At Boston Review, we look forward to late December as a time to look back on all the poetry we’ve published throughout the year. It’s always a reward to see the poems we loved on first read appearing alongside those that called upon us to grow to love them over successive readings—poems that challenged us as readers and encouraged our sensibilities to deepen and to expand. We published more than 150 poems in 2016 and, as in the past, each of them takes on a new resonance and luster when considered not only in the company of various others, but also as part of an ongoing, collective effort to keep the fires of poetry burning. To keep it alive.
It is this insistence on keeping poetry alive, on not shutting up or going away—on not letting it go away—despite what we are told, repeatedly, is its lack of practical application, its probably irremediable cornball reputation, its inefficiency as a message delivery system and, of course, its proven commercial irrelevance (exceptions are rare) that makes the whole idea of poetry today even more than just the sum of all our poems. Poetry is a counterforce. A counterattack. That it is also ancient and often beautiful sometimes confuses matters. But that’s what it is.
For many of us, 2016 will remain a very hard year to look back on. What might lie ahead is even harder to face. Our twenty-five most-read poems cannot turn back time, at least not literally, only literarily, and being merely words, they can’t really change the world around them, not on their own. They need people to do that. But they can continue to effect their changes on us as people, sending us back into the world with broadened receptivity, strengthened commitments, and sharpened focus.
With that in mind, we are proud to present the top twenty-five poems (or bundles of poems) published on our website since January, arranged here in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Revisit a favorite or discover something you missed—and get ready to partake in another year’s worth of counterattack from Boston Review.
Vidhu Aggarwal, Poet’s Sampler illustrated by Bishakh Som and introduced by Bhanu Kapil
I lick his foot
in devotion. I offer
up the loofa
of a boat, my entire body
of knowledge—wave after wave. . . of nausea . . . an upload of a single dove.
Kaveh Akbar, Portrait of an Alcoholic with Craving
It was you who taught me that if a man
stands in silence for long enough
eventually only the silence remains.
Kenzie Allen, Two Poems
My finger still aches when it rains
from bent back, from slammed
on the edge of someone else’s
railing, from don’t you ever
do that again, from you want this,
you’re asking me to do this
John Ashbery, A Disservice
Life with its sorrow, life with its tear.
And you know what that means:
the sky in a drawer,
the underwear underworld
on the floor of the moon.
b: william bearhart, Poet’s Sampler introduced by Natalie Diaz
Can you see the seeds being shook from this jaundiced eye that never blinks?
Or are you closing the shutters, do you think it is rain?
Natalie Diaz, Between the Palm and the Ear, Is the Master’s Language
We move within the snow-chromed world—: Like-animal. Like-deer. An alphabet. Along a street white as lamp light into the winter, walking—: like language, a new text. I touch her with the eyes of my skin.
Alex Dimitrov, Days and Nights
And every poem with people is for them.
That’s how it began: you and me.
How quickly I found myself in the evening.
How slowly Manhattan invited us there.
Anaïs Duplan, Two Poems
When you say all hands on deck do you mean
that I am the deck or that I am all these hands, trying
to approximate hands.
Natalie Eilbert, Vagenesis
I have said No is a political nod and I have said
Yes is part of the work of omission.
Jorie Graham, To Tell of Bodies Changed to Different Forms
In the market of ideas, of meat—in the teeth of need—you will never be happy with
your body—it is not the right body—
Carlie Hoffman, Gala Mukomolova, Miller Oberman, Ryan Fox, Discovery Poetry Contest Winners
On the Brighton Beach boardwalk men sit in the rain shelters smelling of piss, shouting drunk genius into the afternoon sun.
Kim Hyesoon, Driving in the Downpour translated by Don Mee Choi
My chest has dried up like a mummy’s so that I have no energy to drink sorrow,
even the smell of water is unbearable.
Major Jackson, Ferguson
Once there was a boy who thought it a noble idea to lie down in the middle of the street and sleep.
Elizabeth Metzger, Three Poems
in the open kitchen
I imagine your body
to be eaten
I do not put on a red dress
It is something outside of wardrobes
acceptable for me
some of what I do
some of what I believe and practice
could be questioned
if I put on a red dress
Emily Pettit, Grief
A scattering of yellow paint.
A pink feather on the wire.
When your telephone makes noise.
The bee. The ladies in a row.
Erika Sanchez, Poem of My Humiliations
I once loved a man who was married to a martyr.
No, he was married to a goat. No, he was married to ladder. What’s the difference?
Charif Shanahan, Lower the Pitch of Your Suffering
I know my suffering is loud but my skin
is light as sky and I was told to let it
open doors, shake hands, slip the cover
over their eyes, so I could be.
Analicia Sotelo, Poet's Sampler introduced by David Tomas Martinez
I Want to Tell Them The Only Way to Make It
is to split the avocado with an absurdly large knife
in a sweeping motion like a pirouette
until it opens
Juliana Spahr, My White Feminism
Once I shared a poem I wrote with a friend and he said it is boring.
So My White Feminism changed the listing of childhood memories into a sex scene
where my hometown is fucking someone, maybe me.
Simone White, Stingray
her mallow glamor warns
warmed in glowering ripple light
this liquid this death to you
lady come under this death it is ablaze
Marcus Wicker, Watch Us Elocute
So I’m at this party, right. Low lights, champagne, Michael
Buble & a gang of loafers I’m forever dancing around
in unduly charged conversations, your favorite
accompanist—Bill Evans behind Miles, ever-present
in few strokes—when, into the room walks
this potentially well-meaning Waspy woman obviously
from Connecticut-money, boasting an extensive background
in non-profit arts management.
Marcus Wicker, In My 31st Year
OK, so it’s true
that last week I let Andrew,
half in the bag, a little crumpled,
cuff my wrists, then
perhaps, too familiar, wing an arm
around my neck, &
then, he even called me his
Cori A. Winrock, 2016 Poetry Contest Winner
Adonai, we’ve been sleeping
on top of the covers like dollhouse
lovers. I’ve untucked all seven doors
from their hinges—laid them down
Rebecca Zweig, Two Poems
Money is a sort of poetry, both
are barely human. And their hypo-
thetical exchange breeds
in me such an unknown
currency I begin
to grunt all animal
Plus, check out our top 20 poems of 2015.