Angles of Ascent poetry anthology
Photo: Courtesy of Hallie Ephron
Even if you don't read poetry, you will find Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry (W.W. Norton) irresistible—a breathtaking balance of elegies to political leaders, sisters, brothers, musicians, and vagabonds, and crowd-pleasing barn burners like "I Am a Black Woman," by Mari Evans: "tall as a cypress / strong / beyond all definition still / defying place / and time / and circumstance / assailed / impervious / indestructible.…" There are verses in the service of social justice, history, and the mysteries of life, and they are free from dust. Considered one of the foremost authorities on the genre, editor Charles Henry Rowell, a literature professor and the founder of Callaloo, a prestigious journal of the African diaspora, focused on contemporary voices—the 1960s to the present—in selecting works by 86 poets. Besides the titans—former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove, current laureate Natasha Trethewey, and Pulitzer Prize winners Gwendolyn Brooks, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Tracy K. Smith—you'll discover younger poets who have taken the baton and sprinted into uncharted territories: Tyehimba Jess, whose poems in the voice of Leadbelly might make you want to holler, and Camille T. Dungy, whose sonnets caution "What to Eat, and What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison." The word anthology brings to mind college classrooms, but this volume, "dripping with the dew of relentless entanglement" (Komunyakaa), belongs on your kitchen table, nightstand, or wherever you keep the books that are best paired not with a cup of tea but with a glass of red wine or a shot of tequila.

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