IMAGINING THE UNIMAGINABLE: 2017 Graywolf Poetry Preview



In January 2009, Elizabeth Alexander presented her poem “Praise Song for the Day” for the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama. It was a historic moment of hope. “I know there’s something better down the road,” Alexander wrote then. But at this moment, it is perhaps easier to look back than it is to look ahead. In her inaugural poem, Alexander also wrote, “We need to find a place where we are safe. / We walk into that which we cannot yet see.” This January, there will almost certainly not be an inaugural poet because no poet will be invited and, more to the point, no poet would accept an invitation from this president-elect.



But we need poetry to help us imagine the unimaginable that we are facing in 2017. Graywolf is very proud to be publishing the following books of poetry in this year. May they be read as great works and as great acts of resistance, and may there again be cause for praise songs.

–Jeff Shotts, Executive Editor




We are delighted to publish the first major career retrospective by National Book Critics Circle Award winner and MacArthur Fellow, Susan Stewart, titled Cinder: New and Selected Poems. A generous and brilliant set of new poems opens this book, and taken altogether, Stewart’s ingenious poetry gathered here reminds us of the austere necessities of the natural world and its endangerment from our collective disregard. Whether you are discovering Stewart’s work for the first time or whether you have known it for decades, here are worlds to get lost in, from a poet of restless invention.





WHEREAS is an astonishing debut by Whiting Award winner Layli Long Soldier, who in the title sequence responds with searing force to the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans, which was never delivered aloud, nor was anyone invited to receive it. This is a kaleidoscopic feat of a collection—with prose poems, fragments, a poem in the shape of a hammer, and more. WHEREAS is a book of personal conscience and lament and of public outrage and dissent, and it—unapologetically—introduces an essential new voice in American poetry.





Afterland by Mai Der Vang is a historic publication. As the winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, selected by Carolyn Forché, this remarkable debut collection marks the first time a Hmong American poet has received a major award and been published by a national press. Full of otherworldly imagery, these poems sing of struggle, violence, and exile, and together they accrue into a powerful documentation of the Hmong people’s exodus from Laos in the fallout from the Vietnam War. Afterland reminds us of the ongoing struggles experienced by immigrants in our country and around the world.





99 Poems: New & Selected by California Poet Laureate, Dana Gioia, is made available in paperback, and celebrates Gioia’s illustrious ongoing career. He arranges these poems—written over forty years—not by chronology but by theme: Mystery, Place, Remembrance, Imagination, Stories, Songs, and Love.








Said Not Said by Fred Marchant is a meditation on speech and silence and the damage that can be done by both. In a virtuosic array of shapes and forms, Marchant confronts the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the etymology of water; implores us to study the Etruscan votive offering of a clay hand; and in an emotionally wrenching set of poems, he recounts his sister’s fatal suffering from severe mental illness. This is Marchant’s best collection, one of sadness and resilience and moral questions about how we treat each other, our world, and our art.





In 2001, Graywolf proudly published The Half-Finished Heaven by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly, and in 2011, Tranströmer received the Nobel Prize for Literature. As we published Airmail: The Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Tranströmer, an extraordinary celebration of their long literary friendship, we recognized that all of Bly’s seminal translations of Tranströmer’s poetry deserved to be, at last, in one volume. We’re very honored to offer an expanded and updated edition of The Half-Finished Heaven that adds fourteen poems to this indispensable, illuminating collection by one of the greats of twentieth-century literature, translated by one of the greats of twentieth century literature.  





Lessons on Expulsion is Erika L. Sánchez’s audacious and moving first book, and it introduces readers to the career of a major new writer. (Sánchez’s first YA novel comes out from Knopf in the fall.) The poems are expansive and revealing in their explorations of growing up the daughter of immigrant parents, who were smuggled across the Mexico border in the trunk of Cadillac, and then all the way to Chicago, as one poem tells us. Sánchez is vulnerable and direct, and these are ambitious, beautifully vivid poems about desire, language, work, sexuality, citizenship, her own survival—and the consequences of that survival.  





Following her imaginative translation of Dante’s Inferno and her brilliant previous collection, The Last Two Seconds, Mary Jo Bang is writing at the heights of her award-winning career. Her new collection, A Doll for Throwing, is a series of prose poems inspired by Bauhaus art and artists from its founding in 1919 until the Nazis closed the school in 1933. Bang’s language of precision and lyric intensity fascinatingly captures a German era of nostalgia, nationalism, misogyny, xenophobia, and political extremism, and the parallels to present-day America are prescient, accurate, and chilling.





Danez Smith’s second collection, Don’t Call Us Dead, is a big, ambitious statement of the body in peril—in danger and in illness. The gut-wrenching opening sequence imagines an afterlife for black men gunned down by police, and the collection moves to poems about the poet’s own diagnosis of HIV. Smith swerves these poems at any given moment from the blood and violence captured on cell-phone videos to a rare and true kind of sweetness, and does so inside longer sequences, taut lyrics, performance pieces, a crown of sonnets, and more. This is visceral, necessary work by one of the most celebrated younger poets in the country who is changing the whole game.



Advice from the Lights by Stephen Burt is an exciting and important collection that finds the poet recalling “My 1982,” “My 1985,” and other specific years of childhood memory (guest appearances by C-3PO, Atari, and The Cars). This is less nostalgia than it is sometimes-severe self-scrutiny, and we find Burt here at his best and most candid. We also find Burt as Stephanie in a remarkable series of poems that explore gender, cross-dressing, and identity (guest appearances by a unicorn, Esprit, and tiara). Throughout are Burt’s renderings of the Ancient Greek poet Callimachus (guest appearances by Minecraft and Taylor Swift). 



Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries, edited by Martha Collins and Kevin Prufer, is a statement-making anthology about the artistry of translation. Collins and Prufer have assembled twenty-five contributors—all of them expert translators and many of them celebrated poets—to select a single poem and three English translations of that poem, and then offer a brief essay about the challenges and delights of translating it. Published in a wide trim size, Into English will present the original and the translations side by side by side, and the result is a fascinating and very moving experience of comparing how poems move from one language to another.  



Thank you for this year of reading, resilience, and resistance, and we hope these poets and their books incite, inspire, console, outrage, recognize, empower, and transform you.