Being a poet in the 21st century is like being a ghost among the living—you exist, but no one else sees you (except other ghosts/poets). But look: Poetry isn’t dead, even though most end-of-the-year, best-of-2013 lists won’t include many, if any, books of poetry. Poetry is so, so alive: There are poets who are writing poems as funny and vulgar as anything a stand-up comedian could come up with. There are poets who are writing poems as exquisite as any pop song. There’s a whole world of poets who are alive and writing poetry to tiny, tiny audiences. (And there are scores of independent small presses that have never turned a profit but continue to publish brilliant poets year after year.) So this holiday season, why not get your loved ones a book, or several books, of poetry by actual, living poets? (Check out our other gift guides here.)

Most of these titles are chapbooks, which are beautiful little books, usually lovingly handmade, often hand-sewn, sometimes letter-pressed, and generally printed in limited editions. Many poetry chapbooks have just enough poems that they can be read all in one sitting. (I recommend having a refreshing glass of seltzer nearby and a bag of candy in your lap.)

Mood SwingMood Swing
Monica McClure
2013, Snacks

The freshest and illest and most wonderful of chapbooks I’ve read all year is Monica McClure’s Mood Swing. The poems in it have titles like “Shower Sex,” “I Don’t Like You,” and “House of Joyce Leslie” and lines like “I want to solve the problem of heterosexual desire” and “When the price of birth control went up / I got so pregnant / I had to drop out of SCAD” and “If I could be anything / I would be a rich white girl / I am almost halfway there.” I mean, this book gobsmacks me with its brilliance. It is so full of bratty verve and feral girliness that I want to start carrying it around like a talisman. Get it for your best friend, and the two of you will be quoting it for months. ($10, Snacks Press)

ATE NIPPLEChapbooks by Perfect Lovers Press
Perfect Lovers is a sweet small press run by the (amazing!) poet Dana Ward and the (amazing!) artist Paul Coors, who, together and independently, have perfect taste. Their newest chapbooks, AIRY BABY: AN EQUAL TO THE ATE NIPPLE?//I worry/I don’t/Believe in Books/or do owly/// (pictured here) by Debbie Hu and Young Friend by Leopoldine Core, are only five bucks apiece but worth infinitely more. You can read a sample of Debbie’s work here, and Leopoldine keeps a Tumblr of new poems that are tiny gems of truth, scratched up and magnified. I mean:


my armpits smell
and well
I’m a little fish
walking home
in shoes

Am I the only one who feels flushed just from reading that? ($5 each, Perfect Lovers Press)

Dorothea Lasky
2012, Wave Books

Dorothea Lasky has been writing my favorite poems since forever. I forget the difference Frank O’Hara spelled out between nostalgia for the infinite and nostalgia of the infinite, but the poems in this, Lasky’s newest book, contain both. Try reading the poem “I Had a Man” without getting chills or those tiny, wonderful tears that cling to your bottom lashes. ($16, Wave Books)

Chelsey Minnis
2001, Fence Books

When I went to grad school for fiction writing, I suddenly realized I wanted nothing more than to be a poet, but I didn’t have any role models. Then someone introduced me to the work of Chelsey Minnis, and it was like I had been eating food without salt my whole life and finally someone had come over and sprinkled some salt on my eggs (I can take this metaphor further, but I won’t). I had never read anything that sounded like this, or looked like this, or felt like this. Zirconia, Minnis’s first book, is perfect for the cool, tender, loving weirdo in your life. If you wanna be super nice, get her a Minnis bundle and stick Bad Bad and Poemland in there, too. ($12, Fence Books)

The CowThe Cow
Ariana Reines
2006, Fence Books

Chelsey Minnis made me wanna be a poet, but Ariana Reines helped me become one. Her first book, The Cow, changed my life. It made me realize you could be a girl and loving and compassionate and vulgar and voracious and excessive and ugly and smart. She gave poetry guts, and she gave me and so many other female poets/queer poets/weirdo poets the guts to be female/queer/weird. Give this book to your most fearless pal, the one who makes art and doesn’t give a fuck what other people think, to let her know she’s got some allies. ($16, Fence Books)

Inger Christensen
2001, New Directions

Inger Christensen’s Alphabet is like a catalog of the world that contains everything, no matter how dazzling mundane or unthinkably horrific. It will amaze you. Originally written in Danish and translated into English by Suzanna Nied, Alphabet is a book-length abcedarian poem (where the first line of each section starts with each successive letter of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, etc.), AND the poem is structured along the Fibonacci sequence (a mathematical sequence in which each number is the sum of the two previous numbers). It is a poem you’ll want to read out loud under a willow tree with your best friends or by candlelight or just alone in your bed where it’s OK to mourn what you’ve never experienced (except through poetry, which is of course is its own experience, and its own miracle). ($12, Amazon)

With DeerWith Deer
Aase Berg
2009, Black Ocean Press

These uber-fleshy, porcine goth poems by Aase Berg, originally written in Swedish, are badass and twisted and drip with guts and blood and grease. Give this one to your friend who loves The Craft and making sacrificial pyres (joking/not joking). ($15, Black Ocean Books)

Eileen Myles
2012, Wave Books

Oh my gosh, do you know Eileen Myles? She’s not here for you or me—she’s not trying to be anyone’s teacher or guide—and yet when I read her I can’t help feeling improved, clearer, and even more invested in the big messy feelings of being a person born wanting so much but always pressed against some limit (that either exists or doesn’t). I don’t even know where to begin. Obviously, get everything by her that you can get your hands on, but at the very least, ya gotta get this book, her latest collection. (And while you are at it, also pick up her memoir, Inferno (a poet’s novel), about coming to New York to be a poet. It’s not poetry per se, but it’s not not poetry either.) ($20, Wave Books)

TheCompleatPurgeThe Compleat Purge
Trisha Low
2013, Kenning Editions

This book is gonna be your gateway drug into conceptual poetry, OK? It wheels and deals in excess and emotional porn, and it tries to document and ventriloquize what it means to be a teenager—in the sense of actually being between the ages of 13 and 19, but also in the sense of teenage feelings and the ever-glutted internet archive of these feelings by those who are 13–19 but also by those of us well past. For the sibling/friend we’re all gonna be toasting in 10 years at the Whitney Biennial, but even if we aren’t, who cares? ($16, Kenning Editions)

TwerkChapbooks by Belladonna*
Belladonna* is a sick-ass collaboratively run feminist reading series and independent publisher of chapbooks and full-length titles. On their website, they state their mission thusly: “To promote the work of women writers who are adventurous, experimental, politically involved, multi-form, multicultural, multi-gendered, impossible to define, delicious to talk about, unpredictable, and dangerous with language.” Um, FUCK YEAH. Twerk (pictured here) by LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs and proxy by R. Erica Doyle are two Belladonna* books that I’ve been reading and rereading a lot this year, but give their entire catalog a good, luxurious browse, because it’s all gold. ($15 each, Belladonna*)

Simone White
2013, Ugly Duckling Presse

Simone White’s poems can be so quiet and beguiling that sometimes I don’t even realize how much violence they’re bringing up inside me. The quiet revolt that I don’t notice anymore, the latent desires that I think I have a handle on but maybe I don’t—all that is stirred by her poetry. Her full-length House Envy of All the World seems to be sold out, but you can still get her chapbook, Unrest. ($8, Ugly Duckling Presse)

Here Come the Warm JetsHere Come the Warm Jets
Alli Warren
2013, City Lights Publishers

Last year, I went to a poetry reading a few days after Hurricane Sandy hit, and the mood was somber and strange. All I wanted was to run out of there screaming, but then Alli Warren came onstage. She read her poems so unobtrusively and so scaled back, it was if she wanted her “I” to take up less space. Her new book, Here Come the Warm Jets, is political and personal and feminine and rough and tender. Every time I read a poem of hers, I want to write one, too. ($10, City Lights)