12/20 Dungy, Suck on the Marrow (reread for teaching)
  • 12/21 Harlan, Bright Shade* (Shenandoah author)


  • 1/9 Erdrich, The Sentence* (fandom)
  • 1/23 Solomon, Days of Afrakete* (fandom)
  • 2/1 Nicolay, ed., Keefauver (friendship with editor)
  • 2/7 Beagle, Secret History of Fantasy (reread for class)
  • 2/15 Carter, The Bloody Chamber (reread for class)
  • 2/17 Due, The Between (fandom)
  • 2/25 Johnson, My Monticello* (friends’ recommendation)
  • 3/21 Jones, Mongrels (reread for class)
  • 4/1 Makkai, The Great Believers (reread for lecture gig)
  • 4/5 Chan, School for Bad Mothers (audiobook for car trips)
  • 4/16 Beagle, New Voices of Fantasy (scouting for teaching)
  • 4/23 Priest, Grave Reservations* (review)
  • 4/30 Butler, Patternmaster (fandom)
  • 5/5 Vandermeers, Big Book of Modern Fantasy (scouting for teaching)
  • 5/12 Groff, Matrix* (friend’s recommendation)
  • 5/28 Jones, My Heart is a Chainsaw* (fandom)
  • 6/3 Mott, Hell of a Book (awards, friend recommendation)
  • 6/6 Mandel, Sea of Tranquility* (fandom)
  • 6/10 Novik, Spinning Silver (son’s recommendation)
  • 6/28 Gilman, Dark Orbit (met her at a World Con)
  • 7/4 King, Firestarter (working through the backlog!)
  • 7/14 Swanwick, Iron Dragon’s Daughter (conference prep)
  • 7/25 Yoder, Nightbitch (daughter’s rec)
  • 8/4 Kuang, The Poppy Wars (research for teaching)
  • 8/8 Le Guin, Tales from Earthsea (reread as research for teaching)
  • 8/9 Ostertag, The Witch Boy (research for teaching)
  • 8/12 Okorafor, Akata Witch (research for teaching)
  • 8/16 Harrington, In Circling Flight* (by a colleague)
  • 8/29 Doerr, Cloud Cuckoo Land* (friends’ recommendation)
  • 9/1 Gardner, Grendel (college’s First Year Read program)
  • 9/6 King, Lisey’s Story (fandom)
  • 9/11 King, The Shining (fandom)
  • 9/18 King, Carrie (fandom)
  • 10/3 Novik, The Golden Enclaves (fandom, gift)
  • 10/15 Carter, The Bloody Chamber (reread for teaching)
  • 11/4 Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead (reviews)
  • 11/6 King, Night Shift (fandom)
  • 11/16 Jones, Mongrels (reread for teaching)
  • 12/19 Hays, The Cloisters* (NYT review)
  • 12/20 diRende, Knife Witch* (forthcoming—read to blurb)


  • 1/3 Tea, Modern Tarot (curiosity)
  • 2/22 Beatty, American Bastard* (fandom)
  • 3/29 Russo and Reed, Counter-Desecrations (reread for class)
  • 3/30 Hailer, Animal You’ll Surely Become (reread for class)
  • 4/17 Bean, Engaging Ideas (seminar on writing pedagogy)
  • 4/26 Gabbert, The Word Pretty (fandom)  
  • 4/28 Kobabe, Gender Queer (because it’s the most banned book in schools)
  • 5/6 Tamaki, Supermutant Magic Academy (scouting for teaching)
  • 5/20 Bedtime Stories for the End of the World (scouting for teaching)
  • 5/22 Febos, Girlhood (recommendations from friends)
  • 6/15 Noble, A Harp in the Stars (research)
  • 6/17 Shuttleworth and Zim, Non-flowering plants: a Golden Nature Guide (research)
  • 6/18 Money, Fungi: A Very Short Introduction (research)
  • 7/5 Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World (research)
  • 8/11 Gavaler, The Comics Form (spouse!)
  • 8/16 McLane, My Poets (research)
  • 8/25, Silbergleid & Quynn, Reading and Writing Experimental Texts (research)
  • 8/25 McPhee, Appointed Rounds (correspondence, sort of? Ended up exchanging books)
  • 8/26 Ali, Northern Lights (admired his essay in Ecotone)
  • 10/4 Williams and Steffen, The Critical Pulse (research)
  • 11/19 Dungy, Guidebook to Relative Strangers (teaching prep)
  • 12/5 Hailer, Animal You’ll Surely Become (reread for teaching)
  • 12/10 Silko, The Turquoise Ledge (teaching)
  • 12/15 Silko, Storyteller (reread for teaching)
  • 12/16 Robinson, Astral H.D. (for research)

5 responses to “Poetry in 2022 (work & joy & religion)”

  1. Wow, I’m in awe of the amount of reading you do. I’ve had to really make a big effort to set aside enough time for reading this year – things just seem to get in the way!
    Loved the quote about the cats … waiting to be loved. That’s fantastic. It reminds me of Elizabeth Bishop.
    Have a great Christmas.
    Julie x


  2. An amazing reading list Lesley! I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I’m trying to pay more attention to that little inner voice that keeps nudging me to READ MORE! Thanks for the inspiring recommendations. x


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