The Fortieth Day by Kazim Ali (2008)
The Fortieth Day takes its title from the various incarnations of that chronologically symbolically event: if after forty days and forty nights the deluge receded, if Jesus and Moses both wandered in the desert for forty days, if after forty days—according to the Quraan—God’s breath enters an embryo and imbues it with a spirit, then the fortieth day must be the last moment before deliverance, a moment in time when a supplicant or prophet or storm-beaten passenger knows there is no state “after,” but finally accepts the present state as a permanent one. Throughout the four sections of The Fortieth Day, a supplicant writes letter after letter that is unanswered, an old man pauses on the street unsure of which direction lies his home, silence deafens, and prayers of various orthodox and unorthodox kinds are constructed and offered. Where does inspiration to live come from? Why is it important to think about the spiritual condition of the world? These poems can’t answer these questions or perhaps won’t, because it’s the process of thinking about them that is privileged in this richly layered text.
Trouble the Water by Derrick Austin (2016)
Rich in religious and artistic imagery, Trouble the Water is an intriguing exploration of race, sexuality, and identity, particularly where self-hood is in constant flux. These intimate, sensual poems interweave pop culture and history—moving from the Bible through several artistic eras—to interrogate what it means to be, as Austin says, “fully human as a queer, black body" in 21st century America. Derrick Austin’s second collection, Tenderness, will be out from BOA in September 2021.
Mules of Love by Ellen Bass (2002)
Balancing heart-intelligent intimacy and surprising humor, the poems in Ellen Bass’s Mules of Love illuminate the essential dynamics of our lives: family, community, sexual love, joy, loss, religion and death. The poems also explore the darker aspects of humanity—personal, cultural, historical and environmental violence—all of which are handled with compassion and grace. Bass’s poetic gift is her ability to commiserate with others afflicted by similar hungers and grief.
Fanny Says by Nikole Brown (2015)
An “unleashed love song” to her late grandmother, Nickole Brown’s collection brings her brassy, bawdy, tough-as-new-rope grandmother to life. With hair teased to Jesus, mile-long false eyelashes, and a white Cadillac Eldorado with atomic-red leather seats, Fanny is not your typical granny rocking in a chair. Instead, think of a character that looks a lot like Eva Gabor in Green Acres, but darkened with a shadow of Flannery O’Connor. A cross-genre collection that reads like a novel, this book is both a collection of oral history and a lyrical and moving biography that wrestles with the complexities of the South, including poverty, racism, and domestic violence.
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen (2017)
In this ferocious and tender debut, Chen Chen investigates inherited forms of love and family—the strained relationship between a mother and son, the cost of necessary goodbyes—all from Asian American, immigrant, and queer perspectives. Holding all accountable, this collection fully embraces the loss, grief, and abundant joy that come with charting one’s own path in identity, life, and love. Chen Chen's second book of poems, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, is forthcoming from BOA in September 2022.
Documents by Jan-Henry Gray (2019)
Rooted in the experience of living in America as a queer undocumented Filipino, Documents maps the byzantine journey toward citizenship through legal records and fragmented recollections. In poems that repurpose the forms and procedures central to an immigrant’s experiences—birth certificates, identification cards, letters, and interviews—Jan-Henry Gray reveals the narrative limits of legal documentation while simultaneously embracing the intersections of identity, desire, heritage, love, and a new imagining of freedom.
Cenzontle by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (2018)
In this highly lyrical, imagistic debut, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo creates a nuanced narrative of life before, during, and after crossing the US/Mexico border. These poems explore the emotional fallout of immigration, the illusion of the American dream via the fallacy of the nuclear family, the latent anxieties of living in a queer brown undocumented body within a heteronormative marriage, and the ongoing search for belonging. Finding solace in the resignation to sheer possibility, these poems challenge us to question the potential ways in which two people can interact, love, give birth, and mourn—sometimes all at once.
How to Be Better by Being Worse by Justin Jannise (2021)
Selected by Richard Blanco as winner of the 2019 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, Justin Jannise turns the self-help manual on its head in How to be Better by Being Worse. These poems flout, subvert, question, and ignore the rules with exploratory energy. Queer experiences are celebrated—from crushing on long-dead, sad-eyed poets to drag divas dancing at Halloween parties—gender constructs are questioned, and familial transgressions are laid bare for the world. Delightfully modulating between flippant, sincere, and back again, How to Be Better by Being Worse freely indulges in harmless wickedness as its speaker grows in self-awareness, slowly learning to let go of inherited shame while continuing to seek self-forgiveness for the harms he has caused the outside world.
All Its Charms, by Keetje Kuipers (2019)
A luminous new collection from Keetje Kuipers, All Its Charms is a fearless and transformative reckoning of identity. By turns tender and raw, these poems chronicle Kuipers’s decision to become a single mother by choice, her marriage to the woman she first fell in love with more than a decade before giving birth to her daughter, and her family’s struggle to bring another child into their lives. All Its Charms is about much more than the reinvention of the American family—it’s about transformation, desire, and who we can become when we move past who we thought we would be. Other BOA titles from Keetje Kuipers include The Keys to the Jail (2014) and Beautiful in the Mouth (2010).
My House Gathers Desire by Adam McOmber (2017)
Adam McOmber’s lush, hallucinatory stories are both familiar and wholly original. Drawn from the historical record, Biblical lore, fairy tales, science fiction, and nightmares, these offbeat and fantastical works explore gender and sexuality in their darkest and most beautiful manifestations. In the tradition of Angela Carter or Kelly Link, My House Gathers Desires is covertly funny and haunting, seeking fresh ways to consider sexual identity and its relation to history. In “Sodom and Gomorrah,” readers encounter a subversive, ecstatic new version of the Old Testament story. In "The Re’em," a medieval monk’s search for a mythic beast conjures forbidden desire. And in "Notes on Inversion," the German psychiatrist Kraft-Ebbing receives a surreal retort to his clinical descriptions of same-sex desire. Adam McOmber is also the author of This New and Poisonous Air (BOA, 2011).
The Naomi Letters by Rachel Mennies (2021)
Rachel Mennies embraces the public/private duality of writing letters in her latest collection of poems. Told through a time-honored epistolary narrative, The Naomi Letters chronicles the relationship between a woman speaker and Naomi, the woman she loves. Set mostly over the span of a single year encompassing the 2016 Presidential Election and its aftermath, their love story unfolds via correspondence, capturing the letters the speaker sends to Naomi—and occasionally Naomi’s responses, as filtered through the speaker’s retelling. These letter-poems form a braid, first from the use of found texts, next from the speaker’s personal observations about her bisexuality, Judaism, and mental illness, and lastly from her testimonies of past experiences. As the speaker discovers she has fallen in love with Naomi, her letters reveal the struggles, joys, and erasures she endures as she becomes reacquainted with her own body following a long period of anxiety and suicidal ideation, working to recover both physically and emotionally as she grows to understand this long-distance love and its stakes—a love held by a woman for a woman, forever at a short, but precarious distance.
Cyborg Detective by Jillian Weise (2019)
In her third collection of poems, Jillian Weise delivers a reckoning to the ableism of the Western Canon. These poems investigate and challenge the ways that nondisabled writers have appropriated disabled bodies, from calling out William Carlos Williams to biohacking Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” to chronicling the ongoing headlines of violence against disabled women. Part invective, part love poem, Cyborg Detective holds a magnifying glass to the marginalization and fetishization of disabled people while claiming space and pride for the people who already use technology and cybernetic implants every day. Jillian Weise is also the author of The Book of Goodbyes (BOA, 2013).
Compiled by Em DeVincentis, summer 2021 intern at BOA and senior at the New School studying literature and creative writing in Manhattan, New York.