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Not Your Parents' Poems: A 2012 Poetry Preview

I can't tell you how the 2012 presidential election is going to turn out, nor can I say for certain whether The Office will outlast its first year without Steve Carell (though things are looking promising so far). What I can do is assure you that 2012 is full of exciting, enduring poetry.

Like music and fashion, contemporary poetry is often about looking at things from the past and dressing them up for the present. Today's average poem (if there is such a thing) takes us to the frontiers of language, borrowing from Twitter memes to overheard conversation, from the classics to bad movies. These are not your parents' — and certainly not your parents' parents' poems — in fact, some of these poets, in their 30s, 40s and 50s, are practically babies in poetry years, though some are among the wisest we've ever had.

Lucille Clifton (1936-2010) was a prizewinning poet whose poems celebrated African-American lives and feminist themes.
Mark Lennihan / AP
Lucille Clifton (1936-2010) was a prizewinning poet whose poems celebrated African-American lives and feminist themes.

If you only read one poetry book in 2012, The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton,out in September from BOA, ought to be it. This landmark book collects all the published poems of this major poet, plus a handful of unpublished ones, edited by the poet Kevin Young with an introduction by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.

Clifton (1936-2010), who died after a long struggle with cancer (the disease pushed her to some of her most powerful poems), wrote with startling immediacy about subjects as far-reaching as the continually echoing injustices of American slavery, and as intimate as the daily whisperings between a mother and child. At her best, she produced such succinct and subtly layered works as "The News": "... the faces / of men dying scar the air / the moon becomes the mountain / who would have thought / who would believe / dead things could stumble back / and kill us."

But why stop at one? Here are seven equally essential collections.

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Craig Morgan Teicher
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