The best poetry books 📚

Browse the best books on poetry as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home

Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home

By Burton Watson, Saigyo

Why this book?

Saigyo (1118-1190) was one of the most influential Japanese poets. His name means "Westward Journey" which implies moving toward the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha. The poems bring out the bitter-sweet quality of life, beauty and loneliness, blooming spring and frosty winter, cherry petals and tears that fall, echoing the deep emotionality and mystery of the spirit of Japanese Buddhism.

From the list:

The best books on the spirit of Japanese Buddhism

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Book cover of How to Grow Your Own Poem

How to Grow Your Own Poem

By Kate Clanchy

Why this book?

Even if you don’t want to be a poet, there’s something about playing with poetic form that I think is useful to any writer because it enables you to explore the use of rhythm, metaphor, simile and other ways of honing your consciousness into literary and written form. It demands specificity of description and uniqueness of voice, and Kate Clanchy’s book - she is herself a published poet, writer but also a teacher - gets to the nub of it through examples and exercise, to emerge a more fluent and confident writer, and in whichever form you choose.

From the list:

The best books by writers on writing

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Book cover of Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

By Eliot Weinberg

Why this book?

An extraordinary gem of a booklet that considers the many ways that four lines of a single poem, composed by an 8th century Chinese Buddhist, have been translated into modern idiom. It is amazing how a mere twenty ideograms, depicting a mountain and forest scene devoid of people, can illuminate the variety and subtlety of consciousness. I recommend the 2016 edition with additional translations.

From the list:

The best books on consciousness from a neuroscientist

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Book cover of Collected Poems

Collected Poems

By Philip Larkin

Why this book?

By its very nature, poetry is about compression. At its best — again, at least to me — a great poem opens up over and over as you read and reread it. It’s a constant journey of discovery. And Northern Ireland’s Philip Larkin, the best English-speaking poet of the 20th century that most Americans have never read, is a master of the compressive arts. I’m recommending his entire Collected Poems here, but if you read only one Larkin poem, make it “Church Going.” In 474 carefully chosen words describing his visit to a mostly abandoned country cathedral, Larkin delivers…

From the list:

The best books that tell a big story through a small lens

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Book cover of Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

By Mary Oliver

Why this book?

Devotions is a comprehensive anthology of Mary Oliver’s best work. Oliver is without a doubt the gold standard in nature poetry, and one of the most renowned authors of the genre. It reminds me of all the reasons why she is and will always be my favorite poet, and one of the best poets of the last century. If anyone feels themselves drawn to nature poetry, this book is a must-read.

From the list:

The best contemporary nature poetry books

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Book cover of Walking Home: A Poet's Journey

Walking Home: A Poet's Journey

By Simon Armitage

Why this book?

This is one of the best books I have read about a long walk – in this case, the poet laureate Simon Armitage’s account of the 19 days he spent walking the Pennine Way, beginning at its northern extremity and ending up near his home in West Yorkshire. This is not a precious, solipsistic memoir of the sort favoured by many of our celebrated New Nature Writers, but a wonderfully droll account of what was often a hard slog, where at the end of each day Armitage, who set off without any money, sings for his supper, reading poetry in…

From the list:

The best books evoking the spirit of the British countryside

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