Poetry is a universal language, and every person is influenced by poetry at some point in their life. Even those who don’t directly read poetry hear it in the music they listen to. It’s all around us daily and can capture the human experience in a unique and moving way. Although we’re exposed to poetry all the time, there are especially meaningful cases for each of us. So in order to recognize some impactful poets, I’ve gathered a list of some of my favorites and their poems. Each of these carries a distinctive message that has left a mark on how I view the world. Some have a direct intention, while others are open for interpretation. Perhaps some of them will speak to you just as deeply.
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.”
Wild Geese comforts me when I feel out of place. It’s a call to anyone who feels that they don’t belong. Remember that there is no reason to apologize or feel guilt for existing and taking up space. The world is there for you, and you are allowed to let yourself be happy in it. Read the rest of this poem here.
The Two-Headed Calf by Laura Gilpin
“Tomorrow when the farm boys find this
freak of nature, they will wrap his body
in newspaper and carry him to the museum.
But tonight he is alive and in the north
field with his mother. It is a perfect
summer evening: the moon rising over
the orchard, the wind in the grass. And
as he stares into the sky, there are
twice as many stars as usual.”
Laura Gilpin tore my heart in two with this poem. It’s an incredible way to explain that all life is valuable and important and worth living regardless of how different it is. No matter humanity’s perception of what it considers “abnormal.”
Paramour by Rosa Alcalá (from MyOTHER TONGUE)
“English is dirty. Polyamorous. English
wants me. English rides with girls
and with boys. English keeps an open
tab and never sleeps
Read the rest of this poem here. Rosa Alcalá’s writing explores the unique experience of speaking more than one language – especially when one of those languages is English. There’s an interesting shame that happens when English becomes your dominant language in a household where it isn’t the native language. She captures that feeling in an incredibly powerful way. Read the rest of this poem here.
The Orange by Wendy Cope
“At lunchtime I bought a huge orange –
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave –
They got quarters and I had a half.”
This is a heartwarming poem that highlights the mundane things in life. It’s a little easier to be happy when you recognize that the little things in life hold as much meaning as the big things. Read the rest of this poem here.
[ave maria] by Barbara Jane Reyes (from Poeta en San Francisco)
“our lady who crushes serpents
our lady of lamentation
our lady full of grace whose weeping statues bleed,
our lady who makes the sun dance, pray for us”
Barbara Jane Reyes provides background for her writing in a reading of this poem from 2012. Rather than reading the entire poem, it’s more impactful to hear it. Listen to the rest of this poem here.
If– by Rudyard Kipling
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too”
Kipling captures such a great outlook on life which I interpret as doing your best to stay level-headed and true to yourself no matter what goes on around you. It’s easy to get caught up in the world around us and forget ourselves. We are often easily swayed to act one way or another, but this poem reminds us to take a step back and be conscious of ourselves. Read the rest of this poem here.
You Are Jeff (Verse 24) by Richard Siken (from Crush)
“You’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and he won’t tell you that he loves you, but he loves you.”
If there’s one thing that unites humanity, it’s our desire and experience of love. Whether you’ve gone through teenage puppy love or the “real” thing, Richard Siken’s writing is unbelievably relatable. This is only verse 24, but the rest of this poem is just as meaningful. Read the full piece here.
Mirror by Sylvia Plath
“I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.”
Mirror is a painful truth for many women. When I first read this in high school, I was shocked by how much it impacted me because it’s something we are trained to do from a young age without realizing it. We analyze our reflection every day, looking for imperfections to fix or features we wish were “better.” And our perception of ourselves might only get worse as we age in a society where aging, whether we choose to believe it or not, is seen negatively. Sylvia Plath beautifully put the experience into words. Read the rest of this poem here.
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