Not everybody loves novels. Sometimes, sitting down with a 200-page book can feel like more work than it’s worth. But, getting away from our screens and having something satisfying to read is still an important part of our lives. Poetry is the perfect alternative to the novel, and New Jersey offers an incredible diversity of poets to read in 2021. Diving into their riveting poetry books, you’ll find that New Jersey itself is represented through the lenses of these authors. Childhood experiences and the landscapes of Paterson and Newark infuse their work with influences from the Garden State. This list of nine New Jersey poets to read in 2021 is essential for your New Year reading list. Hailing from Paterson and Englewood all the way down to Ventnor City, the different perspectives that these New Jersey poets offer are sure to give you plenty of quality reads in 2021.
1. Rosa Alcalá
Born in the cultural kaleidoscope of Paterson, poet Rosa Alcalá is a proponent of Latin American voices and literature. Alcalá is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship and the author of three poetry books. Her first collection, “Undocumentaries,” was published in 2010. Her books “The Lust of Unsentimental Waters” and “My OTHER TONGUE” followed in 2011 and 2017. She’s also been published in some of the foremost poetry anthologies in the industry including The Best American Poetry 2019 and American Poets in the 21st Century. Alcalá sets an example as a poet who uplifts other writers; she works as a translator, predominantly for Latin American women living in the United States, to make their work more widespread and to bring more writers into the fold. In her own writing, Alcalá discusses the semantics of language, womanhood, social hierarchies, and much more.
2. Robert Cording
Robert Cording was born in Englewood and has received high praise over the years, earning fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Between 1987 and 2010 he published three poetry collections titled “Life-list,” “Heavy Grace,” and Walking With Ruskin. Many themes that run through Cording’s poetry have to do with the core questions that we ask ourselves every day. He explores the nature of mortality, our purpose as humans, and the necessary self-reflection that allows these questions to arise. The quality of his body of work is almost enough to make up for the fact that he moved to Connecticut.
3. Emari Digiorgio
As a local of Ventnor City and a professor at Stockton University, Emari Digiorgio is heavily involved in the South Jersey community. She hosts an Atlantic City-based reading series called World Above, and she is an advocate for fair wages for professors. Over her literary career, Digiorgio has received the 2018 Luminous Origin Literary Award, the Auburn Witness Poetry Prize, the Ellen La Forge Memorial Poetry Prize, the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize, the RHINO’s Founder’s Prize, and the Woodrow Hall Top Shelf Award. Her poetry books “Girl Torpedo” and “The Things a Body Might Become” come from a distinctly female perspective. Her poetry tackles heavy topics like violence and sexual assault against women, but she balances the weight of her work with the motifs of hope and rebirth.
4. Amanda Lovelace
Poet Amanda Lovelace resides on the Jersey Shore, where her love of astrology, magic, feminism, and poetry all come together. Lovelace is the author of the USA TODAY bestselling series “women are some kind of magic.” In these three poetry books, Lovelace purposely turns our conventions of thinking about women in narratives on their heads. The blatant titles “the princess saves herself in this one,” “the witch doesn’t burn in this one,” and “the mermaid’s voice returns in this one” all reject the centuries-old tropes of female characters. Instead, Lovelace takes these archetypes and asserts new agency onto them, which makes her one of the New Jersey poets you really ought to read in 2021. Lovelace also published the “you are your own fairy tale” trilogy, which bulldozes over any notion of who you should be, and opens up the discussion of who you want to be.
5. PaulA Neves
PaulA Neves is a Newark native, and her literary legacy is still growing. Her accolades include the 2020 NJ Poets Prize from the Journal of NJ Poets, an Immigrant Artist Mentorship at New York Foundation for the Arts, and a multitude of fellowships and scholarships across the United States. Her poems have been published in Newest Americans, The Acentos Review, The Abuela Stories Project, Writers of the Portuguese Diaspora, and more. Neves co-produced a book of poetry, essays, and photographs called “Shirts & Skins” in 2017 with Nick Kline, followed by her poetry book “capricornucopia: the dream of the goats” with Finishing Line Press in 2018. In each of these works, and in many of her freestanding poems, Neves brings to life her Luso-American roots, her family’s origins and paths to America, and her questions on womanhood.
6. Wanda S. Praisner
Throughout her long career, Wanda S. Praisner has racked up plenty of fellowships and awards. She earned fellowships with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Praisner has also received the NJ Poets Prize in both 2012 and 2014, The Devil’s Millhopper Kudzu Prize, and First Prize in Poetry at TCNJ’s New Jersey Writers’ Conference (including many others). Among her publications are poetry books “Sometimes When Something Is Singing,” “A Fine and Bitter Snow,” “On the Bittersweet Avenues of Pomona,” and “Where the Dead Are.” Praisner is known for her frank renderings of grief and loss in her poetry, her attention to minute details, and representations of people around the world.
9. Gianna Valdez
At the young age of 15, Gianna Valdez published her first poetry book, “Inside The Mind of Tragedy,” while interning at The Digest. The work speaks to the global issue of mental health, and its impact on the lives of those who live with them. In this collection, Valdez dives deep into the topics that define each part of her book: Life, Emotions, Death, and Hope. The overwhelming potency of Valdez’s descriptions illuminates the difficulties of living with depression. But the book is far from being hopeless. Valdez aims to give those who struggle with mental illness a feeling of camaraderie and community, and the awareness that they are not alone.
8. Talena Lachelle Queen
After spending most of her life in Paterson, poet Talena Lachelle Queen has become a pillar in her local community. Queen currently serves as the City of Paterson’s Poet Laureate, while also working as a teacher in the Paterson Public School system She is also the president of Her Best Self, which is a nonprofit that aims to give young women the tools, resources, and role models they need to become leaders in their communities. In addition, Queen is a key organizer for the annual Paterson Poetry Festival. Amidst all of the work that she does for Paterson, Queen still has time to write incredible poetry. She published “Fourteen,” “How Do I Tell Them,” and “Wild Berries” in 2014 and 2015. Her poems address the ever-relevant issues of social justice in the United States and merges the melodic moments of jazz and gospel music with the rhythm of her poetry.
9. Cyn Grace Sylvie
This Jersey City resident describes herself as a “Writer, poet, fatalist.” Cyn Grace Sylvie has been awarded Epiphany Magazine’s Short Nonfiction Prize in 2017 and has published her poetry in MATH Magazine, Tata Magazine, Aoetearotica Magazine, and others. Among her featured poems are “The Plum,” “The Angelical,” “The Lesson,” and “The Arrow,” and she prides herself on being a “dirty poet.” Sylvie is an outspoken writer and performer who writes around what drives us as humans. Her focus on sexuality and mysticism illuminate some of our most primitive driving forces. Many themes in her poetry highlight the messiness of life including the fluctuation of emotion that we all experience, our imperfections as human beings, and our relationships with one another.
Are there any New Jersey poets you’re looking forward to reading in 2021? Let us know in the comments below.
Main image of Rosa Alcalá taken by Margarita Mejía
About the Author/s
Jordan Hutchinson is a second semester senior at George Washington University with aspirations in writing, editing, and publishing. A Jersey girl at heart, she grew up in Morris County and moved down to Atlantic County this past fall.
Jordan, thanks for this awesome list and including me in such august company. Small correction: I co- produced a book of poetry, essays, and photographs called “Shirts & Skins” in 2017 (it was a collaboration between myself and photographer/Rutgers-Newark Professor Nick Kline).
Dear Jordan, I am so surprised & delighted to have been among the 9 poets chosen by you! Oh, my. Many thanks for this unexpected honor! My very best to you, Wanda S. Prisner
P.S. I was the recipient of the 2017 New Jersey Poets Prize; Natirar (2017) is another of my books.
Just a quick correction; Talena is not Paterson’s Poet Laureate, but continues to self-claim as such. The honor belongs to Elizabeth Estella Valverde.