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Poems to Live By in Our Troubled Times

By Helene Atwan

Beacon Press Poets from left to right: Brian Clements, Alexandra Teague, Dean Rader, Sasha Pimentel, Dominique Christina, Richard Blanco
Beacon Press Poets from left to right: Brian Clements, Alexandra Teague, Dean Rader, Sasha Pimentel, Dominique Christina, Richard Blanco

Is it only in April that we’re supposed to appreciate poetry? After all, as this April in New England is proving beyond a doubt, it is the cruelest month. But maybe that’s why we need poetry . . . Now, more than ever, we’ve discovered that we need poetry not just to delight and uplift us, but to teach us, to show us. Probably that’s always been true, but in 2018, we’ve witnessed the power of poetry to bring crystalline focus to the gun debate with an anthology that has been read at countless public gatherings and from the floor of Congress: Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, brilliantly edited by Brian Clements, Alexandra Teague, and Dean Rader. We’ve also felt the power of poetry to explore the pain of women living on the borders—physical and psychological—through the passionate work of Sasha Pimentel in her award-winning For Want of Water. And we’ve just sent to production the latest book in our National Poetry Series collection, Anarcha Speaks: A History in Poems, by the remarkable artist Dominique Christina, selected by Pulitzer Prize–winner Tyehimba Jess, for publication in October. These books convince me that poetry packs a punch, well above its weight in the publishing scene.

Bullets into Bells, For Want of Water, Anarcha Speaks

I look back at our poetic legacy, including more than a dozen works by Mary Oliver and half a dozen by Sonia Sanchez, as well as James Baldwin’s only collection, and I feel proud of what they have achieved through their brilliant poems. I’m especially proud to announce that we will be publishing Richard Blanco’s new volume, in 2019, How to Be An American, a book that digs deep into the issues he has encountered in his life as a gay man, an immigrant, and a keen observer of life in the Trump years.

Just after 9/11, we published an invaluable collection edited by poet Joan Murray called Poems to Live By in Uncertain Times, which was followed five years later by Poems to Live By in Troubling Times. The volumes we look to publish now might help us live through these outrageous times.

So, as we continue to aspire to “ignite hearts and minds,” we will continue to publish poetry that ignites, enflames, sometimes even consumes us.


About the Author 

HeleneAtwanHelene Atwan has been director of Beacon Press since 1995. She has been reading poetry all her life. Follow her on Twitter at @hatwan.