The Poet’s Nightstand

The Poet’s Nightstand with Cathy Linh Che

Logo for The Poet's Nightstand series. A black lamp on a yellow and white background.

Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple
Malcolm Friend

Friend’s book is full of BANGERS. Every line break, every movement, every turn, there’s a surprise: some twist of language, some deft sound-play, some epiphany that just snatches you! The book is about everything and anything, but more specifically about growing up Afro-Jamaican-Boriqua in South Seattle, about longing and belonging, thinking and feeling. It knows history, it knows politics, it knows many ways of wending through languages. It has the deepest pathos. No lie. I cried. This book is 100 pages of pure poetry treasure: “Plátanos exist / to be fried. // Chicken exists / to be fried. // You exist / in front of them. // You that oil. / You make it all crackle.” Kudos to The Inlandia Institute for putting so much love into the design and layout, especially of the interior. Small presses are doing wonderfully creative work. Everyone, get this book! Read it and re-read it.


DMZ Colony
Don Mee Choi

This book also gutted me. There’s such a deep sense of intelligence, openness, and witness here—and I marveled at what translation can do. Choi’s book blends drawings, poetry, and prose in a single book that feels innovative, idiosyncratic, and sure of itself. As my life moves further and further into time, I reflect upon my own life’s personal remove from first-hand (or even the second-hand) witness of war. This book is a reminder of the tangible violence that occurs during war. The book feels personal, but also like a public document that aims to restore voices that might otherwise be lost to history.


Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers
Jake Skeets

Oh, every line of this book is taut and heightened with its own ferocity: “He enters you, hide him, a silver dollar / beneath your pillow, / in a pawnshop, lodged in your throat.” I especially love the ways that Skeets works with text on the page. There are absolutely breathtaking forays into concrete poetry that span across the spine: “a train // passing through.” This book cares deeply about the silence of the white space on the page to bring forth a Queer Diné voice, traversing landscapes in the Southwest. The repetition of images haunts like film or like memory. It’s a book that doesn’t shy away from violence, desire, and most of all, beauty.


Leah Silvieus

The language is so lustrous, it shines. Organized into four seasons, the movement works as emotional landscapes. I find myself perpetually surprised by the voice. I am drawn to its high lyricism, its vernacular rooted in the voice of local diction and locale. In a poem called “Naturalization,” Silvieus writes, “When I came to this country, I was reborn / with a pistol in my palm. / They called me a natural: / That bullseye, gorgeous!” I get the sense, also, that the poems feel their way through faith; faith as a backdrop and faith as a series of stories—stories of identity as a Korean American adoptee, stories of oneself and one’s own belonging.


If God Is a Virus
Seema Yasmin

We are living through a brutal pandemic that has exposed just how little our governments and systems care for us. Though many of us who come from poverty, colonization, and war are not surprised by this, our hearts are still broken, and we still rage. Yasmin’s poems are vast and extraordinarily accomplished! The poems are wry, honest, open, funny, wickedly smart: “Grandmother is dying and the nurse / wants to know if we speak English. // Cousin sucks the air behind her niqab, / flips pages of the visitor’s room Economist. // Tell him you wrote your thesis on George Eliot, / an aunt pokes her daughter who tells the nurse: // We speak a bit.” These come touching you where it hurts, holding you through with humor, rage, and deep intelligence.


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