The best book-length poems of the past 50 years

Why am I passionate about this?

As a poet and a novelist, I'm fascinated by the places where these two genres meet, undo each other, and create something new again. That sounds a lot like what love can do, and whenever I read a long poem that achieves a unique aesthetic unity, I feel the writer has found a new way to love the world, to love the reader. And, as usual, both the world and the reader are challenged by that love—to grow.


I wrote...

The Magic Words: Simple Poetry Prompts That Unlock the Creativity in Everyone

By Joseph Fasano,

Book cover of The Magic Words: Simple Poetry Prompts That Unlock the Creativity in Everyone

What is my book about?

We all have stories and songs inside us—whether or not we consider ourselves “creative.” The Magic Words presents tools that allow anyone to experience the transformative joy of creative expression.

The fifty simple yet powerful prompts in this book are poems that you complete yourself. By adding just a few words of your own, you create something beautiful and wholly new—that comes from within.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Deepstep Come Shining

Joseph Fasano Why did I love this book?

Poets have many tools at their disposal in their attempt to bring aesthetic unity to a long poem, and C. D. Wright is innovative in her use of imagery and cinematic grammar to do exactly that.

This is a book to be studied for its remarkable ability to convey, in what Auden called “memorable speech,” the beautiful doom of the common heart.   

By C.D. Wright,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Deepstep Come Shining as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rebellious and fiercely lyrical, the poems of C.D. Wright incorporate elements of disjunction and odd juxtaposition in their exploration of unfolding context. "In my book," she writes, "poetry is a necessity of life. It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so."

C.D. Wright was born and raised in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. She has received numerous awards for her work, including grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy and Institute for Arts and Letters, and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Foundation.…


Book cover of Prophets

Joseph Fasano Why did I love this book?

I studied this book with my graduate students a few years ago, and it’s truly a remarkable achievement. If there’s a (somewhat artificial) spectrum of book-length poems ranging from fragmented lyricism to linear narration, Dawes’ Prophets is fascinating because it lives somewhere in the middle: a powerful narrative informs the lyrical intensity throughout.

I highly recommend this book to writers who want to expand their ideas of what can be done with narration.  

By Kwame Dawes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prophets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in Jamaica in the late 1980s and 1990s, Prophets is a poem of rhythmic and metaphoric inventiveness that portrays the social and cultural resonances of Jamaican society along with the tension between an ebullient cynicism and a heartfelt desire for faith. As 24-hour television, belching out the voices of American hellfire preachers, competes with dancehall, slackness, and ganja for Jamaican minds, Clarice and Thalbot preach their own conflicting visions. Clarice has used her gifts to raise herself from the urban Jamaican ghetto. She basks in the adulation of her followers as they look to her for their personal salvation.…


Book cover of The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You

Joseph Fasano Why did I love this book?

When I worked at the Academy of American Poets many years ago, I found a record of Stanford’s submission to the Walt Whitman Award. The Editors told him his submission could not be accepted because it exceeded the page limit—by about 500 pages.

The poem he submitted was The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, and if you’re interested in archetypal imagery that will shatter your heart and put it back together again differently, entirely differently, this wild ride is for you.  

By Frank Stanford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Poetry. Frank Stanford was called by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Alan Dugan a brilliant poet, ample in his work, like Whitman. He was the founder of Lost Roads Publishers and the author of a number of important works, among them the epic THE BATTLEFIELD WHERE THE MOON SAYS I LOVE YOU, reprinted by Lost Roads under the editorship of Forrest Gander and C.D. Wright. Frank Stanford said his purpose in his writing and with his press was to 'reclaim the landscape of American poetry' - The Arkansas Times. Stanford ended his own life in 1978 when he was 29. The reprinting…


Book cover of Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse

Joseph Fasano Why did I love this book?

 On the spectrum that ranges from narrative fragmentation to narrative linearity, this verse novel triumphs in its capacity to compel the reader both to turn the page and linger over every fine phrase.

A remarkably contemporary retelling of ancient myth, Autobiography of Red reminds us that the ancient stories are the new ones. As the poet Linda Gregg once wrote, “The singers change, the music goes on.” This is a must-read for all students of poetry and lovers of literary experimentation.

By Anne Carson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Autobiography of Red as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this extraordinary epic poem, Anne Carson bridges the gap between classicism and the modern, poetry and prose, with a volcanic journey into the soul of a winged red monster named Geryon.

There is a strong mixture of whimsy and sadness in Geryon's story. He is tormented as a boy by his brother, escapes to a parallel world of photography, and falls in love with Herakles - a golden young man who leaves Geryon at the peak of infatuation. Geryon retreats ever further into the world created by his camera, until that glass house is suddenly and irrevocably shattered by…


Book cover of Don't Let Me Be Lonely

Joseph Fasano Why did I love this book?

Ultimately, this is a work about trauma, both personal and cultural; it is a deeply human testimony to trauma’s power to erase, shape, and reshape the narratives of our lives.

The self, this book implies, is one such narrative, and the forces of contemporary society act in powerful and often surreptitious ways to shape that story.

Rankine is a complete original in her methods of tackling these mysteries, and a reader leaves this book with a sense of having woken, if only a bit more, to the forces that are living our lives for us.

By Claudia Rankine,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Don't Let Me Be Lonely as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant and unsparing examination of America in the early twenty-first century, Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely invents a new genre to confront the particular loneliness and rapacious assault on selfhood that our media have inflicted upon our lives. Fusing the lyric, the essay, and the visual, Rankine negotiates the enduring anxieties of medicated depression, race riots, divisive elections, terrorist attacks, and ongoing wars—doom scrolling through the daily news feeds that keep us glued to our screens and that have come to define our age.

First published in 2004, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is a hauntingly prescient…


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Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

Book cover of Rewriting Illness

Elizabeth Benedict

New book alert!

What is my book about?

What happens when a novelist with a “razor-sharp wit” (Newsday), a “singular sensibility” (Huff Post), and a lifetime of fear about getting sick finds a lump where no lump should be? Months of medical mishaps, coded language, and Doctors who don't get it.

With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling artistry of an acclaimed novelist, Elizabeth Benedict recollects her cancer diagnosis after discovering multiplying lumps in her armpit. In compact, explosive chapters, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity, she chronicles her illness from muddled diagnosis to “natural remedies,” to debilitating treatments, as she gathers sustenance from family, an assortment of urbane friends, and a fearless “cancer guru.”

Rewriting Illness is suffused with suspense, secrets, and the unexpected solace of silence.

Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

What is this book about?

By turns somber and funny but above all provocative, Elizabeth Benedict's Rewriting Illness: A View of My Own is a most unconventional memoir. With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling skills of a seasoned novelist, she brings to life her cancer diagnosis and committed hypochondria. As she discovers multiplying lumps in her armpit, she describes her initial terror, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity as she indulges in "natural remedies," among them chanting Tibetan mantras, drinking shots of wheat grass, and finding medicinal properties in chocolate babka. She tracks the progression of her illness from muddled diagnosis to debilitating treatment…


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