Book review: Rainy day reading or a campfire companion, here are 7 new poetry collections for summer

Alaska enjoys a richness of poets and poetry, with several collections newly published. They are as varied in subject matter and style as the poets themselves. In no particular order, here’s a sampling for pleasure and contemplation as you sit by a campfire, wait for a fish to strike, or hunker down out of the rain.

“The Hungers of the World: New and Collected Later Poems”

By John Morgan; Salmon Poetry, 2023; 168 pages; $16.95.

Morgan’s new collection joins its companion, “The Moving Out: Collected Early Poems” from 2019. Morgan, who now divides his time between Fairbanks and Bellingham, Washington, taught for many years at UAF and has won numerous poetry awards. The 25 new poems in this collection are varied but include references to aging (“Stray Thoughts on Aging”) and the loss of friends, illness (“On the Body: A Zuihitus”), childhood memories (“The Sinner at Six”), family (“With My Son at Tennant Lake”), and historical characters and events.

The remaining work collects from his books “Spear-Fishing on the Chatanika” and “Archives of the Air” and includes as well “River of Light: A Conversation with Kabir,” a long poem previously published as a gorgeous book with artwork by Kes Woodward; this poem chronicles a raft trip down the Copper River, with the Indian mystic poet Kabir as Morgan’s imaginary companion and spiritual guide.

“Late Fall Bucolics”

By Anne Coray; The Poetry Box, 2022; 39 pages; $14.


This small book of 24 sonnets also embraces the bucolic as a poetry form — that is, Coray’s poems typically evoke rural or pastoral life. Her modern twist is that, while the poems capture much of the beauty she lives with at Lake Clark, they also speak to human destruction of the natural world. The “late” of the title may mean more than the time of year.

The first poem, “Brazen Heat,” sets the theme. " … We are finished with fire. The brazen heat / Of a cracked July has fled, spent / Except in memory, along with smoke from forest // Charred to north and west, that blocked our flight.” Another poem, “Yarn,” begins with fond memories of wool clothing, moves to the textile industry and the coal burning that powered Industrial Revolution mills, to the boy chimney sweeps “with heads shaved so they wouldn’t catch fire” who died from the soot that filled their lungs, to “…Dispatch / To the 21st century, our firmament trapped / With emissions, and we, in our modern blanket, wrapped.”

Other poems respond to famous poets, painters, and activists. A notes section provides Coray’s source inspirations, which include science papers, newspaper articles, myths, lines from classic poems, and researches of historical events; these add to a reader’s appreciation of the poems themselves.

“Raven’s Echo”

By Robert Davis Hoffman; The University of Arizona Press, 2023; 100 pages; $16.95.

“Raven’s Echo,” by Tlingit artist and poet Hoffman of Kake and Sitka, combines two books — “Soulcatcher,” written when he was a young man, and “Reconstruction,” which includes poems from a later collection along with newer work. As Hoffman explains in his preface, the early poems “were a way of lashing out,” a response to the history and condition of people who had had their cultures devalued and destroyed. The later poems, equally concerned with injustice, look more toward integration of cultural values with contemporary life. “The two books,” Hoffman writes, “are linked by the common concern of finding a way to live humanely in a world that is historically fractured yet spiritually inviting.”

Raven is a key figure throughout, exhibiting complex and conflicting behaviors. An early poem, “Raven Moves,” begins “If I make words, they are Raven’s echo. / If I move, it is in that rhythm, Raven’s heart, / the air pulsing and rumbling. / It makes me restless.” Other poems evoke other cultural figures; “Monster” references both a mythic sea monster (Gunakadeit) and a “real time” boy tormented because of his purplish birthmark. “That’s when Dog Salmon Boy fled to the land of stories, / the land of Gunakadeit. / The stories saved him, as stories will. / As stories restore the powerless.”


By H Warren; Boreal Books, 2023; 80 pages; $17.95.

This debut collection by Fairbanks poet and musician Warren presents the reality of living as a nonbinary person, with poems responding to childhood confusions, to societal pressures and cruelties, and to finding love and community. The book title and the poem “Binder” both relate not only to flattening one’s chest but to being constrained by the expectations and remarks of others. “Binded when I exchange my comfort for your comfort / Binded when you plead for me to wear a dress at your wedding / Binded when I refuse and I am no longer in your wedding . . .”

Much of the work is also topically political, with “Get Back to Work America” questioning post-COVID national priorities, “An Honest Budget” directed at Alaska’s governor, and “Seam,” a response to the veto of a non-discrimination ordinance by the Fairbanks mayor.

The poems share a musicality of language as they dance across their pages, leaning sometimes into outrage and despair and often into compassion and love. They succeed not only as art but as affirmation of the unbounded possibilities of human life and spirit.

[How author Tom Crestodina’s passion for boats and sea life found the page]

“The Round Whisper of No Moon”

By Peter Kaufman; The Poetry Box, 2022; 90 pages; $18.

Homer poet Kaufman spent years traveling back and forth between rural Alaska and urban Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, where he helped communities tell their stories through drama, radio and exhibits. The poems in his debut collection respond to the experiences of both places; they also take some side trips into other locations and inquiries, including family mysteries and a special-needs brother. Kaufman brings a Zen-like approach and quiet humor to the complexities of human lives and the beauty of the carefully observed and ever-changing world.

“A Place in Time” captures exactly what its title suggests: “In Cambodia the hammock seller, / draped in mesh, / dark as the earth, / thin as a chicken wing, / plies the waters of / Chinese tourists posed in bright skirts, / taking photos of each other / at Independence Monument, / near the park, / where hours before two thousand policemen/ were given seventeen dollars and fifty cents each / for their good work beating protestors.”


Back home, in “Recipe for a May Evening in Alaska,” Kaufman creates a familiar and romantic vision. “Start with a back road. / Add late evening light. / Toss with backlit young birch leaves. / Add a yearling moose, unafraid, grazing on the shoulder.” The speaker is headed “for a river and the first king salmon of the year.”

“Corvus and Crater”

By Erin Coughlin Hollowell; Salmon Poetry, 2023; 69 pages; $14.95.

Corvus the Crow and Crater the Cup, two constellations, provide the celestial mythology that shelters this collection. Hollowell set herself a further challenge — to write 54 poems, each with 54 syllables, to mark her year of being 54. Each poem, broken into nine lines, works as a small meditation. Often but not always there’s a crow involved; usually the imagery involves elements of nature, most often within the bleak beauty of winter as Hollowell has observed it from her Kachemak Bay home.

Each page is a work of art unto itself, in its arrangement, texture, and a title that plays with more imagery and slant meaning. Here’s one in its fullness:

History of defiance

Crow comes from the place where light dimples.


Mountaintops winked

away in snow’s silk

dangled by clouds, dragged across summit

until much is simply

effaced. Then

from what swirled squalls have disappeared, Crow

comes clapping

her black wings like laughter.

“I Sing the Salmon Home: Poems from Washington State”

Edited by Rena Priest; Empty Bowl Press, 2023; 275 pages; $20.

This anthology, with 237 poems by 166 Washington state poets, is all about salmon. Although it does not include Alaskans, who in Alaska doesn’t love salmon and want to hear others sing of them? Edited by Washington’s poet laureate, the book is divided into thematic sections that include Gratitude, Choices, Vigil, and What we Owe.

The poets here represent the accomplished and well-known but also ordinary people whose lives are touched by salmon and were inspired to add their voices to the chorus. Contributors are nearly all contemporary and range from students as young as a first-grader to commercial fishermen and a retired investment banker. Familiar names include Raymond Carver and Tess Gallagher, but the real pleasure comes from discovering what so many others, including a strong selection of Indigenous poets, have to say.


What should strike Alaska readers are the many poems that lament the habitat destruction, including that from river-obstructing dams, that has so greatly diminished the wild salmon runs of the Northwest. The call for restoring an ethos that values the gifts of salmon rings through like a clanging bell. In Alaska, we’re fortunate to know salmon as generous companions to our lives, but the odes and elegies from farther south should impress upon us what might so easily be lost.

[Need a good summer book? Here are 11 recommendations from Alaskans in the literary world]

Nancy Lord

Nancy Lord is a Homer-based writer and former Alaska writer laureate. Her books include "Fishcamp," "Beluga Days," and "Early Warming." Her latest book is "pH: A Novel."