Author: Ronnie K. Stephens

Ronnie K. Stephens is a full-time English teacher and the father of identical twins. His poems often explore vulnerability in its many facets. His first collection, Universe in the Key of Matryoshka, was published by Timber Mouse Publishing in 2014. Individual poems have previously appeared in Rattle, Paper Darts, Weave Magazine, DASH, and PANK, among others. http://www.ronniekstephens.com

THE STUDY OF HUMAN LIFE – JOSHUA BENNETT (PENGUIN POETS)

Bennett has established himself as an intensely patient and deliberate writer capable of upending genre as seamlessly as he upends our understanding of the world. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: CONCENTRATE – COURTNEY FAYE TAYLOR (GRAYWOLF PRESS)

Taylor aptly grounds the collection in lived experience, humanizing Harlins and deliberately avoiding the familiar tropes that so often flatten Black trauma. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: THE WORLD KEEPS ENDING, AND THE WORLD GOES ON – FRANNY CHOI (ECCO)

Choi leaves nothing on the table, offering a collection that will satisfy students of poetry and casual readers with equal fervor. – Ronnie K. Stephens

SPEAK FREELY: MEMORY AND ALTERNATE HISTORIES AS CATHARSIS

Franny Choi’s “Wildlife” and “Demilitarized Zone” both offer excellent frameworks to facilitate lessons that center retrofitted memory and alternate history as a cathartic process. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: CONSTELLATION ROUTE – MATTHEW OLZMANN (ALICE JAMES BOOKS)

Olzmann’s choice to fully immerse himself in the epistle offers a chance to display his range of voice, to give space to seemingly disparate social inequities, to remain constantly intimate in his conversation with the reader. 

REVIEW: SO TALL IT ENDS IN HEAVEN – JAYME RINGLEB (TIN HOUSE)

Debut author Jayme Ringleb has mastered the art of language that yearns, of metronomic white space that beats with all the quiet inevitability of an unrequited heart. – Ronnie K. Stephens

SPEAK FREELY: BANNED BOOKS EDITION

Though book burning may appear historically and practically extreme in comparison to book bans, consider that one of the guiding principles of book burning is public spectacle. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: ALIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD – SAEED JONES (COFFEE HOUSE PRESS)

Jones reaffirms his place as one of the most talented living poets writing in English with this collection, demonstrating an ever-evolving mastery of language and a distinct eye for structural balance. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: A SHIVER IN THE LEAVES – LUTHER HUGHES (BOA EDITIONS)

His use of structure, rhythm and extended metaphor are among the best, and his particular utilization of the crow throughout A Shiver in the Leaves sets this debut apart as one of the most layered, complex collections of the year. – Ronnie K. Stephens

Speak Freely: Imperative Voice and the Performance of Womanhood

Xie’s use of the imperative voice, intentionally or not, mirrors the language in Kincaid’s text, and both authors use the imperative specifically to convey expectations to younger generations of women. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: MAGNOLIA – NINA MINGYA POWLES (TIN HOUSE)

The poems are clearly the work of someone who has dedicated significant time to craft, & who approaches language like an anthropologist or philosopher might. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: THE WET HEX – SUN YUNG SHIN (COFFEE HOUSE PRESS)

At the heart of the poem is an image of the author’s passport, effectively bridging mythos and history to highlight a long and violent legacy of colonialism and its impact on colonized peoples. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: SO, STRANGER – TOPAZ WINTERS (BUTTON POETRY)

Winters offers a layered and thoughtful critique of the immigrant experience in America, the nuances of her relationship with her father and how borders operate in our lives. – Ronnie K. Stephens

SPEAK FREELY: MEANING AND METAPHOR IN RACHEL MCKIBBENS’ “THE WIDOWER”

Rachel McKibbens “The Widower” captures students because it’s visceral, emotional, and refuses to be ignored. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: YOUR EMERGENCY CONTACT HAS EXPERIENCED AN EMERGENCY – CHEN CHEN (BOA EDITIONS LTD)

The risk of centering a speaker who is, at times, painfully self-involved is significant, but Chen balances these sentiments with frequent moments of grace, desire and appreciation. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: TIME IS A MOTHER – OCEAN VUONG (PENGUIN PRESS)

Vuong uses structure to further disrupt linear fluidity. His poems frequently utilize a style of enjambment that eschews natural speech, presenting fragments that time and again force the reader forward. – Ronnie K. Stephens

SPEAK FREELY: NAMING AND UNNAMING THE SELF

Brookins, Melt, and Tran all address the process of naming and unnaming from different perspectives. Together, these poems will help foster understanding and empathy around the language we use with one another. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: ALL THE FLOWERS KNEELING – PAUL TRAN (PENGUIN POETS)

Paul Tran’s long-awaited debut collection, All the Flowers Kneeling, is a fierce reminder that Tran is one of the most talented and visceral poets writing in America today. – Ronnie K. Stephens

SPEAK FREELY: MENTAL HEALTH AND THE POETICS OF COLLECTIVE HEALING

Discussing mental health in the classroom can be incredibly daunting, especially as educators face public criticism and accusations of indoctrinating students. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: THE TREES WITNESS EVERYTHING – VICTORIA CHANG (COPPER CANYON PRESS)

Each section speaks to a specific season, emphasizing the passage of time and its effect on our understanding of the world around us. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: THE HURTING KIND – ADA LIMÓN (MILKWEED EDITIONS)

If I was going to try and convince someone that poetry is our most important verbal art, I would start with The Hurting Kind. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: WHAT IS OTHERWISE INFINITE – BIANCA STONE (TIN HOUSE PRESS)

These are poems that do not lend themselves to passive reading, but rather demand deep internal reflection and renewed engagement with the most basic, unanswerable questions of human existence. – Ronnie K. Stephens

SPEAK FREELY: NATIONAL POETRY MONTH EDITION

This month, I’m sharing some of my favorite pedagogical practices to introduce during National Poetry Month, as well as some of the poems I return to in my classes year after year. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: SHUTTER – TAYLOR BYAS (MADHOUSE PRESS)

Shutter is equally successful for its accessibility and relatability, centering poems that are at once concretely grounded in personal experience and immediately familiar to any reader who experiences self-doubt, heartbreak, and loneliness. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: CUSTOMS – SOLMAZ SHARIF (GRAYWOLF PRESS)

[This collection takes a] hard look at the challenges of existing in exile, of growing accustomed to the comforts of America, and of conflicting feelings around claiming a home to which the speaker cannot return. – Ronnie K. Stephens

SPEAK FREELY: FORMAL VERSE AS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE

“The activist in me wants students to grapple with how form, and departure from form, serves as commentary on systemic oppression and gatekeeping”. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: BLOODFRESH BY EBONY STEWART (BUTTON POETRY)

Stewart is at her best, masterfully blending her understanding of craft with her keen ear for orality to offer a collection readers will be talking about for years. – Ronnie K. Stephens

SPEAK FREELY: EBONY STEWART TRANSFORMS LIVED EXPERIENCES INTO AWARD-WINNING LITERATURE

“…let us be intentional in recognizing the incredible contributions that women of color have made & continue to make, not just in literature but in all fields”. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: SUCH COLOR BY TRACY K. SMITH (GRAYWOLF PRESS)

“[There is a] willingness to engage space as a living entity, something that is at once incomprehensible and animate”. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: HOW TO IDENTIFY YOURSELF WITH A WOUND – KB (KALLISTO GAIA PRESS)

KB recognizes the wound as equally capable of memorializing beautiful, if painful, memories. – Ronnie K. Stephens

SPEAK FREELY: TEACHING BODY POLITICS AND THE SONG OF RESISTANCE

Gibson’s version is more culturally responsive and inclusive, inviting discussion into the limitations of Whitman’s perceptions of the body, who determines the worth of specific bodies, and how society uses language to establish a hierarchy of humanity. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: SUPERDOOM – MELISSA BRODER (TIN HOUSE PRESS)

“Together, the poems function a bit like a greatest hits album, showcasing the breadth of style and distinct humor for which Broder is known”. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: YELLOW RAIN – MAI DER VANG (GRAYWOLF PRESS)

“Mai Der Vang masters contemporary poetic structures, grounds her verse in vivid and haunting imagery, and carries a central narrative throughout the collection”. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: ALL THE NAMES GIVEN – RAYMOND ANTROBUS (TIN HOUSE)

“Antrobus includes several poems that recall experiences with incarcerated people, and alludes to his own arrest. These poems speak to the terrible relationship between disability and incarceration by humanizing their subjects.” – Ronnie K. Stephens

SPEAK FREELY: IN DEFIANCE OF EVERYTHING

“Hopefully this will allow us all to go out into the world exposed, tongues out in absolute defiance of everything that would dare try to break us”. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: OTHER PEOPLE’S COMFORT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT – MORGAN PARKER (TIN HOUSE)

“Parker is someone who immediately displays a deep understanding of the human condition. She’s also terrifyingly comfortable with vulnerability, unique for first collections”. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: A NET TO CATCH MY BODY IN ITS WEAVING – KATIE FARRIS (BELOIT POETRY JOURNAL)

“… the poems also work to remind readers about the oft-ignored moments of grace that surround difficult times”. – Ronnie K. Stephens

SPEAK FREELY: POETRY AND POLITICS IN THE 21ST CENTURY CLASSROOM

“Poetry is something I love deeply, mainly because those from whom I have learned the most, personally and professionally, have been poets. I’ve never encountered a lesson that wouldn’t benefit from the inclusion of a poem or three”. – Ronnie K. Stephens

REVIEW: YOU BETTER BE LIGHTNING – ANDREA GIBSON (BUTTON POETRY)

But what stands out most in You Better Be Lightning is grace, for themselves and, often, for those who have harmed them.

REVIEW: POSTCOLONIAL LOVE POEM – NATALIE DIAZ (GRAYWOLF PRESS)

REVIEW: POSTCOLONIAL LOVE POEM – NATALIE DIAZ (GRAYWOLF PRESS)

I have never encountered a writer more capable of balancing softness and strength. These poems are quiet and technical and precise, yet the speaker never feels weak or timid. Rather, there is an everpresent sense that the rage lingering just beneath the lines may bare its teeth.

REVIEW: HOMIE – DANEZ SMITH (GRAYWOLF PRESS)

REVIEW: HOMIE – DANEZ SMITH (GRAYWOLF PRESS)

These poems are beautiful and messy and surprising and honest; they are everything a storied friendship is.

REVIEW: BOAT BURNED – KELLY GRACE THOMAS (YESYES BOOKS)

REVIEW: BOAT BURNED – KELLY GRACE THOMAS (YESYES BOOKS)
I found myself walking away from it often, not out of discontent but out of a need to process the full brunt of the emotions laid bare by the author.

REVIEW: A CHOIR OF HONEST KILLERS – BUDDY WAKEFIELD (WRITE BLOODY PUBLISHING)

It is not just a book of confessions, but of acceptance that we can be beautiful and flawed and problematic and good, that the only thing we ought to require of ourselves is the permission to be fully human. Buddy no longer apologizes for fucking things up.

REVIEW: I SHIMMER SOMETIMES, TOO – PORSHA OLAYIWOLA (BUTTON POETRY)

These poems make clear that Olayiwola, current poet laureate of Boston, is just beginning what is sure to be a long and much-lauded tenure in American poetics.

#TPQ5: RONNIE K. STEPHENS

#TPQ5: RONNIE K. STEPHENS

What will Ronnie K. Stephens, a poet, novelist, and essayist with five kids and a pregnant wife, include in today’s #TPQ5? FInd out inside!

REVIEW: ODES TO LITHIUM – SHIRA ERLICHMAN (ALICE JAMES BOOKS)

This book is, quite simply, indispensable. My only lament is that it does not fit in my pocket, as it is the kind of collection one wishes to have with them at all times, the sort that reminds one how to live with equal parts grief and grace.

REVIEW: HELP IN THE DARK SEASON – JACQUELINE SUSKIN (WRITE BLOODY PUBLISHING)

he visceral memories echo Sharon Olds and Rachel McKibbens, taking on a confessional style that does not flinch at trauma but also makes space for complexity of loving one’s parents even as abuse continues.

REVIEW: SPACE STRUCK – PAIGE LEWIS (SARABANDE BOOKS)

REVIEW – SPACE STRUCK BY PAIGE LEWIS (SARABANDE BOOKS)
In a year of absolutely gorgeous verse, Paige Lewis sets themselves apart, at once informed by the masters of craft and entirely unique in their own right. This is a collection you won’t want to miss.

REVIEW: CAN I KICK IT? – IDRIS GOODWIN (HAYMARKET BOOKS)

REVIEW: CAN I KICK IT? – IDRIS GOODWIN (HAYMARKET BOOKS): The lines are sometimes swift, sometimes heavy, but there is always a discernible rhythm which propels the reader forward with deliberate, measured pace.

REVIEW – THE BOY IN THE LABYRINTH BY OLIVER DE LA PAZ (UNIVERSITY OF AKRON PRESS)

The writing is as vulnerable as it is nuanced, as arresting as it is confounding. Oliver de la Paz is not afraid to leave the reader reaching for meaning, in effect mimicking the very experiences that compelled the allegory in the first place.

REVIEW: A FORTUNE FOR YOUR DISASTER – HANIF ABDURRAQIB (TIN HOUSE BOOKS)

these poems are tender and honest and complex. The speaker turns a critical gaze on himself often, acknowledging his part in the distance that grew between himself and his lover.

REVIEW: SOFT SCIENCE – FRANNY CHOI (ALICE JAMES BOOKS)

Through poems predicated on the Turing Test structure, Choi introduces the reader to questions that test not just whether or not the respondent is sentient, but also seek to undermine the humanity of specific identities in daily life.

REVIEW: A CONSTELLATION OF HALF-LIVES – SEEMA REZA (WRITE BLOODY PUBLISHING)

In short, this book is a microcosm of identity politics, giving faces and names to those who must learn how to exist in various spaces simultaneously.

REVIEW: DEAF REPUBLIC – ILYA KAMINSKY (GRAYWOLF PRESS)

One thing that distinguishes Kaminsky from many poets writing in English is that his poems are never just rage, never just fear, never just joy or whimsy or lust. Instead, Kaminsky’s lines are fraught with the full, messy truth of humanity.