Our Most-Read Poems of 2021

Our most-read poems from 2021 comprise powerful and formally inventive work by some of our favorite poets—Solmaz Sharif, Ocean Vuong, Alex Dimitrov, and others. These poems remind us why we turn to poetry in times of crisis and upheaval; each maps a distinctive mind thinking through the joys and pains of being alive today. Hannah Aizenman takes on the thorny subject of empathy in “The Pain of Others,” and Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s “There is An Intimacy,” set at a COVID testing site, punctures despair with lines of wry humor. Both Natasha Rao’s “Fullness and Hunger” and Sarina Romero’s “At Newport Beach” dissect the fraught dynamics of family gatherings, while Prageeta Sharma explores the complicated grief of losing a traitorous partner in “Widowing.” These poems make the world a little more imaginable to us, a little more rife with human connection and possibility. We hope you’ll enjoy reading and rereading them.

–The Editors

Wood Working at the End of the World” by Ocean Vuong
“In a field at the end of the world: a streetlamp / shining on a patch of grass…”

The Last Prom Queen in Antarctica” by Ocean Vuong
“It’s true I’m all talk & a French tuck / but so what. Like the wind, I ride / my own life…”

Patronage” by Solmaz Sharif
“They say / willingness is what one needs / to succeed…”

There is An Intimacy” by Melissa Lozada-Oliva
“when the q-tip touches my almost-brain, / about to reach the moment I peed my pants / at my cousin’s birthday party or kissed a boy who isn’t alive anymore…”

Notes for My Funeral” by Alex Dimitrov
“No one’s allowed to tell / their sad story at my funeral…”

Widowing” by Prageeta Sharma
“My inner controversy of packing up / the last of your studio boxes / towering this new basement that I clean for good…”

Fullness and Hunger” by Natasha Rao
“My father orders the crab croquet / and I am quick to correct / croquette for the white waiter / pouring water coquettishly…”

At Newport Beach” by Sarina Romero
“Abjection, I say, when Martha asked how / I felt, earlier that day, watching my father rub / his palm back and forth against his girlfriend’s / open thigh…”

The Pain of Others” by Hannah Aizenman
“On the radio, I hear a doctor describe / his dilemma: the inalienability / of pain, of sensation altogether…”

Geese” by Robert Travers
“That day the sun rose as if / it was the most natural thing / in the world…”

Originally published:
December 21, 2021


Rachel Cusk

The novelist on the “feminine non-state of non-being”
Merve Emre


Renaissance Women

A new book celebrates—and sells short—Shakespeare’s sisters
Catherine Nicholson

Fady Joudah

The poet on how the war in Gaza changed his work
Aria Aber


New perspectives, enduring writing. Join a conversation 200 years in the making. Subscribe to our print journal and receive four beautiful issues per year.