Nicelle Davis – Elephants (Business Bear Press)
This happens to be a list of 5 of my favorite chapbooks to teach, but I’ve also taught each one of Nicelle Davis’s full-length poetry collections because she and her writing are incredible. This chapbook asks us to consider how elephants can be endangered and also beloved by humans, and its proceeds went to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.
Charles Jensen – Story Problems (Palooka Press)
In this chapbook that looks like an exam blue book, the poems really are in the form of story problems: prose paragraphs followed by answer options. The form works incredibly well for both playful humor and deep questioning, and the chapbook was especially fun to discuss with students right after Charlie appeared on Jeopardy.
Ki Russell – How to Become Baba Yaga (Medulla Publishing)
This chapbook focuses on Baba Yaga with whimsy and fantasy violence, and then it also weaves in an undercurrent of poems that portray child sexual abuse. The way fairy tales work in these poems as an escape and as a re-writing of real abuse is powerful and masterfully handled by this incredible poet.
Charnell Peters – Un-becoming (Thirty West Publishing House)
A debut collection from a young poet, this chapbook is a more recent addition to my syllabi that I plan to include for years to come. These poems portray blackness in Middle America with both frankness and figurative artistry, and Peters takes on biblical narratives, TV shows, and language itself with a pointed playfulness.
Robert Pinsky – First Things to Hand (Sarabande Books)
This former poet laureate has a pile of impressive publications, but my favorite is this little chapbook with poems that are titled after the things that were literally nearby—“first to hand”—at his writing desk: book, glass, his other hand, etc. He observes ordinary objects as gateways to memory, history, and language, and he shows my students that they can begin writing with whatever they happen to have around them.
Katie Manning is the founding editor-in-chief of Whale Road Review and an associate professor of writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. She is the author of Tasty Other, which won the 2016 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, and four chapbooks, including The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman. Find her online at http://www.katiemanningpoet.com.