In 2019, The New Yorker printed poems by a number of contributors new to our pages, among them Ariel Francisco, Aria Aber, and Kwame Dawes, along with offerings from poets we’ve published for decades, including Rita Dove, Sharon Olds, and the late Ciaran Carson, whose death, in October, was grieved by the international literary community. In the magazine, we carried translations of poems originally written in Polish, by Tadeusz Dąbrowski, and in Portuñol, by Fabián Severo; online, we presented interactive multimedia features of work by Ilya Kaminsky, Kaveh Akbar, Eliza Griswold, Shane McCrae, and, most recently, Mary Jo Bang, who also appeared as our latest guest on the poetry podcast. The following excerpts provide just a glimpse of our year in poetry—visit the complete poetry archive to read these poems, and many others, in their entirety.
1. “American Sonnet for the New Year,” by Terrance Hayes (January 14th)
things got terribly ugly incredibly quickly
things got ugly embarrassingly quickly
actually things got ugly unbelievably quickly
honestly things got ugly seemingly infrequently
initially things got ugly ironically usually
awfully carefully things got ugly unsuccessfully
occasionally things got ugly mostly painstakingly
quietly seemingly things got ugly beautifully . . .
2. “I give in to an old desire,” by Toi Derricotte (January 21st)
I lost so much
of the world’s beauty, as if I were watching
every shining gift
on its branch with one eye. Because
I was hungry. Because I was waiting
to eat, a self
crawling about the
world in search
of small things.
3. “My Father in English,” Richard Blanco (February 11th)
First half of his life lived in Spanish: the long syntax
of las montañas that lined his village, the rhyme
of sol with his soul—a Cuban alma—that swayed
with las palmas, the sharp rhythm of his machete
cutting through caña, the syllables of his canarios
that sung into la brisa of the island home he left
to spell out the second half of his life in English—
the vernacular of New York City sleet, neon, glass—
and the brick factory where he learned to polish
steel twelve hours a day.
4. “Artichokes,” Bianca Stone (March 11th)
I bet I’ll never appear in a dream or a summer dress
or next door. Displaying on one hand my prowess, the other
my difficultness, I bet there will be just enough pain
to keep me alive, long enough for the moon to be mine,
just as the sea is of women: the cockle, the star,
and the movements of the earth. Just as
the whale, stuck in its baleen grin, climbs up
out of the depths and moves to its hidden
I don’t know. What is it to be seen?
5. “Bellringer,” Rita Dove (March 18th)
I was given a name, it came out of a book—
I don’t know which. I’ve been told the Great Man
could recite every title in order on its shelf.
Well, I was born, and that’s a good thing,
although I arrived on the day of his passing,
a day on which our country fell into mourning.
This I heard over and over, from professors
to farmers, even duel-scarred students;
sometimes, in grand company, remarked upon
in third person—a pretty way of saying
more than two men in a room means the third
can be ignored, as I was when they spoke
of my birth and Mr. Jefferson’s death
in one breath, voices dusted with wonderment,
faint sunlight quivering on a hidden breeze.
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6. “Along the East River and in the Bronx Young Men Were Singing,” Ariel Francisco (March 18th)
I heard them and I still hear them
above the threatening shrieks of police sirens
above the honking horns of morning traffic,
above the home-crowd cheers of Yankee Stadium
above the school bells and laughter
lighting up the afternoon
above the clamoring trudge of the 1 train
and the 2 and 4, 5, 6, the B and the D . . .
7. “I Don’t Want to Be a Spice Store,” Christian Wiman (April 1st)
I don’t want to be a spice store.
I don’t want to carry handcrafted Marseille soap,
or tsampa and yak butter,
or nine thousand varieties of wine.
Half the shops here don’t open till noon
and even the bookstore’s brined in charm.
I want to be the one store that’s open all night
and has nothing but necessities.
8. “The El,” Joan Murray (April 8th)
No one ever grabbed my ass on the stairs down to
the D. But on the stairs up to the El, it happened
all the time. I guess it was anatomically more natural,
like reaching for an apple, but the first time,
I wasn’t sure how to feel. I think I felt warm,
which wasn’t an emotion. It felt like a rite of passage,
though I’d never heard of rites of passage.
Disgusting is what I said when I told my friends.
A grown man. I was twelve then. It felt like flattery.
9. “My Life,” Matthew Zapruder (May 6th)
four years ago
on Martin Luther King Day
in the afternoon
the little strip
said it was time,
so we did it twice
that grim comical
to all modern
it was magical
only that it worked
but now I know
it was then
my life began . . .
10. “Afghan Funeral in Paris,” Aria Aber (June 3rd)
The aunts here clink Malbec glasses
and parade their grief with musky, expensive scents
that whisper in elevators and hallways.
Each natural passing articulates
the unnatural: every aunt has a son
who fell, or a daughter who hid in rubble
for two years, until that knock of officers
holding a bin bag filled with a dress
and bones. But what do I know?
I get pedicures and eat madeleines
while reading “Swann’s Way.” When I tell
one aunt I’d like to go back,
she screams It is not yours to want.
11. “Sentence,” Tadeusz Dąbrowski (July 22nd)
It’s as if you’d woken in a locked cell and found
in your pocket a slip of paper, and on it a single sentence
in a language you don’t know.
And you’d be sure this sentence was the key to your
life. Also to this cell.
And you’d spend years trying to decipher the sentence,
until finally you’d understand it. But after a while
you’d realize you got it wrong, and the sentence meant
something else entirely. And so you’d have two sentences.
Then three, and four, and ten, until you’d created a new language.
12. “World of the future, we thirsted,” Naomi Shihab Nye (July 29th)
Stripped of a sense of well-being,
we downed our water from small disposable bottles.
Casting the plastic to streetside,
we poured high-potency energy tonics or Coke
down our throats, because this time in history
had sapped us so thoroughly and
we were desperate.
Straws, plastic caps, crushed cans,
in a three-block walk you could fill a sack.
As if we could replenish spirits quickly,
pitching containers without remorse
—who did we imagine would pick them up?
13. “Claude Monet, ‘The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil,’ 1880,” Ciaran Carson (August 19th)
Today I thought I’d just take a lie-down, and drift. So here I am listening
To the tick of my mechanical aortic valve—overhearing, rather, the way it flits
In and out of consciousness. It’s a wonder what goes on below the threshold.
It’s quiet up here, just the muted swoosh of the cars on the Antrim Road,
And every so often the shrill of a far-off alarm or the squeal of brakes;
But yesterday some vandal upended the terra-cotta pot of daffodils
In our little front garden, that’s not even as big, when I consider it,
As the double bed I’m lying on. Behind the privet hedge, besides the daffodils
There’s pansies, thyme, and rosemary. A Hebe bush. A laurel. Ruefully
I scuffed the spilled earth and pebbles with my shoe and thought of Poussin—
Was it Poussin?—and his habit of bringing back bits of wood, stones, moss,
Lumps of earth from his rambles by the Tiber; and the story of him
Reaching among the ruins for a handful of porphyry and marble chips
And saying to a tourist, “Here’s ancient Rome.” So, here’s Glandore Avenue.
14. “Open Gesture of an I,” D. A. Powell (August 26th)
I want to give more of my time
to others the less I have of it,
give it away in a will and testament,
give it to the girls’ club, give it
to the friends of the urban trees.
Your life is not your own and
never was. It came to you in a box
marked fragile. It came from the
complaint department like amends
on an order you did not place with
15. “I Cannot Say I Did Not,” Sharon Olds (September 9th)
I cannot say I did not ask
to be born. I asked with my mother’s beauty,
and her money. I asked with my father’s desire
for his orgasms and for my mother’s money.
I asked with the cradle my sister had grown out of.
I asked with my mother’s longing for a son,
I asked with patriarchy. I asked
with the milk that would well in her breasts, needing to be
drained by a little, living pump.
16. “Position Paper,” Paul Muldoon (September 9th)
One rotten apple keeps the doctor away.
When the doctor’s away the cat will get the cream.
The law is an ass that loves to hear itself bray.
The path of least resistance leads to Rome.
Like father, like two peas in a pod.
It’s in the country of the blind
we find ourselves kissing the auld sod.
A society is great when men plant
trees in which they’ll never seek shade.
Man does not live by half a loaf
while riding roughshod
over a house divided against itself.
17. “After Being Asked If I Write the ‘Occasional Poem’,” Kimiko Hahn (September 16th)
After leaving Raxruhá, after
crossing Mexico with a coyote,
after reaching at midnight
that barren New Mexico border,
a man and his daughter
looked to Antelope Wells
for asylum and were arrested. After
forms read in Spanish
to the Mayan-speaking father,
after a cookie but no water, after
the wait for the lone bus
to return for their turn, after boarding,
after the little girl’s temperature spiked,
she suffered two heart attacks,
vomited, and stopped breathing.
18. “Before Winter,” Kwame Dawes (September 23rd)
I imagine there is a place of deep rest—not in the resting but after,
when the body has forgotten the weight of fatigue or of its many
betrayals—how unfair that once I thought it clever to blame my body
for the wounds in me: the ankle bulbous and aching, the heaviness
in the thigh, and the fat, the encroachment of flesh. It is hard to believe
that there are those who do not know that it is possible to let things
go, to then see the expansion of flesh—it is so easy, and that knowing
is a pathology. What is unknown to me is the clear day of rest—
I carry a brain of crushed paper, everything unfolds as if by magic,
every spot of understanding is a miracle, I cannot take any credit
for the revelations, they come and go as easily as the wind.
19. “The Climate,” Annelyse Gelman (September 30th)
It was like watching a wave approach
from a great distance, so great
that at first it is not a wave at all, but
a mere horizon, static and singular,
so that one, it being possible, presumably,
to avail oneself of the diversions
of the beach, might turn one’s back
on the ocean altogether . . .
20. “Pittsburgh,” Ed Skoog (October 21st)
isn’t there anymore
rode by it
on the gray horse and instead
a place where they go sick
a place of only mist
To properly understand the twelve
Pittsburghs of the heart
but nothing to grasp or die for
and when the adults told me to cry
I sang on the uneven riser that swirls
like northern lights in the ear . . .
21. “Failed Essay on Privilege,” Elisa Gonzalez (November 4th)
I came from something popularly known as “nothing”
and in the coming I got a lot.
My parents didn’t speak money, didn’t speak college.
Still—I went to Yale.
For a while I tried to condemn.
I wrote Let me introduce you to evil.
Still, I was a guest there, I made myself at home.
22. “Love and Dread,” Rachel Hadas (November 18th)
A desiccated daffodil.
A pigeon cooing on the sill.
The old cat lives on love and water.
Your mother’s balanced by your daughter:
one faces death, one will give birth.
The fulcrum is our life on earth,
beginning, ending in a bed.
We have to marry love and dread.
23. “Sixty,” Fabián Severo (December 2nd)
We are from the border
like the sun that is born there
behind the eucalyptus
shines all day
above the river
and goes to sleep there
beyond the Rodrígueses’ house.
From the border like the moon
that makes the night nearly day
resting its moonlight
on the banks of the Cuareim.
24. “Passion,” Louise Erdrich (December 16th)
Your dog gnaws the rug you made love upon
for the last time.
When your lover left
and you rolled yourself inside the rug
to sleep in agony
your dog stayed with you.
Your dog chews out the armpits of your lover’s shirt
and shreds the underwear
you were wearing when he touched you.
25. “Building a Fire,” Maxine Scates (December 23rd)
Staring at the flames of the woodstove fire
guarded by its glass door, I’m trying to remember
what I’m good at—surprised when it occurs to me
I’m good at making this fire out of kindling
I’ve split, plus one piece of fir and two of oak, cut
from the large branches of the neighbor’s oak
that fell across the road two years ago
on a winter evening.