by Mary Oliver
When you think of poetry, you probably think of the things that come up when I looked for stock images for “poetry.” Feather quills. Roses. Soft focus dreamscapes.
I like poetry that’s more like this image above, where you’re just kind of like, “Huh, did not expect that, but it’s fun to look at.”
I once asked Ellen Bass in a class if poems run on the same kind of structure. She thought for a second, then responded, “Poems are driven by surprise.”
I didn’t used to be a “poetry person,” aside from Shel Silverstein. But once I got in a writing community, I realized that was just because I hadn’t been exposed to good poetry, only Hallmark card that made me think poetry sucked.
So I made a list of books of poetry for people who don’t think they like poetry.
1. When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
The story of a family dealing with the drug abuse of Natalie’s brother, plus one of the sexiest poems you’ll ever read. I know those don’t seem like they belong in the same book, but… poetry.
2. Like a Beggar by Ellen Bass
Ellen Bass is one of the poets who turned me into a poetry person. This book includes my favorite poem ever, Relax.
3. Slow Lightning by Eduardo Corral
I’ve gotten to hear Eduardo read from this book a few times, which includes a stunning tribute to his mother that makes me tear up every time.
4. Ugly Time by Sarah Galvin
Sarah is pretty much the silliest poet in the world, and poems about everything just fly out of her.
5. The Tradition by Jericho Brown
The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal.
6. The Deaf Republic: Poems by Ilya Kaminsky
This book details the story of a town that goes deaf in protest of an authoritarian regime. The contrast between personal and political will leave you clinging to your loved ones and looking out the window.
7. The Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
From the “wittiest woman in America,” a collection of three volumes detailing the realities of a woman of talent and boldness in the 1920s and ’30s. Unrequited love, alcohol, razor blades, and men of overbearing will populate these lines.
8. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
You have seen Beyoncé’s Lemonade video, correct? You know the poetry she spouts, underwater no less? That’s Warsan Shire. I believe that is enough said.
9. Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith
The New York Times said, “Smith’s new book is scorching in both its steady cognizance of America’s original racial sins . . . and apprehension about history’s direction. . . . These historical poems have a homely, unvarnished sort of grace.”
10. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
This #1 New York Times Bestseller features themes of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity.