4 Poetry Collections Which Explore Ancestry



It’s a cliche to say that poetry is the food of the soul, but it’s not a cliche to say that poetry is a form of truth. We dig deeper into ourselves and what we want to express and that becomes easier through a lyric. Often, the subjects that most poets find when they do this digging are deeply personal and a reflection of their anxieties, desires, & dreams.


Out of all of these, ancestry & nostalgia take a walk together—reminiscent of habits, old structures, old relationships, and sometimes, a place that you left behind. We have 4 poetry collections that beautifully explore the themes of ancestry.

#1 “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin” by Terrance Hayes


This collection explores themes of ancestry, race, and identity in America through the lens of the sonnet form. The book contains 70 sonnets, all with the same title, that explore themes of race, politics, and identity in America. The sonnets are written in a variety of styles, incorporating elements of traditional sonnets as well as more contemporary forms of poetry. Many of the sonnets are addressed to an unnamed “you,” which could be interpreted as the reader, the author’s past and future selves, or perhaps America itself. 

#2 “Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth: New and Selected Poems, 2001-2021” by Yusef Komunyakaa 


The title suggests a celebration of the ordinary and everyday, finding beauty and meaning in the small moments and details of life. Many of the poems in this collection are set in the American South, where Komunyakaa was born and raised, and he often draws on his personal experiences and family history in his writing. His use of language is rich and evocative, transporting the reader to a specific time and place. The poems touch on a variety of themes, including nature, music, love, history, and race.

#3 “When My Brother Was an Aztec” by Natalie Diaz 


This collection by the Mojave-American poet explores the complexities of Indigenous identity, and the ways in which ancestry is both a source of strength and a source of pain. The title poem, “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” is a powerful and evocative exploration of addiction, as well as a tribute to Diaz’s brother. In the poem, Diaz depicts her brother as an Aztec god who demands tribute and sacrifices from his family, and who transforms into various animals as his addiction takes hold. Throughout the collection, Diaz also explores themes of cultural identity, love, and loss, often drawing on her own experiences as a Mojave woman. 

#4 “CogVerse” by Vivekanand Selvaraj


This collection by Indian poet Vivekanand Selvaraj explores themes of ancestry and nostalgia, among other things. Even though autobiographical in its core, CogVerse is part-meditation and part-rant at the completely mechanical nature of our lives. The collection was conceived to work as a coherent whole. The four segments in the book work like cogs of the machine—coming together when required, to function with a certain assigned purpose. His poetry correlates to a larger experience, such as dealing with corporate rules, rigidity, & chaos in a seemingly methodical system, his ancestry & being part of a hard ecosystem, & poetry as a form of rebellion itself. You can buy it here: CogVerse Kindle Edition – Vivekanand Selvaraj 

Browse through these collections to experience a wonderful amalgamation of nostalgia and home, of ancestry and identity, and how poetry ties them in so many different ways. Subscribe to Bound’s newsletter to get an update on different aspects of the literary world! 

Written by Rheea Mukherjee

Rheea Rodrigues Mukherjee is the author of The Body Myth (Unnamed Press /Penguin India 2019) which was shortlisted for the Tata Literature Live First Book Award. Her work has been published and featured in Scroll.in, Southern Humanities Review, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Vogue India, Out of Print, TBLM, and Bengal Lights, among others. She co-founded Bangalore Writers Workshop in 2012 and currently co-runs Write Leela Write, a Design and Content Laboratory in Bangalore, India. Rheea has an MFA in creative writing from California College of the Arts.