Creative Writing Fiction 10 min2023-07-28 00:00

35 Best Poetry Books of All Time

poetry books

Reading poetry allows us to uncover truths that we would never find on our own. Great poets have experienced the same emotions and situations we still experience today, and reading their words can help us understand our own lives with more nuance.

So, if you’re looking for some new poetry collections to add to your reading list, you’ve come to the right place.

This article will give you 35 fantastic poetry books to try, including books by modern poets, poem books about love, poems about nature, and more.

Modern Poetry Books

Poetry is a constantly evolving art form, and there are many modern poets publishing powerful new poems. Let’s start our list with some modern poetry books that were published within the past few decades.

1. When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz (2012)

In these lyrical poems, Natalie Diaz writes about the complex dynamics in her Mojave family.

Excerpt: “I watched a lion eat a man like a piece of fruit, peel tendons from fascia / like pith from rind, then lick the sweet meat from its hard core of bones.”

2. Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman (2021)

Amanda Gorman is famous for reading her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. The poems in Call Us What We Carry are just as intimate and beautiful.

Excerpt: “In other words, / Our scars are the brightest / Parts of us.”

3. Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (2016)

Ocean Vuong’s gorgeous poems depict the pain and joy of being a Vietnamese refugee.

Excerpt: “I don’t know / desire other than the need / to be shattered & rebuilt”

4. Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell (2016)

Courtney Peppernell writes about love and heartbreak in a thoughtful and vulnerable way.

Excerpt: “I am no more the person that you left than you are the person I miss.”

5. Mary Wants to Be a Superwoman by Erica Lewis (2017)

Erica Lewis’ poems explore the complex intersection of gender, race, and class that women in her community experience.

Excerpt: “i’m fine thanks for asking / i’m an iron man / awakened by the clapping”

6. Soft Science by Franny Choi (2019)

Franny Choi writes about what it means to be conscious, Asian, female, and queer in a world full of artificial machines.

Excerpt: “Or: I am only trying to slither back into my first skin. / Or: I am only trying to remember how it felt not to leak.”

7. Flowers on the Moon by Billy Chapata (2020)

Billy Chapata’s collection reminds us to set boundaries, build relationships, and love ourselves for who we are.

Excerpt: “darling, if you have to convince them of your worthiness, they might not be worth holding on to. poison comes in shiny bottles too.”

8. And Yet by Kate Baer (2022)

Kate Baer, who went viral online with poems she published on Instagram, writes about love and loss and motherhood.

Excerpt: “We expect so much of children, hovering above them like giant, invincible gods.”

modern poetry books

Popular Poetry Books

Many classic books of poetry have remained popular for decades or even centuries.

Here are our picks for the best classic poetry books that still remain popular today.

9. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson (18301886)

Though Emily Dickinson published very few poems while she was alive, her work has now become beloved around the world.  

Excerpt: “Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul, / And sings the tune without the words, / And never stops at all”

10. The Collected Poems by Langston Hughes (19011967)

Langston Hughes’ poems were a staple of the Harlem Renaissance and remain just as powerful today.

Excerpt: “What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / Like a raisin in the sun?”

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11. 100 Selected Poems by E.E. Cummings (18941962)

The famous 19th century poet E.E. Cummings is known for his playful writing style and his departure from traditional verse.

Excerpt: “l(a / le / af / fa / ll  / s) / one / l / iness”

12. The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou (19282014)

This collection compiles Maya Angelou’s most powerful writing, including two of her most famous poems, “Still I Rise” and “On the Pulse of Morning.”

Excerpt: “The caged bird sings with a fearful trill / of things unknown but longed for still”

13. The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks by Gwendolyn Brooks (19172000)

Gwendolyn Brooks draws inspiration from sonnets, spirituals, blues, and more to depict the struggles faced by ordinary people.

Excerpt: “We / Sing sin. We / Thin gin. We / Jazz June. We / Die soon.”

14. The Essential Rūmī by Rūmī, translated by Coleman Barks (12071273)

This collection of mystical 80 poems compiles the most famous work of Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī.

Excerpt: “Be melting snow. / Wash yourself of yourself.”

15. The Complete Poems by John Keats (17951821)

John Keats is one of the famous Romantic poets, best known for “Ode to a Grecian Urn.”

Excerpt: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”

16. The Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Edna St. Vincent Millay (18921950)

Edna St. Vincent Millay, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923, was one of the most esteemed poets in America during the Roaring Twenties.

Excerpt: “And he whose soul is flat—the sky / Will cave in on him by and by.”

popular poetry books

Best Poetry Books About Love

Love poetry is among the most popular forms of poetry because it captures such a universal feeling. Whether you’re entering a new romance or in an established relationship, these poems encapsulate all the feelings you can’t find the words to express.

17. The Sonnets by William Shakespeare (15641616)

Shakespeare’s love poems are among the best-known in the world, full of witty wordplay and memorable rhymes.  

Excerpt: “Give me one kiss, I’ll give it thee again, / And one for int’rest, if thou wilt have twain.”

18. Love Poems by Pablo Neruda (19041973)

Pablo Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971, wrote entrancing love poems in both Spanish and English.

Excerpt: “I love you as certain dark things are loved, secretly, between the shadow and the soul.”

19. If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Sappho (died 570 BCE), translated by Anne Carson

Sappho, one of the most famous lesbian poets in history, wrote many poems during her lifetime, but almost all were lost. This collection compiles the fragments that survived.

Excerpt: “Eros shook my / mind like a mountain wind falling on oak trees”

20. The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi (825900) and Izumi Shikibu (9761030), translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani

Ono No Komachi and Izumi Shikibu were court women in ancient Japan who wrote about longing and love.

Excerpt: “Even if I now saw you / only once, / I would long for you / through worlds, / worlds.”

poetry books about love

Top Sad Poetry Books

When you’re sad, it’s healthy to let yourself fully feel your negative emotions instead of repressing them. Reading sad poetry can be a great way to inhabit your feelings.

21. Ariel by Sylvia Plath (19321963)

If you’ve read Plath’s famous confessional novel The Bell Jar, you’ll know that her work can be dark and despairing. Ariel is no less sad, but it’s also gorgeously written.

Excerpt: “I am terrified by this dark thing / That sleeps in me; / All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity”

22. The Collected Poems by Audre Lorde (19341992)

Audre Lorde was a Black lesbian feminist whose poems are hard-hitting and lyrical.

Excerpt: “Death / folds the corners of my mouth / into a heart-shaped star.”

23. Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich (19292012)

Adrienne Rich’s poems explore the things that have been lost and submerged.

Excerpt: “I came to explore the wreck. / The words are purposes. / The words are maps.”

sad poetry books

Good Poetry Books About Nature

Many poets take inspiration from the natural world and pay homage to it in their work. Here are some great collections related to nature.

24. Wild Geese by Mary Oliver (19352019)

Mary Oliver is famous for the small details she notices in the natural world, whether it’s a bird sitting in a tree or a wild fox crossing the road.

Excerpt: “Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, / are heading home again.”

25. Robert Frost’s Poems by Robert Frost (18741963)

Robert Frost writes about various scenes in the New England countryside in a poignant and charming way.

Excerpt: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

26. On Love and Barley: Haiku of Bashō by Bashō, (16441694), translated by Lucien Stark

Bashō, one of the Japanese greatest haiku masters, writes elegant and observant haiku about the natural world.

Excerpt: “On a leafless branch / A crow comes to rest— / Autumn nightfall”

27. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (18191892)

Leaves of Grass, a groundbreaking ode to nature and humanity, includes Whitman’s famous poems “I Sing the Body Electric” and “Song of Myself.”  

Excerpt: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself, / And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

poetry books about nature

Best Poetry Books About Childhood

Many poets write about childhood in a way that captures nostalgia and innocence.

28. A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (18501894)

These 66 poems capture various moments in the lives of children, from playing on a swing to sailing boats down the river.

Excerpt: “When children are happy and lonely and good, / The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.”

29. Songs of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake (17571827)

Published in 1789, this timeless collection of poems aim to showcase two different elements of the human experience.

Excerpt: “Tyger Tyger, burning bright / In the forests of the night; / What immortal hand or eye, / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

30. I Remember by Joe Brainard (19421994)

This poetry book, which is part poetry and part memoir, captures specific memories from Brainard’s life in a litany of paragraphs that begin with the words “I remember.”

Excerpt: “I remember turning around and around real fast until you can’t stand up.”

31. Judas Goat by Gabrielle Bates (unknown)

Gabrielle Bates writes about her childhood growing up in the Deep South and her adulthood in Seattle.

Excerpt: “I’ve missed / feeding all my thoughts through that revolving blade / so thin it could only be felt.”

poetry books about childhood

Best Poem Books About Travel

Travel is another popular subject for poetry, whether it’s traveling to a new country or to a different planet. Here are some poetry books about travel.

32. Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop (19111979)

Elizabeth Bishop’s lauded collection is split into two parts: “Brazil” and “Elsewhere.”

Excerpt: “Continent, city, country, society: / the choice is never wide and never free.”

33. Eye Level by Jenny Xie (unknown)

Jenny Xie’s poems transport the reader to Phnom Penh, Hanoi, New York and countless other cities.

Excerpt: “Planes and buses, guesthouse to guesthouse.”

34. Picture Bride by Cathy Song (1955)

Cathy Wong won the 1982 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition with Picture Bride.

Excerpt: “I made no distinctions; / for me, everything was edible.”

poetry books about travel

35. Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith (1972)

Tracy Smith’s poems about interplanetary travel explore the most universal aspects of humankind.

Excerpt: “everything that disappears / disappears as if returning somewhere.”

There you have it—our top recommendations for great poetry books to read.

Good luck, and happy reading!

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