The most human poetry books for an increasingly inhuman world

Who am I?

I've been writing poetry since second grade, although oddly it took me until after college (where I was Class Poet) to start writing poetry that *gasp* didn't rhyme. (Did I mention I grew up on Ogden Nash and Shel Silverstein?) I started attending local poetry slams and then poetry festivals like WordXWord, and listening and performing there showed me what poetry could be. Poems can crystalize in a few lines a universal truth you've felt for years but been unable to express. I think that's amazing. (I also think it's better with a dash of humor mixed in, because I'm a humor columnist and I'm biased.)


I wrote...

The Disapproval of My Toaster

By Seth Brown,

Book cover of The Disapproval of My Toaster

What is my book about?

This collection of poetry speaks to the human condition: plaintive yet hopeful, ridiculous but thought-provoking, covering topics ranging from spider murder to stolen cookies to the complexities of love. Written during the first two years of the pandemic, this is a smattering of universal truths that cuts into the social structure of our new world of trauma and distance.

In other words, if you find humanity (yours or the world's) overwhelming at times, maybe this book is for you.

The books I picked & why

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Spiking the Sucker Punch

By Robbie Q. Telfer,

Book cover of Spiking the Sucker Punch

Why this book?

I love this book. I am, of course, tremendously biased as someone who believes that humor is the best gateway to truth, and this collection of poems contains a lot of humor and no small amount of truth, and even some truth about humor in the form of “Clowns”, a tremendously moving piece about comedians which proves what I've always said, the only important thing to be serious about is comedy. For anyone who has ever done stand-up, that poem is seriously a must-read. But the whole book is a much-needed shot to the heart and funny bone.

Spiking the Sucker Punch

By Robbie Q. Telfer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spiking the Sucker Punch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Spiking the Sucker Punch, Robbie Q. Telfer's first published collection, the author profiles the modern comedian from the inside out - starting with the innards and moving toward a damaged laughter.  His work blends surrealism and narrative, bending grammar and expectations along the way.  These pieces interrogate identity, place, and lead the reader to a much higher understanding of bears.


It Starts from the Belly and Blooms: Poems

By Thomas Fucaloro,

Book cover of It Starts from the Belly and Blooms: Poems

Why this book?

Nothing says humanity like vulnerability about the messy, imperfect creatures we are, and this book has that in spades. (Or I guess, more appropriately, hearts.) I could talk about how the book is darkly funny and reveals hidden depths of the soul, but I'll admit one thing I love about it is that it contains one of the most beautiful, inspiring poems I've ever heard, one I share frequently, with some devastating lines and a real sense of hope that it's okay to feel broken and still fight on, and the poem is titled, “I Can't Believe I Let You Touch My Balls”.  It's like if that old piano player joke was real life.

It Starts from the Belly and Blooms: Poems

By Thomas Fucaloro,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked It Starts from the Belly and Blooms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A strong dose of Bukowski, Breaking Bad, and brilliance. Intense and gripping, with splashes of outlandish humor, it is a full frontal assault on the challenges of modern life for outsiders. As award-winning poet Mark Bibbins raves, "Thomas Fucaloro is here and he is showing you his big messy heart. (Actually, if you're looking for other body parts, you'll find most of them in this book.). Poet Corrina Bain (louderARTS project) applauds the work: "It Starts from the Belly and Blooms dives facefirst into the glory and wildness of life, combining fearless authenticity, humor, and a gut-punching ear for images.…


The Year of No Mistakes

By Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz,

Book cover of The Year of No Mistakes

Why this book?

They say, “Don't judge a book by its cover,” but sometimes you can judge a book of poems a little bit by the titles if they're really good. That'd be a terrible quote, but it's still true, and some of the poem titles in this book of heartbreak are a whole journey in themselves, like “Not Doing Something Wrong Isn't the Same as Doing Something Right,” whose opening three words, “In my defense,” echo repeatedly throughout the poem and throughout my head. When it's heartbreak time, I'd suggest either listening to MC Abdominal's song “Broken” on repeat, or reading this book.

The Year of No Mistakes

By Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Year of No Mistakes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Year of No Mistakes, Aptowicz goes cross country and tackles themes like love, lust, heartache and ambition in poems set in cities across the United States. While the backbone of the book is the slow break-up of her decade-long relationship, the heart remains Aptowicz falling in love with Americana. Sharply observant and unflinchingly truthful, her poems may be funny or heartbreaking, spare or lush, bright or dark, but they are always honest and engaging working class poems. Written during the fellowship year of her National Endowment for the Arts grant, poems from this collection have already been published…


The Last Time As We Are

By Taylor Mali,

Book cover of The Last Time As We Are

Why this book?

There's a good chance you're familiar with his poem “What Teachers Make”, from his other book. But this is the book that has his most poignant and human poems, including “Tony Steinberg: Brave Seventh Grade Viking Warrior”, which has long been one of my partner's favorite poems, and accomplishes in a few minutes of words what many Hollywood movies try and fail to accomplish with a full cast, two hours, and hundreds of millions of dollars: It alternately makes you laugh and cry. Which I say as someone who has seen it performed many times, and it still makes me laugh every time, and still makes me cry every time.

The Last Time As We Are

By Taylor Mali,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Time As We Are as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

You don't need a classroom to be a teacher, and you don't need to be a teacher to help someone learn a lesson. Taylor Mali's poetry explores this truth in entertaining and plainspoken ways because "the last thing this world needs is another poem" ("The Call to What We Know"). Whether discussing the language of love or the love of language, the poems contained in The Last Time As We Are prove that "He who dares to teach must never cease to learn." Not since Taylor Mali has there been a poet the likes of Taylor Mali-he is a man…


We Were All Someone Else Yesterday

By Omar Holmon,

Book cover of We Were All Someone Else Yesterday

Why this book?

So, we often think of what is human as being vulnerable and real. Which this book is. But to me, the pinnacle of humanity is humor, and the ability to use humor even in tough times is what makes humanity great. Which this book also is. It's got tough times but it's got a whole lot of humor mixed in, from the funny bits in the sad poems, to full-on non-stop barrages of humor in poems like "Jesus Christ Super Toaster" which had me in hysterics when I saw it performed.

And I'm realizing from making my whole list, that's what I want. I want hilarious poems when I'm in a good mood, and when I'm feeling sad and human, I still want to explore that in a funny way.

We Were All Someone Else Yesterday

By Omar Holmon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Were All Someone Else Yesterday as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A hybrid text that deals most urgently in the articulation of growth and grief. After the loss of his mother, Omar Holmon re-learns how to live by immersing himself in popular culture, becoming well-versed in using the many modes of pop culture to spell out his emotions. This book is made up of both poems and essays, drenched in both sadness and unmistakable humor. Teeming with references that are touchable, no matter what you do or don’t know, this book feels warm and inviting.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in poetry, Jesus, and humour books?

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