Best Barbarian

Finalist, National Book Awards 2022 for Poetry

book cover for Roger Reeves, Best Barbarian
ISBN 9780393609332
W. W. Norton & Company
author photo of poet Roger Reeves (Photo credit: Ana Schwartz)
Roger Reeves

Roger Reeves is the author of King Me and Best Barbarian. A 2021-2022 Harvard Radcliffe Institute Fellow, Reeves is also the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and a 2015 Whiting Award, among other honors. More about this author >

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From the publisher:

The poems in Best Barbarian roam across the literary and social landscape, from Beowulf’s Grendel to the jazz musician Alice Coltrane, from reckoning with immigration at the U.S.–Mexico border to thinking through the fraught beauty of the moon on a summer night after the police have killed a Black man.

Daring and formally elegant, Best Barbarian asks the reader: “Who has not been an entryway shuddering in the wind / Of another’s want, a rose nailed to some dark longing and bled?” Reeves extends his inquiry into the work of writers who have come before, conversing with—and sometimes contradicting—Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, Sappho, Dante, and Aimé Césaire, among others. Expanding the tradition of poetry to reach from Gilgamesh and the Aeneid to Drake and Beyoncé, Reeves adds his voice to a long song that seeks to address itself “only to freedom.”

Best Barbarian asks the reader to stay close as it plunges into catastrophe and finds surprising moments of joy and intimacy. This fearless, musical, and oracular collection announces Roger Reeves as an essential voice in American poetry.

Judges Citation

In his sweeping collection Best Barbarian, Roger Reeves boldly explores the fissures among generations, where lore and language intersect. These poems are meditations that confront the cruelty of the human condition with complex insight and dogged tenacity. Reeves does not shy away from what startles and disrupts. With rich, vivid language that lifts off the page, he reminds us that “All lions must lean into something other than a roar…”


Roger Reeves at the 2022 National Book Awards Finalist Reading