The Power of Words: A Selection of Poetry from 2016

Thousands of poets publish their work on every year, building a loose network of communities centered around a shared love of language.

To celebrate the breadth and depth of the poetry you shared over the past year, we turned to editors from some of the (many, many) literary journals and webzines that use WordPress to publish powerful, cutting-edge verse. We asked each one to choose a poem from 2016, and to explain why it stayed with them. Here are their selections.

“How to Survive a Glacial Meltdown”

Vivian Faith Prescott, Hawai’i Pacific Review

Acquire animal skills.
Become a loon, a haunting crier,
swallowing the remains of this world underwater.

Learn to skin. Yourself.
Pull your feathered hood
over your head, adjust your chinstrap

to your throat.

(Read the entire poem)

Tyler McMahon, Editor, Hawai’i Pacific Review: We’re always trying to emphasize the “Pacific” in Hawai`i Pacific Review. I’m constantly on the lookout for more work from Oceania and the Pacific Rim. Vivian Faith Prescott is a Sámi-American from a small island in Alaska. Hers is the sort of voice we love to feature on HPR.

The poem itself is incredible. It takes on climate change not as a nebulous policy issue but as a real, concrete phenomenon. It’s not about global warming, so much as it’s about local warming. Prescott doesn’t treat her subject with fatalism or liberal guilt, but with absurd humor and a deep sense of history. It is at once a documentary, a call to action, a lament, and a reminder of the ways in which we are all connected.

“07 August, 1943: U-84, After Her Disappearance in the Caribbean Sea”

Paul David Adkins, Panoplyzine

Eins Zwei

When the hollow
of their boat echoed
like a tubercular ward,
when they lolled
on The Tongue of The Ocean,
a black pill to be swallowed,
their rivets popping from pressure.

Sieben Acht

(Read the entire poem)

Andrea, Jeff, and Ryn, Editors, Panoplyzine: Filled with implication, bursting with white space, this poem covers duty, brotherhood, leadership, even courage. It is both heartbreaking and heroic, defying catastrophe with grace.

Image from "Focusing," by PaulaB at The Temenos Journal.

Image from “Focusing,” by PaulaB at The Temenos Journal.

“Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life”

Jennifer Finstrom, Silver Birch Press

I inspect Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life
with a magnifying glass, hoping to find
the smallest connection between us. But I
don’t know Morse code or how to throw
my voice. I don’t drive a fancy blue roadster.

(Read the entire poem)

Melanie Villines, Editor/Publisher, Silver Birch Press: Since Nancy Drew’s 1930 appearance in The Secret of the Old Clock, the teenage sleuth has inspired generations of girls — including this one — with her moxie, intelligence, determination, but most of all her independence. For me, Jennifer’s poem took on even greater meaning, since 2016 was an election year, with a woman candidate who’s cited Nancy Drew as a childhood inspiration. The poem generated so many comments that it led to a call for submissions, which resulted in the Nancy Drew Anthology: a 212-page collection featuring writing and art from 97 contributors from around the world.

“Did the Universe Have a Beginning, and If So, What Happened Before Then?”

Carolyn Hembree, Sundog Lit

Names you could pass through on—Roane County, Calfkiller River

After I would flatten my hand hard for the medium-colored horse to eat her sugar cubes, I was thought a girly-girl

Ought to count herself lucky. First in the family to keep her teeth this long

You mean to tell me a perfectly normal twenty-five-year-old man died of a hen peck. Set into blood poisoning. You mean sepsis. Why’d they call him Fred if his name was John

(Read the entire poem)

Carrie Chappell, Poetry Editor, Sundog Lit: Carolyn Hembree’s poem speaks to me because of its question, its investigation, but also because of its music. The poem recalls an American South I recognize, yet one that is jumbled. I’m fascinated by how she achieves this through collage, an imagistic chord — an arpeggio of language, images, anecdote — which encapsulates the mania of origin, the enchanting disquiet of people reasoning existence.

Image from "Focusing," by PaulaB at The Temenos Journal.

Image from “Focusing,” by PaulaB at The Temenos Journal.

“While Watching the Music Video for ‘Only One’ at Midnight, Kanye West Walks Into the Fog Holding His Daughter in His Arms and I Can See the Clouds Outside of My Window Parting Into Two Wings”

Hannif Willis-Abdurraqib, Drunk in a Midnight Choir

I have your smile and nothing else / I am most you when I am wrecked with joy / isn’t that a miracle / I let the grass grow over your grave / until it ate your name / until the year of your dying was swallowed / until there was nothing left but the year you were made possible / which is the year I, too, was made possible / and isn’t that a miracle /

(Read the entire poem)

Todd Gleason, Editor in Chief, Drunk in a Midnight Choir: Hanif has become one of my favorite poets writing today. Just in the short time that I have known him, he has rocketed into well-deserved acclaim as a prolific writer of astonishing poetry and personal essays. He loves pop culture, particularly music, and he engages with it in ways that peel back the layers of socially constructed meaning that surround it, showing us how something as simple as a song is able to change an entire life from the inside out.

While part of me wanted to share a poem by someone perhaps less well-known and celebrated, I just couldn’t get away from this one. I love it too much. Starting with the title, it begins with a single, small moment — the watching of a music video — and gradually expands into something epic and sprawling and deeply personal — a tribute to the poet’s mother and a meditation on family, loyalty, death, grief, survival, where we come from, and how we carry that legacy into the future.

Since there’s no such thing as too much poetry, explore our archives for more verse from across WordPress.