It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
- from Asphodel, That Greeny Flower by William Carlos Williams
They're often short enough to accompany your morning coffee, and light enough to carry around in your pocket. They can be funny, powerful, sad, wistful, sexy, angry, or silly. With to-the-quick immediacy and just a handful of words, a poem can strike a place in the reader that most tomes could only aspire to. The first step to reading poetry is finding a poem you love, and I think collections are the best place to start, mostly because you increase your odds with so many poets between the covers.
The following are my favorite collections because they're curated with personality and passion, not obligation to the canon. So wrestle poetry away from the grasp of your stuffy high-school English teacher, forget all the rules, and add a poem to your daily news.
Poetry 180 and 180 More edited by Billy Collins
With an ear for that immediate, first-love injection of pleasure, but also a deep respect for the craft, Billy Collins is the guy you want picking out your poems. These are stellar, must-have collections for both new and veteran poetry readers. With poems by Lucille Clifton, Kenneth Koch, Sharon Olds, Li-Young Lee, Paul Muldoon, and hundreds more of today's most beloved poets.
First Hour by Sharon Olds
Did I Miss Anything by Tom Wayman
The Tour by Carol Snow
Otherwise by Jane Kenyon
Good Poems for Hard Times edited by Garrison Keillor
A great bedside or coffee table collection, perfect for browsing. With section headings such as "Kindness to Snails", "Such As It Is More Or Less", "This Lust of Tenderness", "Deliberate Obfuscation" and "Simpler Than I Could Find Words For", Keillor is a disarming guide who believes - and proves - that the world needs poetry. Shakespeare gives way to Sharon Olds, Whitman to the newest young poet around, everybody rubbing elbows for the sake of poetry.
For My Daughter in Reply to a Question by David Ignatow
For a Five-Year-Old by Fleur Adcock
A Spiral Notebook by Ted Kooser
The Courage That My Mother Had by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Morning Swim by Maxine Kumin
A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry edited by Czeslaw Milosz
Eclectic and personal, this stellar collection is grouped thematically, with sections like "Nature" and "Travel" -- but also with sections like "The Secret of a Thing", "Woman's Skin", and "People Among People". Each poems is preceded by a short comment by poet Milosz, giving the reader a little door into the poem, and a hand to hold on the way through.
I Go Back to May 1937 by Sharon Olds
I Talk to My Body by Anna Swir
Zazen on Ching-t'ing Mountain by Li Po
Seen From Above by Wislawa Szymborska
99 Poems in Translation edited by Harold Pinter, Geoffrey Godbert, and Anthony Astbury
I discovered some of my favorite poets in this collection. The spine of my copy falls open to the well-worn pages I've re-read countless times and photocopied for friends. Spanning centuries and continents, these 99 poems are some of the most beautiful poems ever written.
You can browse some of the book here.
What's your favorite poem or poetry collection?
In addition to being BookBrowse's content editor, Lucia Silva is the book buyer for Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, CA. She can also be heard recommending books on NPR's Morning Edition with Susan Stamberg, and on KPBS in San Diego.