April is National Poetry Month, and we couldn’t be more excited! After bundling up for icy winter days, we deserve to see flowers blooming into life, to be blinded by radiant sunlight, and to read beautiful, invigorating poetry. Having trouble choosing a collection? With so much good work out there, we don’t blame you. Here are some wonderful works of poetry: some you most likely have heard of, and some you may not have. Regardless of popularity, all bring words and feelings to life.
Lighthead by Terrance Hayes
Terrance Hayes recently published his 5th poetry collection, How to be Drawn, but his 4th collection, Lighthead, winner of the National Book Award in 2010, certainly should not be forgotten. Hayes writes with dreamy and realistic creativity about everyday experiences – racism, pop-culture, history, to name a few. Lighthead casts a light on the world, showing the great and the terrible.
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
Sometimes poetry punches you square in the gut with its raw and poignant honesty, and that’s just what Shire’s collection, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, does. As a Somali poet, born in Kenya and now based in London, Shire beautifully writes about displacement, immigration, politics, trauma, and the endurance of women. After reading Shire’s work, you will undoubtedly understand why she was 2014’s Young Poet Laureate of London.
Ariel by Sylvia Plath
Plath’s collection Ariel, published posthumously, is said to be essential by most lovers of poetry. Considered some of her darkest works, the deep and melancholic collection is filled with powerful feminist undertones and studies some of the most difficult topics to address: mental illness, suicidal depression, and turbulent love. Many regard Ariel as the work in which “Plath becomes herself, becomes something imaginary, newly, wildly and subtly created,” as said by Robert Lowell in the Introduction.
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
Neruda writes some of the most lyrical poetry about some of the most simple beauties of the world, like spring, for example. Each of the lines from any of Neruda’s love poems would make a wonderful anniversary, Valentine’s, birthday, or “I’m sorry I messed up, but I love you,” card. His experiences with love and grief, nature and loneliness, and his brilliance with metaphors, create a collection of powerful and essential poetry.
Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
Ginsberg’s poetry will thrust you back to the beatnik generation and make you feel that the man was almost prophetic. Even those who either don’t care for politics or know nothing about the 1960s will feel enraged and inspired to take action while reading Ginsberg’s work (which was also subject to a huge free speech fight). Howl is not easy to read – the free verse and long lines can be dizzying, but is wholly worth it. With the wisdom and force with which he writes, it is clear why the government was fearful of the author’s work.
Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr
Late in her life, Karr converted to Christianity. Consequently, she was filled with remorse for her past sins. Despite the dark nature of her poetry – losing a close friend, a complicated motherhood, a failed marriage, and an exhausting childhood – Karr’s poetry is witty and hilarious. Sinners Welcome is a surprising collection of work inspired by suffering and spirituality, with some serious humor.
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
You’ve likely heard of Leaves of Grass, but have you read Whitman’s enduring collection? If not, pick up Leaves of Grass now and come back to this website when you are done. Whitman is a true American – one who feels the American way of life should be praised yet challenged, and human life should be lived to the fullest. He is one of the most inspirational poets, who loved his lyrical work just as much as he loved nature (he also really loved himself).
No Planets Strike by Josh Bell
No Planets Strike is Josh Bell’s first collection and it is truly remarkable. His contemporary work provides a much needed modern voice that is insightful, witty, and genuine to the often serious, yet apathetic, time. Bell’s work is exploratory and fearless (zombies appear in his poetry, but it is not in the least bit over-the-top), and each poem is endlessly entertaining. Bell proves that introspective-lyrical-hilarious poetry is alive and well.
Coal by Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde is an admirable woman, filled with courage and impossibly beautiful poetry. She is not afraid to get deeply personal in her work. Described as “black, lesbian, mother, [and] urban woman” by poet Marilyn Hacker, “none of Lorde’s selves has ever silenced the others; the counterpoint among them is often the material of her strongest poems.“ Lorde is assertive and unabashedly herself, writing about her anger towards racism and issues of identity. Her layered work is as impressive as it is impossible to put down.
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