The Year in New York Poetry

If 2020 seemed, for better or worse, to mark the beginning of a new era – one heralded by a global pandemic and a widespread civil rights protest movement – ​​2021 may have felt more characterized through frustration, bringing neither the “return to normal” that many hoped would come with a covid vaccine nor the kind of radical social restructuring for which the time might have been ripe. Instead, the pandemic continues – wave after wave, variant after variant – as the political and environmental crises only deepen, producing the uncanny sense of stasis and dread reflected in Clarence Major’s poem “The End of the world”. Major describes a familiar yet disconcerting nocturnal scene, whose apparent tranquility belies an undercurrent of peril: “The neighboring windows are usually dark,” he observes. “The front door is locked. / Still locked at eleven o’clock. This stillness suggests a certain security – everything in its place – but lets us imagine that the Rapture has come and gone, leaving a strange, uninhabited environment in which streetlights still shine, trains still run and all that’s missing is everything. sign of life. . Eventually, however, the speaker returns to television, where he “watches a movie / about the end of the world – / always about to happen”. The apocalypse remains at a distance – a fiction that plays out on a screen – but the impression and anticipation of it lingers, accompanied by a question: if the end of the world were to come, would we recognize it as such? ? Or would we just keep watching movies about it on TV?

2021 in review

New York writers reflect on the ups and downs of the year.

“The End of the World” illustrates the power of poetry to navigate between truth and artifice, observation and speculation, the momentary and the important – to fight against the liminal, the ambiguous, the contradictory. The poetry that the new yorker published in 2021 attests to the overwhelming sadness, fury and strangeness of our time, and locates small but significant examples of true mercy, beauty, wonder, possibility. These poems carry the weight of loss and trauma, suffered in recent months and passed down from generation to generation, but as they mourn they also marvel at the multifaceted and improbable experience of being alive, urging us to deal with both what is and what could be. The magazine expanded the offerings of beloved poets, including Robert Pinsky, Linda Gregerson, D. Nurkse and Anne Carson, and welcomed several newcomers to our pages, including Tyree Daye, Miller Oberman, Sylvie Baumgartel and Sasha Debevec-McKenney . Online, we featured multimedia poetry footage from Monica Youn, Lee Bains, and Amanda Gorman that explored, respectively, the strange case of Dr. Seuss’ invented daughter; the work and stories that intersect in Southern cuisine; and the need for hope even in desperate circumstances. And we have published posthumous poems by Jean Valentine (1934-2020), Jane Mead (1958-2019) and Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021), the last of which was written in “Poetry Reading”, translated by Clare Cavanagh, from the poetry “Silent brotherhood, which survives / in spite of everything”: “We began to read / and the strength returned / and we became servants of poetry, / older than us and younger, / all-powerful and impotent .

A look at our year in poetry follows; to read and listen to these poems in full, and to find many more, visit The New Yorker poetic archives.


“I Catch Sight of the Now”, by Jorie Graham (January 4 and 11)

there is no fire, there is no
room, in fact there is nothing, although you can
start carving the nothing, you can test your strength
against the nothing, the subject is
loss, the darkness is inside your
open mouth not knowing what else there is again
say, a kind of howl without
sorrow, no astonishment, no
wisdom, just the lack of space of this your suddenly


“Last Words”, by Rita Dove (January 25)

I don’t want to die in a poem
the burning words in the eulogy
the howling sun Why
the moon sighs Why not

I don’t want to die in bed
which is a poem gone wrong
a world turned in on itself
a fluttering navel of dreams


“Turner”, by Maurice Manning (February 15 & 22)

As if a painting could transmit
its time and also imagine a moment
after, but keep the original time
to let it hang heavily in the present.
The fact is that something in the world
is timeless, beyond the measure of time,
yet we perceive the timeless in time,
aware of its weight and its passage
slightly like a song through a voice.


“Related Matters”, by Emily Jungmin Yoon (March 1)

I look at the ocean as if it were a goodbye.

Somewhere is touching a land in the grip of fire.

My grieving mother brings the forest inside, a green excess.

When she repots trees, it’s a bit like changing nappies.

But she no longer deals with the abject little frames of the dying.

These days, everything looks like the end.


“Allegory”, by Gregory Pardlo (March 1)

Professional wrestler Owen Hart embodied his own
omen when he fought gravity from the rafters to the canvas

at a stadium in Kansas City. Like a big tent collapsing,
it fell without warning, no hoverboard, no buzz-

bird finesse for the illusion of flight, no suspension
of unbelief to hammock his burden – the birth of virtue –

in his virtual reality.


“Poem that ends in the ocean”, by Jim Moore (March 8)

I permanently disable the notification app,
no longer need to know exactly how many people left.
After all clinging to life
is what we have always done best.
We always try to hide
of the truth of things and who
can blame us.
Lists don’t make sense anymore
unless toilet paper and peanut butter keep them busy.
Late-stage patients are not informed
how crowded the ferry will be
which will take them across the river.


“Peers,” by Craig Morgan Teicher (April 5)

I think of you my dear
and young, of me young

and confused and maybe
beautiful. We were many—

it was our twenties, when,
after September 11, we were about to

inherit the world, and we had no idea
What should I do with this. And look

what we did and we didn’t.
And now, look at us, and this.


“Let Me”, by Camille T. Dungy (April 12)

Let me tell you, America, this last thing.
I will never stop dreaming of you.
I had a lover once. If you could call it that.
I drove to his apartment in a distant city,
like the lost bear that wandered our cul-de-sac
this summer smoke from the burning mountain
changed our tune. I don’t know what became of her.
I drove to so many apartments in the day.
America is really the very last thing.


“Farolitos”, Arthur Sze (April 19)

We pour sand into brown lunch bags, then place
a votive candle

inside each; at night, lined along the aisle,
flashing lights

form a spiritual path, but what spirit? which way?


“In the presence of sunlight”, by José Antonio Rodríguez (April 26 and May 3)

And when they started to lose track,

Branches blending into the purple sky behind them,

I knew how to return to the kitchen so as not to miss it—

My family is slowly fading, starting from the edges,

The closest part of their body is always the last to go,

Then the sparkle of the eyes,

So hardly shadows with voices

Calling humbly: “The sun is leaving us.


“The Way Things Were Until Now”, by Bianca Stone (April 26 and May 3)

I miss all the excuses.
Bored like Mayakovsky
at the exhibition of Finnish painters
bark like a dog through the foreign minister’s toast
until he cries and sits down. Very serious.
I’m bored like an elegy. I want to say,
why care, talking like a trap
in a world of abysses. But we do. To death.


“Notes from the Ruined City”, by Aria Aber (May 10)

On the mud-spattered steps
of the Blue Mosque in Kabul, half a pomegranate
vibrates with worms.

god has no clock
but the song of the muezzin,
that veils the vascular glass of the city

and dilapidated buildings
every fifth hour, it must.


“The Great Lockdown”, by Sandy Solomon (June 7)

Year of oblivion in the drift of days. Then
suddenly remember: sadness felt
suddenly, the way I opened the kitchen trash can—
just emptied, just cleaned, it seemed—
a smell of rot hit me, knocked me down.

Year of sighs, year of sighs, names
of those who left, their faces appearing.
For months, as the afternoon light lengthened,
I thought, Must call mom. Even after.


“The Surrealist”, by Jiordan Castle (June 14)

Magritte says to himself
having said that
all we see

hide something else
we always want to see
what is hidden

by what we see. . .


“Bioluminescence”, by Paul Tran (June 28)

Me, after so much isolation, so much indifference, I continued

even if going only meant waiting, hovering in place. So far below, so far
away from the rest of life, the earthly made possible by and there

depending on the light, I did what I had to do. I stalked. I killed.
I wanted to feel in my body my body at work, working to stay

living. I swam. I continued. I waited. I found myself meaningless
to, without inventing meaning at the time, in time, in the company

of creatures who, hideous like me, were to be their own illumination.


“A Song Near the End of the World”, by Sharon Olds (July 12 and 19)

He was like a god – so much space was filled with bears.
Like a cumulonimbus cloud descended on earth – a density of bears
with blood in him, and teeth, and a bear
liver and bear
lights. A pirate bear, a private bear, a lonely bear,
maybe it’s a bear father, it’s a bear son,
a quarantine bear,
doing his essential life’s work – an endangered bear.


“Notes to an Elegy”, by Elisa Gonzalez (August 9)

Greening white wine in a glass.
Lion rampant in the sky. Moon stretched out beautifully in her silver shirt.
Polished posts. Door askew in its frame.

Hot mornings. Hot apple tea, honeyed.
The mountains a clenched fist on the horizon.
The dust is coming, the dust is not there yet.

Every time her hands dance, I tell her how beautiful it is.
She says there are so many other movements that I don’t see.
And I accept the presence of dances invisible to me.


“Gertrude Stein”, by Diane Seuss (August 16)

There I was, broad-shouldered, witch-shaped
without the associated magic – with my dog ​​in my hut –

once mauve turned pink—beyond sex or reason—
numbness had set in – Gertrude Stein, Picasso’s portrait of her –
that above everything – or in everything – look – not a face

but the planes that suggest a face – the eyes
are not really well aligned or the real eyes look
behind the cut-out shapes of the eyes.


“The Horn Gate and the Ivory Gate”, by Bessie Golding (August 30)

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