The most recommended poetry books

Who picked these books? Meet our 473 experts.

473 authors created a book list connected to poetry, and here are their favorite poetry books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of poetry book?

Loading...
Loading...

Book cover of The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain

Sean Prentiss Author Of Crosscut: Poems

From my list on trail building and traildogs.

Why am I passionate about this?

In 1997, I was hired by the Northwest Youth Corps as a trail crew leader. That season, and across five more seasons, I built trails across the Pacific Northwest and Desert Southwest, including in many national parks. Since then, I have been in love with backpacking trails (including hiking the Long Trail and Colorado Trail), building trails, and writing about trails (Crosscut: Poems). I now live in Vermont with my wife and daughter. We have a trail we built that weaves through our woods.

Sean's book list on trail building and traildogs

Sean Prentiss Why did Sean love this book?

While I could list many great books on backpacking and hiking trails, there are few books devoted to trail building. I’ll leave behind trail building and focus on a poet, Cold Mountain, who, like those of us who were trail builders, lived in the woods. Cold Mountain, an ancient Chinese poet, wrote his poems on rocks and bark and scattered them across his Tiantai Mountains. These poems are beautiful meditations on landscapes, wildness, Taoism/Buddhism, and politics.

By Red Pine (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This authoritative, bilingual edition represents the first time the entirety of Cold Mountain's poetry has been translated into English.

These translations were originally published by Copper Canyon Press nearly twenty years ago. Now, significantly revised and expanded, the collection also includes a new preface by the translator, Red Pine, whose accompanying notes are at once scholarly, accessible, and entertaining. Also included for the first time are poems by two of Cold Mountain's colleagues.

Legendary for his clarity, directness, and lack of pretension, the eight-century hermit-poet Cold Mountain (Han Shan) is a major figure in the history of Chinese literature and…


Book cover of More Than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor

Paul Frank Spencer Author Of Marvelous Light

From my list on revealing God’s reality through metaphor.

Why am I passionate about this?

My very intelligent, very (self-described) un-literary father taught me all about the complexities and beauty of God. My librarian mother gave me the literature that would introduce me to the most profound descriptions of those complex beauties. As the author of Marvelous Light, numerous metaphor-dependent blog posts, and future allegorical novels, I hope to introduce each of my readers to the divine realities on which I depend daily.

Paul's book list on revealing God’s reality through metaphor

Paul Frank Spencer Why did Paul love this book?

Lakoff famously contends that metaphor is the crux of all human understanding. This classic academic, literary, philosophical, and sociological text suggests that at the root of what it means to be human is an absolute need to describe all experience and knowledge through comparison. Read More Than Cool Reason to begin gaining an appreciation for the theory of how metaphor makes us who we are and establishes our place in the universe.

By George Lakoff, Mark Turner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked More Than Cool Reason as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The authors restore metaphor to our lives by showing us that it's never gone away. We've merely been taught to talk as if it had: as though weather maps were more 'real' than the breath of autumn; as though, for that matter, Reason was really 'cool.' What we're saying whenever we say is a theme this book illumines for anyone attentive." - Hugh Kenner, Johns Hopkins University

"In this bold and powerful book, Lakoff and Turner continue their use of metaphor to show how our minds get hold of the world. They have achieved nothing less than a postmodern Understanding…


Book cover of Imperial Liquor: Poems

Olatunde Osinaike Author Of Tender Headed

From my list on contemporary poetry books revisiting music.

Why am I passionate about this?

I listen to about eight albums of music per week. At least one per day and another of that bunch gathers a re-listen, though more warrant the same! Listening is my favorite hobby. I name it like one would rock climbing or gardening, and though we are here connecting through words and swapping ideas, it all starts with my ear. I most want to feel what I’d like to know, and it is possible that music sometimes held the work of thinking on my behalf. In writing my book, I was most interested in what it meant to be offered the world in such a personal yet composed way each day. 

Olatunde's book list on contemporary poetry books revisiting music

Olatunde Osinaike Why did Olatunde love this book?

Both keen and forgiving, this book traces the amorous and lofty histories of Black masculinity in America while also delighting in the surprises surrounding its speaker(s).

No song is without a community to which it belongs. We sing our songs together. This realization is especially stark and exacting in this book as it chronicles the bounty of lyrics from Marvin Gaye to the Delfonics.

By Amaud Jamaul Johnson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Imperial Liquor is a chronicle of melancholy, a reaction to the monotony of racism. These poems concern loneliness, fear, fatigue, rage, and love; they hold fatherhood held against the vulnerability of the black male body, aging, and urban decay. Part remembrance, part swan song for the Compton, California of the 1980s, Johnson examines the limitations of romance to heal broken relationships or rebuild a broken city. Slow Jams, red-lit rooms, cheap liquor, like seduction and betrayal - what's more American? This book tracks echoes, rides the residue of music "after the love is gone."


Book cover of Here, Bullet

Barbara Nickless Author Of Blood on the Tracks

From my list on what it is like to go to war and come home.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an award-winning and bestselling author who teaches creative writing to veterans as part of a collaboration between the Department of Defense and the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m also an Air Force brat who grew up around military folk. After traumatic events gave me personal experience with post-traumatic stress disorder, I better understood why veterans don’t talk about their time in war. The books on this list are some of my favorites for capturing the terror of battle and the difficulty of reintegrating into a society that gives little thought to the human cost of war. 

Barbara's book list on what it is like to go to war and come home

Barbara Nickless Why did Barbara love this book?

This collection of poems by an Iraq war veteran opens a door into the crazy, horrifying world of America’s time in Iraq. I used this book while teaching a section on poetry to combat veterans at the local university. For some of these men and women, the poems offered their first glimpse into the power of verse. Turner showed my students how, through the searing beauty of words made into images, it was possible to capture—and thus contain—the horrors of war. As Turner writes:

This is a language made of blood.
It is made of sand and time.
To be spoken, it must be earned.

By Brian Turner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A first-person account of the Iraq War by a solider-poet, winner of the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award.

Adding his voice to the current debate about the US occupation of Iraq, in poems written in the tradition of such poets as Wilfred Owen, Yusef Komunyakaa (Dien Cai Dau), Bruce Weigl (Song of Napalm) and Alice James’ own Doug Anderson (The Moon Reflected Fire), Iraqi war veteran Brian Turner writes power-fully affecting poetry of witness, exceptional for its beauty, honesty, and skill. Based on Turner’s yearlong tour in Iraq as an infantry team leader, the poems offer gracefully rendered, unflinching description but,…


Book cover of The Two Dantes, and Other Studies

George Corbett Author Of Dante's Christian Ethics: Purgatory and Its Moral Contexts

From my list on Dante and his religious world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by Dante since my first years at university. For me, reading Dante was the beginning of a journey, opening up a rich world of theology, philosophy, art, literature, science, and culture. As Professor of Theology at the University of St Andrews, I especially enjoy facilitating students’ first encounters with Dante, and seeing how Dante so often leads them, also, to a deeper appreciation of some of the greatest thinkers and makers of our civilisation, from Aristotle and Virgil to Aquinas and Giotto. 

George's book list on Dante and his religious world

George Corbett Why did George love this book?

This book was a revelation to me in first studying Dante. Here was an author taking Dante’s questions, and his answers to those questions, seriously. A brilliant Cambridge Italianist and a Dominican priest, Kenelm Foster is passionately engaged with the theology of Dante.

In this book, he provides his celebrated account of the ‘Two Dantes,’ one overly committed to paganism, the other devoted to Christianity. He also develops his comparison between Aquinas’s theory of implicit faith (according to which pagans may be saved) and Dante’s strange invention of a section of limbo in which virtuous pagans are, it seems, eternally damned. Although I do not hold now to all of Foster’s provocative assumptions or conclusions, I still find his mode of questioning Dante, and reading Dante historically and theologically, inspirational and exhilarating.  

Book cover of The Evolution of a Girl

Lucy Pussett Author Of Diary of a Contemporary Woman

From my list on bold, sexy, sassy, and inspiring female MC.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was raised by my Grandmother who escaped Nazi-occupied Germany. A strong, proud, capable woman who eventually, despite arriving in the UK as a refugee, ended up working for Winston Churchill as a war secretary. Not a feminist but rather a true champion of women. I believe a woman's body, her mind, her essence is her own! I write about strong females, sex positive not under the control of an Alpha male. I have a rare gift for writing Erotica with a real story, which will transport you as if in the room with my characters. More than this, I create characters you'll care about and take with you on your own journey path.

Lucy's book list on bold, sexy, sassy, and inspiring female MC

Lucy Pussett Why did Lucy love this book?

So, a totally underrated, amazing writer and poet. I don’t know much about poetry. I was told by a friend to read this book and I’m so pleased I listened to her. Love the poems in here as some really spoke to my soul, my heart. Beautiful, relatable, powerful, original, heartfelt, heart-warming. I mean I could list adjectives until the cows come home people! Any book which helps women to understand and inspire them on how to grow and become happy in what is sometimes a world full of toxic masculinity gets my thumbs up, esp when it doesn’t read like a feminist on a power rant!! Read it, you can thank me on Instagram after.

By L.E. Bowman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Evolution of a Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Evolution of a Girl is a collection of poetry and prose taking the reader from girl to woman; from heartbreak and anger to transformation and rebirth. It speaks of the strength we find when learning to accept ourselves and the unbreakable softness that comes from unyielding self-love. The Evolution of a Girl is a book for those who are hurting, for those who are healing, and for those who are ready to try again.


Book cover of The Inferno

Mark William Roche Author Of Beautiful Ugliness: Christianity, Modernity, and the Arts

From my list on Books that examine beauty and ugliness.

Why am I passionate about this?

My fields at the University of Notre Dame, where I teach and do research, are philosophy and literature, and I have often been attracted to broader questions. I found ugliness to be a topic of considerable fascination, also for students, and yet it has almost never been addressed. I wrote the book to discover for myself what ugliness is and what it has to do with beauty.

Mark's book list on Books that examine beauty and ugliness

Mark William Roche Why did Mark love this book?

When I was interviewing for a position at Notre Dame, the campus museum had an exhibit of illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, which reinforced to me the fascination of Dante. 

When I began teaching the work a few years later, my students were engrossed by its riveting portrayals of moral ugliness. They were also amazed that Dante places even popes in hell. The work has so inspired my students that one of them submitted her final paper in terza rima, the form Dante uses, and another reflected on where precisely in hell she might belong.

This beautifully translated bilingual edition contains extensive, helpful commentary.

By Dante, Robert Hollander (translator), Jean Hollander (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Probably the most finely accomplished and ... most enduring" translation (Los Angeles Times Book Review) of this essential work of world literature—from a renowned scholar and master teacher of Dante and an accomplished poet.

“The Hollanders … act as latter-day Virgils, guiding us through the Italian text that is printed on the facing page.” —The Economist

The epic grandeur of Dante’s masterpiece has inspired readers for 700 years, andhas entered the human imagination. But the further we move from the late medieval world of Dante, the more a rich understanding and enjoyment of the poem depends on knowledgeable guidance. Robert…


Book cover of The Poetry of Pablo Neruda

Sidik Fofana Author Of Stories from the Tenants Downstairs

From my list on poetry collections with the best sense of voice.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love hip hop. It’s basically poetry with a beat. I'm always thinking of literature in terms of rhythm and delivery. Creatively, my inspirations come from lyricists. I look at poets the same way. They accomplish wonderful feats with words. From years of listening to classic albums, I can feel the aliveness of a good verse. It’s also an element I try to tap into as a fiction writer. I'm a recipient of the 2023 Whiting Award and was also named an Emerging Writer Fellow at the Center for Fiction in 2018. My work has appeared in the Sewanee Review and Granta. He is the author of Stories from the Tenants Downstairs. 

Sidik's book list on poetry collections with the best sense of voice

Sidik Fofana Why did Sidik love this book?

God bless Neruda, old school favorite of all time. Everybody knows his love poems, but this dude's other poems were equally off the wall.

I guess the social activists would love “El Pueblo” which describes one working man and every working man all the same, how they are invisible but steadfast with their hammers on the coal, laboring day to day making the world go round. It’s the most wonderful memorial.

I also love his odes – “Ode to Criticism” the first one which is like, critics suck and then the second version which is like, well, maybe critics have some worth. There’s “Ode to the Dictionary”, too. We need to resurrect this man, for real. 

By Pablo Neruda, Ilan Stavans (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Poetry of Pablo Neruda as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Poetry of Pablo Neruda offers the most comprehensive English-language collection ever by "the greatest poet of the twentieth century--in any language" (Gabriel García Márquez).

"In his work a continent awakens to consciousness." So wrote the Swedish Academy in awarding the Nobel Prize to Pablo Neruda, the author of more than thirty-five books of poetry and one of Latin America's most revered writers, lionized during his lifetime as "the people's poet."

This selection of Neruda's poetry, the most comprehensive single volume available in English, presents nearly six hundred poems, scores of them in new and sometimes multiple translations, and many…


Book cover of Monkey

Tom Newton Author Of Seven Cries of Delight

From my list on making you question the nature of reality.

Why am I passionate about this?

By the age of nine, I was beginning to wonder why things were the way they were, or if indeed they were at all. Perhaps growing up the youngest of five siblings and listening to conflicting opinions set me on my course. One of my sisters introduced me to literature. I began to write plays based on Shakespeare and Monty Python. The love of absurdity took me early on. I liked books that offered a different view of reality. I still do, and it influences what I write today. I believe Borges said something to the effect that all authors keep writing the same book, just in different ways.

Tom's book list on making you question the nature of reality

Tom Newton Why did Tom love this book?

I refer to Arthur Waley’s famous translation and abridgment of the novel Journey to the West, purportedly written by Wu Cheng’en in sixteenth-century China.

The story has the underlying theme of a quest—the protagonist Monkey, born from a stone egg, an impetuous, impatient, self-centered creature, occasionally violent but ultimately good-hearted, seeks knowledge and eternal life. His exploits get him in trouble with the Jade Emperor who imprisons him beneath a mountain for five hundred thousand years. He is released by the monk Tripitaka when he promises to accompany him to India to bring the Buddhist scriptures back to China. Adventures ensue with monsters, dragons, and ghosts. They pick up companions along the way until they eventually succeed and become enlightened.

It is a magical, humorous story with a refreshingly non-western sensibility. It is comprised of Chinese folk tales with added political satire. It also has an almost cartoon-like quality.…

By Wu Cheng’en, Arthur Waley (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Monkey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Probably the most popular book in the history of the Far East, this classic sixteenth century novel is a combination of picaresque novel and folk epic that mixes satire, allegory, and history into a rollicking adventure. It is the story of the roguish Monkey and his encounters with major and minor spirits, gods, demigods, demons, ogres, monsters, and fairies. This translation, by the distinguished scholar Arthur Waley, is the first accurate English version; it makes available to the Western reader a faithful reproduction of the spirit and meaning of the original.


Book cover of Candy Corn: Poems

Bob Raczka Author Of Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems

From my list on children’s poetry that also appeals to adults.

Why am I passionate about this?

Many people are intimidated by poetry. For a big part of my life, I was too. So much of the poetry I had been exposed to was either indecipherable or irrelevant to me. Then I discovered some poems that I loved—accessible poems about subjects I related to. I started collecting poetry books, by both adult and children’s poets. Eventually, I was inspired to write poetry of my own. Today, I’m a poetry advocate, recommending my favorites to anyone who shows interest. The satisfaction I get from poetry boils down to this: When I read a good poem, I think to myself, “Wow, I didn’t know words could do that.”

Bob's book list on children’s poetry that also appeals to adults

Bob Raczka Why did Bob love this book?

When I first became interested in children’s poetry, I found a seven-book series by James Stevenson—all self-illustrated, and all with titles containing the word “corn.” I loved everything about them, including his loose pen-and-ink illustrations washed with watercolor. His style seems effortless, with unique and relatable observations on everyday scenes or objects. A lot of poetry feels like it’s trying too hard. Stevenson taught me the power of not letting the effort show. Here’s a perfect example:

There’s a yellow chair
at the junkyard gate.
Sometimes an old guy sits there
just to make sure
nobody swipes a crane.

By James Stevenson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The author of Popcorn amasses a collection of short poems with titles such as "The Morning After Halloween," "Dumpsters," and "What Frogs Say To Each Other."