174 books directly related to poetry 📚

All 174 poetry books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

How to Grow Your Own Poem

By Kate Clanchy,

Book cover of How to Grow Your Own Poem

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.


Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

By Eliot Weinberg,

Book cover of Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

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.


Collected Poems

By Philip Larkin,

Book cover of Collected Poems

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 the equivalent of a 10,000-word treatise on the state of religion in the Western World today.


Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

By Mary Oliver,

Book cover of Devotions: The Selected Poems of 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.


Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011

By Marilyn Nelson,

Book cover of Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011

Why this book?

Marilyn Nelson’s poetry is staggeringly good, particularly the way she writes formal poems—sonnets!—in a humble voice, like her sonnet “From an Alabama Farmer.” Nelson’s poem “To the Confederate Dead,” with its epigraph by Allen Tate is a better poem than Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead,” with which it is in conversation. Nelson’s ‘wreath’ of sonnets, “A Wreath for Emmett Till,” is simply sublime.


A Fortune for Your Disaster

By Hanif Abdurraqib,

Book cover of A Fortune for Your Disaster

Why this book?

Hanif Abdurraqib has a way of making you forget you’re reading poetry while also reminding you that nothing else could be as poetic as one of his poems. They always unravel in a way only his unique way of storytelling permits. It’s truly a skill that is mastered beautifully in this collection.


Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

By Jane Hirschfield,

Book cover of Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

Why this book?

In order to retrieve my sense of seeing in the present, I went to my second home in Mexico, read a little each morning, and then went walking without any destination. This is the book I was reading those mornings in Mexico, before my walks. It may seem odd to start with a book about poetry, but this one opened the gate to seeing and to taking my first photograph.

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany

By Jane Mount,

Book cover of Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany

Why this book?

From the workspaces of famous authors to bookish quiz questions to portraits of the most adorable bookstore cats, this one is an illustrated love letter to the universe of books. Jane Mount recommends her best reads from memoirs to fantasy, shows her favourite bookstores, and presents songs about books, books that were turned into great films and so much more, including for sure some beautiful book facts that are new to your giftee.


Be Holding: A Poem

By Ross Gay,

Book cover of Be Holding: A Poem

Why this book?

In this book-length poem, Ross Gay manages to “talk” to the reader intimately without once “mansplaning” the way that so much of the tradition of “nature writing” has, for centuries, done. With the refrains of “what am I seeing?” and “what am I practicing?” Gay creates what feels like a genuine conversation with the reader, allowing me to ask myself the same questions as I read, to form my own thoughts and feelings, rather than passively receiving his.

In what I find to be his best work yet, Gay offers a genuine invitation to the reader to join into the seeing and feeling and meaning-making, thus making the meaning-making infinitely more meaningful. Be Holding is like a personal letter taken from its envelope, but somehow intended for all of us. It is as intricate as it is accessible and clear.


The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry,

Book cover of The Peace of Wild Things

Why this book?

While this book of poems, first published in 1964, does hark back to a past era, the poems themselves are timeless. There’s an underlying sense of peace, which gives me solace when I feel bleak and filled with a nameless anxiety. Despite the sorrows, there’s grace in these poems, and in the world Berry speaks of — a simpler world than the one we live in today. Yet, each time I read them, I’m enriched with comfort and hope that frees me from the melancholy of living in a modern world that appears to be losing its way.


Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

By Mary Ruefle,

Book cover of Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

Why this book?

A series of poetry lectures not intended for publication, they combine to form an astounding journey into language and art. You don’t need to be a poet to love the casual way she delivers bomb after bomb, and to wish you’d been her student. I guess this is as close as I’ll get, and it’s taken a long time (I’m still not done) because I can just sit on a phrase or a page for an entire subway ride. Definitely would have failed her class, but having the lectures written out is like getting an extension without needing to grovel for it.


Love That Dog

By Sharon Creech,

Book cover of Love That Dog

Why this book?

Want a book that tells a poignant story and will inspire you to write poetry? Well, have your tissues ready for this one. Jack, an elementary school student, balks at writing poetry. When Miss Stretchberry’s class examines various famous poets’ work he is critical. For example, he thinks “Mr. Robert Frost has a little too much time on his hands.” This short funny and moving novel in free verse follows Jack’s journey as he learns to use poetry to express his feelings and to eulogize his beloved yellow dog, Sky. The poems mentioned in the book are included at the end. Just like poetry at its best, Love That Dog will enchant readers while using only a few special words. 


An American Sunrise: Poems

By Joy Harjo,

Book cover of An American Sunrise: Poems

Why this book?

The current United States Poet Laureate. She is an artist and not just of words. Harjo plays a mean saxophone. And writes poetry to send the soul soaring. Reminding me of the sky, the soil, the roots. My roots. “Do you know how to make a peaceful road through human memory?” Harjo’s Muscogee roots have their beginnings in the soil that nurtured some of my Georgia-born ancestors. What can I say? I feel the words.


Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling

By Carole Satyamurti,

Book cover of Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling

Why this book?

Considered to be the longest poem in the world, the Sanskrit Mahabharata is comprised of around 1.8 million words (for comparison: the combined length of the seven Harry Potter books is barely 1.1 million words). At 928 pages, Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling is by no means a short book, but it does make the massive Sanskrit epic very accessible for general readers. While the Sanskrit Mahabharata is primarily composed in couplets called shlokas, Carole Satyamurti’s masterful retelling is in blank verse, which is the meter of my two favorite English epics: John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Jack Mitchell’s The Odyssey of Star Wars. I also especially love the way Satyamurti presents Karna, the secret elder brother of Pandavas and one of the greatest tragic heroes in world literature. 


Speaking of Siva

By Anonymous, A.K. Ramanujan (translator),

Book cover of Speaking of Siva

Why this book?

This book of ancient vacanas- lyric verse of four saint-poets of South India- will seer into your heart. These mystical poems, translated by one of India’s most revered writers, bring the reader into direct experience with the divine, or God, or Shiva, cutting through caste, class, race, religion, and culture. Born of the bhakti (devotional) protest movement, these poems will remind you of Rumi. I’m always surprised that these soulful poems are not better known to Western readers. Read a verse. Sit in meditation. Notice what happens inside your body. 


This Craft of Verse

By Jorge Luis Borges,

Book cover of This Craft of Verse

Why this book?

If you love Borges, and thought you’d read everything he wrote, this is the book for you—a collection of his “lost lectures,” delivered at Harvard in 1967-68 and finally published in 2000. And if you want to hear the actual voice of a creative genius, as if risen from the dead, the recordings are also available. Best known for his intricate short stories and essays, Borges was also—perhaps foremost—a poet. As he puts it in the book, “The central fact of my life has been the existence of words and the possibility of weaving those words into poetry.” Starting from the creation of poems, Borges explores the creation of metaphors, meaning, and life’s irreducible mystery.


William Wordsworth: Selected Poems

By William Wordsworth,

Book cover of William Wordsworth: Selected Poems

Why this book?

I cherish this book and always take it on holiday with me. "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" is probably the best romantic nature poem ever written. The image of how the senses are responsive to, and creative of, the inner life of nature is sublime ("of eye, and ear, - both what they half create, And what perceive”). This poem encapsulates for me the whole nebulous but immeasurably important job of writing poetry, as well as shining a light on what it means to be a human being.


The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile

By Alice Oswald,

Book cover of The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile

Why this book?

Alice Oswald is one of our best living poets, renowned for her nature poetry and particularly her long poem about the River Dart in Somerset. I love this first collection, full of heart-stopping attention to detail and transcendental shiver. She follows very much in the tradition of our great poets writing about nature. Try the poem "Mountains" for a Wordsworthian sense of a hidden, almost pantheistic presence in the world. 


Water Sings Blue

By Kate Coombs, Meilo So (illustrator),

Book cover of Water Sings Blue

Why this book?

To me, this book feels like a walk along the beach. I pick up each poem, sink into the swirls and splashes of color, and let my mind wander. Books that encourage such meandering strolls near the ocean have a special place in my heart: the idea for my horseshoe crab book started on just such a walk. Water Sings Blue is a great reminder that you never know what wonders you will discover when you go outside and let your curiosity guide you. 


Bone

By Yrsa Daley-Ward,

Book cover of Bone

Why this book?

Yrsa-Daley Ward is a complete sentence. Her work is everything and even Beyonce took note, bringing her on to write for Black Is King. Her debut poetry collection, Bone, introduced me to a perspective that I had not explored: that of a first-generation black British queer woman. Yet and still, her experience and words resonated so deeply, highlighting the interconnectivity of the African diaspora, and particularly, Black women. It shined a light on issues of sexual assault, religion, and society’s expectations of women, which are some of the same issues that I write about. And despite the trauma captured in the poems, it has an overarching inspirational message for all of us:

You will come away bruised. 

You will come away bruised 

but this will give you poetry.” 


Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words

By Susan G. Wooldridge,

Book cover of Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words

Why this book?

Susan Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy is a vibrant collage in which she shares her poetry-writing journey in rich detail. From evocative chapter titles, quotes by poets, and poems from a variety of lesser-known voices, each element plays a part in setting up and illustrating an approach or addressing the topic at hand. My favorite part of this book is the “Practice” opportunities Wooldridge crafts for us. Get out your pencil! This book, informed by Wooldridge’s expressive arts practice, is one in which we, the readers, are invited to play. You’ll be surprised and delighted by what Poemcrazy will inspire you to write.


Whereas: Poems

By Layli Long Soldier,

Book cover of Whereas: Poems

Why this book?

Wars take a long time to end. Work is done to bury the loss, grief, and guilt described above as quickly as possible. Oftentimes the forces that stand to profit from this forgetting succeed, except among those groups which are either ignored or for whom the loss is too deep. What Layli Long Soldier’s brilliant Whereas discloses is how the acts of government, the papers generated like planks over a well, seek to hide that grief and loss, and how those groups might reclaim the stories those papers hope to disappear. 


A Place to Start a Family: Poems About Creatures That Build

By David L. Harrison, Giles Laroche (illustrator),

Book cover of A Place to Start a Family: Poems About Creatures That Build

Why this book?

Given poet David L. Harrison’s background and interests (he holds science degrees from both Drury and Emory Universities), it should not be surprising to see his books show up on two of my lists. While he has published numerous poetry collections about animals, A Place to Start a Family stands out because of its tight focus – poems about animals that build nests, hives, and other types of homes – and the writer’s incredible talent for wordplay.

From ingenious internal rhyme to intriguing back matter to Giles Laroche’s masterful cut-paper illustrations, this work of creative nonfiction is equally at home in libraries and classrooms as it is on children’s bookshelves.


Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs

By Beth Ann Fennelly,

Book cover of Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs

Why this book?

As a native Mississippian, I was already aware of Fennelly’s works, but this collection is my absolute favorite of her wonderful collections. She uses micro pieces to tell some of the most interesting experiences of her life (so far). Even more, she blurs the line between what is poem and what is prose. She can take a single moment in time and make it into a lesson on life and the realities of the world. I highly recommend this book if you want to see how micro writing can be used for nonfiction.


Black Girl, Call Home

By Jasmine Mans,

Book cover of Black Girl, Call Home

Why this book?

I love pretty packaging, so it's no surprise that Mans' Black Girl, Call Home stopped me in my tracks. The cover art, an over-the-shoulder shot of a young Black girl, her head bedazzled in a rainbow assortment of brightly colored barrettes. For me and Black women across the globe, the image evokes instant nostalgia. Luther on the radio. Me between my mama's legs. And the smell of Blue Magic hair grease slathered on the back of her hand.

Both painful and empowering, Mans' candid approach to feminism, race, and LGBTQ+ identity is wrapped in undeniable realness. Whether readers identify as Black and queer or simply as women on the path to healing, Mans' rhythmic collection of truths inspires self-acceptance and sisterhood. Do yourself a favor — order the audiobook and be blown away by Mans' heartfelt spoken word!


Of Yesteryear

By Lauren Eden,

Book cover of Of Yesteryear

Why this book?

I love the way Lauren Eden describes everything about a relationship, from its beginning to its end, through her verses. 

The love and heartbreak are presented realistically and vividly. I felt as if I had participated in this relationship until its very end.

Only an artist who knows how to use precise and precious (for this theme) words can create a masterpiece that you want to reread when you need it the most.


Self Love Poetry: For Thinkers & Feelers

By Melody Godfred,

Book cover of Self Love Poetry: For Thinkers & Feelers

Why this book?

While reading this book, I have been trying to figure out what I am: 

a thinker or a feeler. Melody Godfred chooses a fascinating way to write this book. So on the left page, she writes for a thinker (a left-brained person), and on the right page, she writes for a feeler (a right-brained person). 

I will have to count the number of pages representing me as I go through the pages to find out which hemisphere of my brain is dominant, the left or the right.


Halfway to Silence: New Poems

By May Sarton,

Book cover of Halfway to Silence: New Poems

Why this book?

The majority of Sarton’s work is introspective, giving glimpses into a writer’s creative process, a passion for writing, and one’s observations and emotions. This short collection of Sarton’s poems embodies her work as a nature poet without being overwhelmingly so. It’s a great introduction to her work. For a brief time in my life isolated myself for a month in a small cabin in a remote forest to do nothing but write. I read May Sarton and it was as if my experience paralleled her and my struggles validated by her work.


The Wanderings of Oisin: And Other Poems

By W.B. Yeats,

Book cover of The Wanderings of Oisin: And Other Poems

Why this book?

Yeats is one of my favourite poets, and while you may not associate him with fantasy, he did write some extraordinarily beautiful poems that are retellings of Irish folk tales and legends. Teeming with faeries, immortals, and other fey creatures, these are poems in the tradition of the great Romantic poets such as Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Tennyson. The titular poem is only one of many beautiful fantasy poems in this collection.


Poetry for Kids: William Shakespeare

By William Shakespeare, Merce Lopez (illustrator),

Book cover of Poetry for Kids: William Shakespeare

Why this book?

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ear.” This is a must-have for any library. I wish I had begun reading William Shakespeare much earlier than high school! This 48-page volume provides a wonderful introduction for young and older readers with an assortment of Bard’s poems and speeches. Each entry is beautifully illustrated and explained by an expert. Definitions of hard-to-understand words are thoughtfully included at the bottom of each page.


Penguin's Poems for Life

By Laura Barber,

Book cover of Penguin's Poems for Life

Why this book?

Poems for Life is one of my all-time favourite poetry collections because it offers something for every mood and occasion. At those times I’ve found myself planning a celebration, trying to write a love poem for dear hubby’s birthday, or struggling to find words for a funeral, and stuck for ideas, this book has provided the perfect sentiment and inspiration. It takes us from birth and beginnings, through childhood and childish things, into growing up and first impressions, to making a living and making love, as well as family life, growing older, and all the way through to death and mourning. This delightful book of poems offers comfort and words to treasure for a lifetime.


Hues Of Hope: Selected Poetry

By Balroop Singh,

Book cover of Hues Of Hope: Selected Poetry

Why this book?

Hues of Hope is a captivating book of poetry centered around the theme of hope, which enchanted and moved me. Its pages are ones I will return to again and again, especially when the world seems at its darkest. This collection offers not only hope, but also self-reliance, courage, lessons learnt, and the beauty in the midst of a life lived with trials and tribulations and ultimate self-discovery. I cannot recommend this collection of poems highly enough.


Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times

By Neil Astley,

Book cover of Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times

Why this book?

This collection, published by Bloodaxe Books, categorizes poems loosely by theme and contains a treasure trove of the best poems to help you keep on living when life is too hard. There is a wide range of themes, as well as some uplifting poems that explore everything beautiful about being alive.


Resistance: Righteous Rage in the Age of #Metoo

By Sue Goyette (editor),

Book cover of Resistance: Righteous Rage in the Age of #Metoo

Why this book?

This anthology is as powerful as it is still necessary: beware. Some pieces may be triggering, but they raised my awareness and empathy. These collected poems from writers across the globe declare one common theme: resistance. By exploring sexual assault and violence in their work, each writer resists the patriarchal systems of power that continue to support a misogynist justice system that supports abusers. In doing so, they reclaim their power and their voice. Resistance underscores the validity of all women’s experiences, and the importance of dignifying such experiences in voice, however that may sound. Because once survivors speak out and disrupt their pain, there is no telling what else they can do.


A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry

By Czeslaw Milosz,

Book cover of A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry

Why this book?

When I was a student at UC Berkeley, Czeslaw Milosz was still teaching there. I attended his classes on the Russian novel, read several of his books, read and admired his poetry. Later, I came upon this beautiful anthology: a collection of short poems, some in English, many in translation, ranging from eighth-century China to the contemporary U.S. For someone who has come to feel that poetry is not for them, or who simply craves a more contemplative slant to their life, this would be a marvelous place to start. 


Felon: Poems

By Reginald Dwayne Betts,

Book cover of Felon: Poems

Why this book?

I read so much poetry in prison—words about survival, and loss, and absence. But one thing I did not read was poetry about people who’d been in prison like me, and wish I had. This poetry collection wasn’t out then, but I think I would have loved it if it were. 


Finding What You Didn't Lose: Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making

By John Fox,

Book cover of Finding What You Didn't Lose: Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making

Why this book?

This is one of those gems that can easily get lost in the literary shuffle. Poet-teacher John Fox gets into the craft of writing poetry in Finding What You Didn’t Lose, but it’s not one of those dry books that will get you all tangled up worrying about your iambic pentameters. Instead, he takes you on a beautiful journey, showing how such useful tools as imagery, sound, metaphor, and rhythm can help you express yourself. Quotes and poetry excerpts round out the rich content of this book.


Hoarders

By Kate Durbin,

Book cover of Hoarders

Why this book?

Like the title might suggest, Kate Durbin’s collection points a poetic lens on a dozen or so hoarders living under the literal weight of their own material possessions. Using an interesting balance of first-person testimony set to an often dizzying and disturbing blend of descriptions of each hoarder’s stockpile of material afflictions, Hoarders feels borderline true-crime with hits vivid portrayal of mental illness and loneliness.


You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense

By Charles Bukowski,

Book cover of You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense

Why this book?

Bukowski had a unique perspective on the world, and anyone who has read his work would most definitely agree. This book, which is a collection of some of Bukowski’s greatest pieces in my opinion, has a way of resonating with you on a personal level. Whether it be gaining a newfound perspective on the animals that scurry around our yards, or of a gambler wasting away in a casino on a Monday afternoon, Bukowski has a knack for bringing up the world’s problems in a way that is both depressing and humorous at the same time, while also giving peeks at his wit and charm as well.


Viking Poetry of Love and War

By Judith Jesch,

Book cover of Viking Poetry of Love and War

Why this book?

In this small and colourful volume the reader is introduced to a wide range of Viking ‘life’ through poetry – from highly formal and (one may say) cruel poems composed in honour of Viking chieftains and kings on honour, battle, blood, and death, to others on age discrepancies, very attractive men or eternal reputation.


Honourable Cat

By Paul Gallico,

Book cover of Honourable Cat

Why this book?

This is a book of poetry that will warm any cat lover’s heart – even those that would not normally read a book of poetry. The verses are deliciously insightful and will have many cat-lovers smiling at themselves and their relationships with their cats. It’s a lovely collection of cat lore, logic, and observations.


Madwomen: The Locas Mujeres Poems of Gabriela Mistral

By Gabriela Mistral, Randall Couch (translator),

Book cover of Madwomen: The Locas Mujeres Poems of Gabriela Mistral

Why this book?

Gabriela was a Chilean poet-diplomat, educator, and humanist, who became the first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature. Her poetry often focuses on dark, humane themes that undoubtedly reflect on traumatic episodes that she had personally endured. 

Gabriela has the knack of scratching the surface, which is potent enough to get all your senses actively experiencing the emotions and character she puts forth. The poems resonate on a deep level, offering a compelling clarity of life with its tragedy and complications. The women depicted here are anything but mad; some would say entirely strong-willed and intense, with a collected control and a modernistic sense of independence.


The Crying Book

By Heather Christle,

Book cover of The Crying Book

Why this book?

This lyrical, book-length essay is a meditation not so much on a diagnosis as on one of its most visible expressions—tears. Exploring depression through the lens of the phenomenon of crying, The Crying Book is loaded with facts both esoteric and banal. Yet it is also deeply personalized by author Heather Christle’s reflections on her own struggles with depressive episodes, as well as on the deaths of other poets to suicide, and the allure and danger of romanticizing such acts. Christle’s loose, fragmentary approach gives her the freedom to wander far and wide as she considers the art and act of crying, allowing depression to surface as an experience that is at once individual and deeply embedded in its cultural and historical contexts.

Walking Home: A Poet's Journey

By Simon Armitage,

Book cover of Walking Home: A Poet's Journey

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 village halls, pubs, barns, and other venues, and takes pot luck with whatever accommodation he is offered for the night. Walking Home provides a vivid portrait of one of our great landscapes, and the quirks of character and acts of kindness he encounters on the way.


Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

By Mary Oliver,

Book cover of Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

Why this book?

I would own this book for Mary Oliver’s poem “How I Go to the Woods” alone! Oliver’s love of nature, the way she notices the details of her surroundings, and the language she uses to describe her experiences are breathtaking. It’s easy to see why Mary Oliver won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

Dawn of the Algorithm

By Yann Rousselot,

Book cover of Dawn of the Algorithm

Why this book?

If you, like me, have to consciously choose to read more poetry, this is a fascinating book to add to your collection. The poems’ subjects range from pop culture to body horror to the titular implications of algorithms and AI, and every one of them is a well-structured look at an apocalypse, large or small. Chances are excellent that you will encounter an English word you can’t readily define. Many of the poems are illustrated with haunting and/or humorous line art which even the ebook format renders well. Everything ends, but not every description of those endings are as beautiful as the ones in this book.


Emily Writes: Emily Dickinson and Her Poetic Beginnings

By Jane Yolen, Christine Davenier (illustrator),

Book cover of Emily Writes: Emily Dickinson and Her Poetic Beginnings

Why this book?

What experiences might children have that inspire them to write poetry? Author Yolen brings readers into the Dickinson home in Amherst, Massachusetts, where young Emily scribbles on scraps of paper in her father’s study. Emily reads her three-word poem to her parents, to the flowers in the garden, and to Mrs. Mack, who provides encouragement that’s as warm and appreciated as the desserts they share. Just as Emily takes time to ponder what is the essence of a poem, this imagined story unfolds at an unhurried pace. That pace, combined with the engaging illustrations, permits readers to linger on small moments and let their own imaginations wander. Poetry takes time, just as growing up does.


Alpha Beta Chowder

By Jeanne Steig, William Steig,

Book cover of Alpha Beta Chowder

Why this book?

Jeanne Steig wrote a giddy delightful poem for each letter of the alphabet. The poems are replete with weird and wonderful words. The goofy illustrations by William Steig tickle your eyes. One of my favorite poems is "Mishmash". Notice all of the many M words in Mishmash: mallet, misguided, minimize, mix, milk. Could Myron majestically mash potatoes? Mmmm, no.

Mishmash
Making mashed potatoes, Myron?
Must you mix them with the hammer?
This bizarre, misguided method
Causes quite a katzenjammer.

Might you add the milk and butter
In a more majestic manner?
Might a mallet not be better?
That would minimize the clamor.


When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons

By Julie Fogliano, Julie Morstad (illustrator),

Book cover of When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons

Why this book?

This is a very unique and beautiful book, all the way through. The poems are uniquely written. They present a unique perspective on their subjects. And the entire book is structured to read almost as diary entries – quite unique! Julie’s concept and execution are brilliant, with unusual wordplay and imagery (in springtime, “rushing daffodils / wished they had waited” and birds poke “a tiny hole / through the edge of winter”) and the varying tone of her poems – from joyful to contemplative to eager – keeps the collection fresh and keeps the pages turning. 


My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

By Christian Wiman,

Book cover of My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

Why this book?

Wiman writes about human suffering, pain, poetry, and faith, subjects that do not often and ordinarily coalesce. He is familiar with and eloquent about the mutability of belief, about knowledge, and contingency. “Experience lives in the transitions,” he states. If there is a sense of urgency in his thinking here, there is also a sense of lightness, nuance, conjecture, and intimacy too, all of which are suited to the gravity of his subjects.


The Collected Prose

By Elizabeth Bishop,

Book cover of The Collected Prose

Why this book?

Because of the way she writes about the past and the way she writes about the present. Because she is at once straightforward and lyrical. Because she writes about places and people with the same acuity and insight. Because she writes with certainty about ambiguity.


Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women

By Jane Hirshfield,

Book cover of Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women

Why this book?

Editor Jane Hirschfield writes that she is interested in “women who could not be held back from their chosen paths or spiritual practice.” And so am I. This collection includes writings by intrepid women over centuries and landscapes, representing an array of spiritual traditions stretching back to the beginning of recorded time. The canon of spiritual writings that have come down to us across cultures rarely includes the words of women. Hirschfield has taken steps to correct this omission. From the first entry – c. 2300 BCE – through a joyful poem of liberation from one of the earliest female Buddhist followers to Hildegard of Bingen and Emily Dickenson, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Owl Woman, and Penny Jessye. And beyond. Women across cultures, religious traditions, and centuries have inner lives that provoke them to write, sing and shout.


Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose

By Naomi Shihab Nye,

Book cover of Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose

Why this book?

In this collection of poems and short prose pieces, Young People’s Poet Laureate (2019-21) Naomi Shihab Nye, takes inspiration from honeybees to encourage us to refresh our spirits by honing our attention and treating others with kindness. While many of the poems concern the nature and wonder of bees and the threats they face, other pieces address subjects as diverse as crickets, egrets, kiwi cake. The poet does not shy away from the heftier subjects of war and injustice because she knows young people are hungry to discuss those things, too. This is a perfect collection to draw from to inspire students in a writing class. I know because I have used her poems in that way. Some of my favorite poems are in this collection.


The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

By Rainer Maria Rilke, Burton Pike (translator),

Book cover of The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

Why this book?

Commonly thought to be about death, and our fear thereof, what I find most striking about this book is its piercing and utterly haunting analysis of the role of memories in making us who we are. The most important memories are the ones that are lost, and then return in a new form, deeply woven into our bodies, emotions, and feelings – as blood, as glance and gesture, as Rilke puts it. Rilke was a poet; this was his only excursion into the art form of the novel. So, the book falls apart after a while. But if anyone has written anything better than the first fifty pages or so, I am unacquainted with it.


Candy Corn: Poems

By James Stevenson,

Book cover of Candy Corn: Poems

Why 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.


Summersaults

By Douglas Florian,

Book cover of Summersaults

Why this book?

I love wordplay, and Douglas Florian is a master. His poems are short, fun, and well-crafted. He also illustrates his books, in a style that is sketchy, childlike, and textural. When I need a bit of lighthearted inspiration for my own poetry, Florian always delivers. He has written dozens of books, but his book about summer called Summersaults captures the essence of his style. Here’s a delicious sample:

"A Summery"

June: We seeded.
July: We weeded.
August: We eated.


Carry On: Poetry by Young Immigrants

By Various Contributors, Rogé Girard (illustrator),

Book cover of Carry On: Poetry by Young Immigrants

Why this book?

I love the genesis of this book — a high school writing workshop for newcomers to Quebec, Canada. And I love that within its pages, students from around the world — the Philippines, Uruguay, Pakistan, China, Moldova Iran, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Venezuela — come together to share their personal experiences of seeking peace and security in a new country. Students share the pain and loss of being forced to leave their homes, families, friends, and way of life behind and reflect on their changing identities with strength and vulnerability. Illustrated with expressive portraits by Rogè, the collection powerfully conveys the uncertainty these young immigrants face and the cautious hope they have for the future. 


New and Selected Poems, Volume One

By Mary Oliver,

Book cover of New and Selected Poems, Volume One

Why this book?

Like nature itself, poetry allows quiet reflection and a deep peace into our lives. Like Mary Oliver, I too, find an almost divine rapture in the sheer glory of Nature’s elemental wildness. In this collection, Oliver's mystical connection to nature combined with her simple language and clear imagery create poems that are profoundly beautiful. During these past years of the global pandemic lockdown, I was unable to restore my soul by visiting the South African wilderness that is so close to the city I live in. Instead, through contemplation of Oliver’s poetry and writing my own, I was able to re-connect with the bliss and strength that the natural world so generously offers us.


She Walks in Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems

By Caroline Kennedy,

Book cover of She Walks in Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems

Why this book?

In She Walks in Beauty, Caroline Kennedy contemplates the wisdom of different poetic voices as they journey through major life events in a woman's life (whether love and marriage, death and grief or the joys and sorrows of motherhood). By the end of the book, Kennedy distills both bitter and sweet flavours into a celebration of life that often feels unattainable as we live through challenging times. With both compassion and sensitivity born from her own troubled family history and through her love of poetry reflected in this collection, Kennedy offers hope and consolation to others travelling along a difficult road.


The Hawk in the Rain: Poems

By Ted Hughes,

Book cover of The Hawk in the Rain: Poems

Why this book?

The first collection by former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes includes one of the most stunning poems about the connection between poet, pen, and nature in the form of "The Thought-Fox." Hughes has a pared back, often disturbing vision of the world that seizes your attention. If you like this don’t stop, there are plenty of other wonderful books by Hughes, especially his retelling of the "Tales from Ovid" and "The Birthday Letters," his poems about his relationship with his first wife, the equally brilliant Sylvia Plath.


The Surrender Tree/El Árbol de la Rendición: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom/Poemas de la Lucha de Cuba Por Su Libertad

By Margarita Engle,

Book cover of The Surrender Tree/El Árbol de la Rendición: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom/Poemas de la Lucha de Cuba Por Su Libertad

Why this book?

Set in late 1800s Cuba, during their wars for independence from Spain and the first wave of reconcentration camps, this entry holds a special place on my list because it’s written in free verse. I believe poetry can capture emotion in a raw, powerful way that prose sometimes can’t, and Engle’s work serves as a perfect example of this. Through alternating perspectives, this book shows readers the horrors of war alongside the power of hope and compassion.


The Unrequited

By Saffron A. Kent,

Book cover of The Unrequited

Why this book?

This novel is a taboo, student-teacher, forbidden love read, but those are tag words only. I’m a little obsessed with it because the writing. This book is alive. It's electric. The words jump off the page and sink claws into your skin. The author, at the end, laments that she's not poet enough to write her hero’s poems. I beg to differ. This entire book is a poem if you go by my preferred definition, which is a string of words meant to evoke. That's all this book does. Evokes, stirs, and is unapologetic in its heroine, Layla. She is no blushing rose, but a tornado of unapologetic desire, and who defies genre tropes. Her character renders this book more than a romance novel, but a force of nature.


Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold

By Joyce Sidman,

Book cover of Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold

Why this book?

Narrowing down just one of Joyce Sidman’s poetry collections as ‘their best’ is truly a monumental task, but Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold is certainly high on the list! Whether it’s Tundra Swans dreaming of “ice-blue sky and yodel of night” or a leaping, laughing snowflake with “lace sprouting from fingertips,” all the subjects of Joyce’s poems are rendered in elegant yet relatable text while Rick Allen’s linoleum print illustrations capture the ethereal tone of the book.


After Dark: Poems about Nocturnal Animals

By David L. Harrison, Stephanie Laberis (illustrator),

Book cover of After Dark: Poems about Nocturnal Animals

Why this book?

Like Joyce Sidman, it’s very difficult to nail down one of David’s animal poetry books as ‘best,’ but After Dark is certainly a must-have. With poems like “Posted Property” (about the cougar), which is broken up over the course of three separate panels picture-book style, and “No Fooling” (about the raccoon), which readers will discover on the back cover, this book features fun, ingenious poetry and sidebars – and is educational yet never didactic


The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

By Anne Sexton,

Book cover of The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

Why this book?

While, yes, this is not a novel, there is a true character journey in reading the complete works of Ms. Sexton in sequence; a sort of poetic analysis the likes of which I have not read to such a soul-baring degree, as she depicts her thoughts and struggles with marriage, relationships, motherhood, her own parents and various other facets of her life. To me, Ms. Sexton is very much the symbol of what became the confessional poetry movement. The eloquence and depth of her writing, especially in poems like " The Double Image", "Flee on Your Donkey" and " For My Lover Returning to His Wife", are remarkable.

The Nature of Things

By Lucretius, Coralie Bickford-Smith (illustrator), A.E. Stallings (translator)

Book cover of The Nature of Things

Why this book?

It’s the oldest book I know of that tries to explain the mutable material world in strictly material terms. Appropriately, or maybe paradoxically, Lucretius puts his treatise into the form of poetry, following strict rules of prosody, as if the conventions of verse could create order out of chaos. Two thousand years later, the master poet A.E. Stallings translates it into formal English poetry. Nothing remains fixed, especially not language, and yet we never quit trying.


At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems

By Leslie Bulion, Leslie Evans (illustrator),

Book cover of At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems

Why this book?

Leslie Bulion combines her love of science and poetry to create fascinating, fun, and memorable books. While she has published several animal poetry collections, At the Sea Floor Café stands out for its exceptional balance of science fact and literary value.

Leslie is extremely skilled at finding the perfect poetic forms and phrases to do her subjects justice while never veering off into overt didacticism. Fun and surprising, this book is perfect for the nature science lover in the family.


The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen

By Wilfred Owen,

Book cover of The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen

Why this book?

Like Sassoon, Owen entered the war as a “dreamy” youth interested in literature and art. Unlike Sassoon, though — whom Owen idolized — Owen did not survive the war. He was killed in action on November 4, 1918, a week before the war ended.

Owen wrote all of the poems for which he is remembered between August 1917 and September 1918. His experience of the war turned him from “ a very minor poet to something altogether larger,” writes C. Day Lewis. “…It was a forced growth, a revolution in his mind which, blasting its way through all the poetic bric-a-brac, enabled him to see his subject clear — ‘War, and the pity of War.’ The subject made the poet: The poet made the poems, which radically changed our attitude toward war.”

The hallmarks of Owen’s poetry are his compassion for the frontline soldier and the precision and clarity with which he deploys metaphor to — ironically — render an unflinching portrait of the war’s destruction.

“Red lips are not so red/As the stained stones kissed by the English dead,” begins “Greater Love,” my favorite from the collection. The poem’s title summons the romanticism and optimism of the pre-war world, as does its opening words, “Red lips.” But the couplet flips that pretense and ends with “the English dead” lying face down and bloodied in the mud.  Red, a color often used in connection with the idea of “life” and “love” has been eternally corrupted, as has England and Europe and what Owen termed its “doomed youth,” their vitality drained from them in senseless slaughter.


Her

By Pierre Alex Jeanty, TreManda Pewett (illustrator),

Book cover of Her

Why this book?

If there is a manual for men on how to treat women with love, care, and most importantly, respect, then this is it. 

Of course, it takes great courage for a man to read every page carefully and then generously give a woman what she deserves without selfishness. 

I love that Pierre Alex Jeanty shares his wisdom from a man's perspective, and I wish a substantial male audience would read Her.


No Other Life

By Gary Young,

Book cover of No Other Life

Why this book?

No Other Life combines three of Gary Young’s books into one volume. There is such unique style and quiet beauty to Young’s work. I am truly inspired by it. He has a knack for capturing the extraordinary in the mundane in brief but deep prose poems that grip the soul. 

Young was one of my professors in college and was a driving force for why I pursued a creative writing degree and chose to continue to write after graduating. His work will always hold a special place in my nature-loving creative heart.


Washing the Stones: Selected Poems, 1975-1995

By Maude Meehan,

Book cover of Washing the Stones: Selected Poems, 1975-1995

Why this book?

This volume of selected poems and unpublished works spoke to me during a time when I was finding my voice, and was formative during my early years as a poet. While not heavily embedded in the nature genre, the author on occasion writes her observations of the natural world with strong imagery. The author is also from my hometown of Santa Cruz, California, and left her mark on the poetry community. Her poems are powerful but accessible and written in simple language, which I feel makes for the best kind of poetry.


Dover Beach and Other Poems

By Matthew Arnold,

Book cover of Dover Beach and Other Poems

Why this book?

"The Forsaken Merman" is one of the most beautiful and saddest fantasy poems I have ever read. Being a songwriter, I have a keen ear for music in words. This is a lyrical poem that sings in rhyme and meter. It’s a tragic song to love lost. The longing is real. You will feel it and you will be moved by it.


The Complete Poems of John Keats

By John Keats,

Book cover of The Complete Poems of John Keats

Why this book?

"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" may not be Keats’ most well-known poem but it’s right up there with his best, and Keats’ best might just be the very best when it comes to romantic poetry. This is a beautiful fantasy poem that’s both hot and disturbing. It’s dark fantasy at its best. Its lyrical and sensuous beauty will give you chills and goosebumps. Other fantasy-themed poems in this collection include "Endymion," "Lamia and Hyperion," "Isabella," and "St Agnes’ Eve," all based on myths and legends.


Once I Ate a Pie

By Patricia MacLachlan, Emily MacLachlan Charest, Katy Schneider (illustrator)

Book cover of Once I Ate a Pie

Why this book?

This is “dog confidential” presented in charming free verse. Just like people, all dogs are different. We find this out from fourteen assorted pooches. These appealing canines, depicted in soulful, richly oil-painted illustrations, confide to the reader about their likes, dislikes, and proclivities.  Among this revealing group are a barker, a pie-eater (I can identify with that), a cuddler, a people herder, a shy shrinking violet, a sleeper—and a party animal. I know all my dogs have had different personalities, and this charming book sends that message in a most unique and appealing way. It’s a good reminder for us all about our special “best friends.”


The Best of It: New and Selected Poems

By Kay Ryan,

Book cover of The Best of It: New and Selected Poems

Why this book?

The Best of It seems like an easy, leisurely read at first. However, so many of Kay Ryan’s poems lulled me into a false sense of security, and then they pounced. Not with claws out, but rather with padded paws to catch my mind-fall as my brain went, Wait. What? and I had to stop and read the poem or lines over again. This simple yet complex and profound collection of contemporary poetry will stay with me for life to inspire, question, make me laugh, and offer solace.


The Emergency Poet: An Anti-Stress Poetry Anthology

By Deborah Alma,

Book cover of The Emergency Poet: An Anti-Stress Poetry Anthology

Why this book?

Any time I feel down or struggle with my long-term illness, I reach for this book of amazing poetry. The Emergency Poet never fails to soothe my distress. The verses within help me relax and take stock. To reassess and decompress. As I sit and absorb these wonderful words, I am reminded to live in the moment and value what I have. This book feels like a warm hug at the end of a long and tiring day and always lifts my spirits.


A Treasury of Shakespeare's Verse

By William Shakespeare, Emma Chichester Clark (illustrator),

Book cover of A Treasury of Shakespeare's Verse

Why this book?

This book is a beautifully illustrated work of art. I absolutely adore the well-chosen excerpts from some of the Bard's most famous plays, including his fantasy ones (The Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream). This book contains some of the most beautiful passages in the English language. If you love the language of Shakespeare, you will swoon over this book. I do every single time.


The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings

By Edgar Allan Poe,

Book cover of The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings

Why this book?

Edgar Allen Poe was, and still proves to be, one of the most influential American writers of all time, having influenced many writers throughout history ranging from Fyodor Dostoevsky to Stephen King, among others. The main poem of this text, The Tell-Tale Heart, may be but one of Poe’s most famous works, next to The Raven, and my personal favorite, Alone. This piece accurately describes the feelings and emotions that one may experience when knowingly in the wrong, which can have a direct effect on both how we act and how we treat those around us.


The Odyssey

By Homer, T.E. Lawrence (translator),

Book cover of The Odyssey

Why this book?

Possibly the greatest story ever told, and almost certainly the most influential outside of the Bible. For all the marvellous fantasy elements – the man-guzzling Cyclops, Circe with her powers of transformation or the eerie visit to the underworld – not to mention the blood-soaked climax (providing a template for thousands of action tales ending in a single location shoot-out), the story is at its most exhilarating when it slows down to the personal. The reunion between the hero and his long-suffering wife is a poignant climax, and so is Odysseus’s encounter with his son Telemachus, a lost boy who’s spent his whole life yearning for his father’s guiding hand.

Which version to read? There are so many, but I’m still partial to TE Lawrence’s adventurous prose version, first published in 1932, which captures with economic excitement the thrill of Homer’s storytelling.


Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home

By Burton Watson, Saigyo,

Book cover of Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home

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.


Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

By Ross Gay,

Book cover of Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

Why this book?

Poet Ross Gay is a shape shifter who observes the struggle of living in a human body such with compassion and intelligence and artistry that he not only describes such struggles, but also transports us inside of the elements that create them. In this meditation on love and life and loss, we are soothed by the garden, the beehive, the orchard; by the mourning doves and dung-filled dirt and knots of dead bees that he reaches for to nourish and calm and heal. Gay is very much alive to the living and the dead around him. This collection of poems brings us back to life with gratitude transformed.


The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore

By Unknown, Andy Orchard (translator),

Book cover of The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore

Why this book?

Snorri did not write his Edda in a vacuum, and the mythological and heroic poems collected in the thirteenth century Codex Regius (and a handful of other manuscripts) provide a snapshot of the sort of raw material from which his book was constructed. The apparent antiquity of these poems (quite how old remains a matter of debate) led to them being labelled the ‘Elder’ Edda and, although in their preserved form they are products of the Middle Ages, they powerfully evoke the strange and esoteric world of northern antiquity. In content the mythological poems encompass, amongst much else, Völuspá (the prophetic vision of a sorceress revealing the breaking and rebirth of the world at Ragnarök and the events that will precipitate it), Hávamál (the gnomic wisdom of Odin, including an account of his self-mortifying pursuit of occult knowledge) and Lokasenna (in which the god Loki provides a definitive example of how to ruin a family dinner party). Just as thrilling, the heroic poems range widely through the shadowy groves of old Germanic legend, summoning the tragic shades of the Volsungs and grim tales of Attila the Hun. Andy Orchard’s translation is powerful, direct and sometimes startling. He also provides a very useful introduction and guide to what is a strange, sometimes difficult, but always immensely rewarding journey into the Old Norse imagination.


The Iliad

By Homer, Robert Fagles (translator),

Book cover of The Iliad

Why this book?

I am cheating a little here because ‘Homer’ can refer to either the Iliad or the Odyssey or both. Either way, those are the two foundational works of ALL western literature and of much ‘world’ literature besides. They are both very very long verse epics, originally composed and handed down orally by a combination of memory and performance improvisation, but eventually committed to writing in the Greeks’ then-new alphabetic script. 

If there was just one poet called Homer, his genius lay in his selection of a single unifying theme for both monumental poems – the anger of Greek hero-warrior Achilles (Iliad), and the ten-year travels and travails of petty Greek island king Odysseus (Odyssey). But most of us think that two different ‘monumental composers’ did the business. 

Both epics spoke to and helped form the ancient Greeks’ sense of identity as a people, the Iliad in the context mainly of battle, the Odyssey in terms chiefly of – often violent - encounters between Greeks and a variety of non-Greeks (including monsters and cannibals). The Iliad is more of a ‘boy’s toys’ sort of epic, lots of fighting, blood, and guts, vividly, almost lovingly, described in intimate detail. One oddity is that despite the poem’s title (Ilion was another name for Troy) the work does not culminate in the capture and sack of Troy and recovery by King Menelaus of Sparta of his errant adulterous wife Helen. (To see how it does end, you’ll just have to read it.) The Odyssey, by contrast, is a ‘boy’s own’ adventure story, full of storms and shipwrecks and magic, embracing two passionate love stories (one between Odysseus and his long suffering wife Penelope, the other between Odysseus and the gorgeous immortal Calypso), and rounded off with a seriously nasty revenge drama followed by a charming marital reunion. 

There have been many many English translations – or versions – done over the years or indeed centuries: from Chapman and Pope to yesterday, mostly by men but more recently by women. For adult readers, I am going to recommend the two verse translations by American Robert Fagles, not least because they come with excellent introductions by Bernard Knox. For younger readers, I strongly recommend the stripped-down, ‘told-to-the-children’ versions by Jeanie Laing, illustrated brilliantly by W. Heath Robinson. It was those that set me off on my own Classical odyssey.


Rhetorics of Literacy: The Cultivation of American Dialect Poetry

By Nadia Nurhussein,

Book cover of Rhetorics of Literacy: The Cultivation of American Dialect Poetry

Why this book?

Nadia Nurhussein’s book is critically important for understanding the role of dialect poetry in the African American poetic tradition. It is all too easy to dismiss the popularity of dialect poetry in America—including Black dialect—as an embarrassing phase in American taste and particularly problematic for poetry used in minstrelsy but Nurhussein argues for the importance of the craft of dialect poetry and the remarkable brilliance of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s work along with many other poets working in many other dialects.


Zong!

By M. Nourbese Philip,

Book cover of Zong!

Why this book?

A historical/legal/poetic examination of the way that African bodies were treated and disposed of in the context of transatlantic slavery and how the author simultaneously advances a process of reclamation. NourbeSe provides a meditation in which silence and space advance our understanding of the gravity and horror of the subject which in no way compares with what the unnamed victims experienced.  She recalls them and names them into existence.


Somos Como Las Nubes / We Are Like the Clouds

By Jorge Argueta, Alfonso Ruano (illustrator),

Book cover of Somos Como Las Nubes / We Are Like the Clouds

Why this book?

This is a powerful book; in beautiful poems the author, Jorge Argueta, describes the journey of children and their families who are looking for better opportunities and big dreams in a new place.

Why are young people leaving their country to walk to the United States to seek a new, safe home? Over 100,000 such children have left Central America. This book of poetry helps us to understand why and what it is like to be them.


The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

By Emily Dickinson,

Book cover of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

Why this book?

One of the most radical and life-giving books ever written, this compilation of the verse of Dickinson holds almost all the poems she wrote out in what she called “fair copy”, bound in small booklets, and put all together in a chest in her room. She published only six poems in her lifetime. The complete work was not collected until 1951. Now she is read and honored worldwide and recognized as one of the most intuitive, powerful, and original poets of any country or any century.


The Greatest Gresham

By Gillian Avery,

Book cover of The Greatest Gresham

Why this book?

For comfort reading, I like period children’s stories, as written by, say, E.Nesbit, Noel Streatfield, Richmal Crompton. Childhood seems to have been more fun when it came up against the constraints of an adult society more formal than our own. Gillian Avery’s achievement was to write spirited historical children’s stories that have all the social nuance you would find in the above authors. The Greatest Gresham (written in 1962, set in the 1890s) is about the timid children of one family who are brought out of their shells by the bolder kids next door, and it all feels just right. For instance, when the mother of the timid children is out on her ‘calling’ (or visiting) day, they always have tea with the family maids, one of whom habitually reads their fortune in their tea leaves. 


The Prophet

By Kahlil Gibran,

Book cover of The Prophet

Why this book?

As an Lebanese-American individual myself, the writings of Gibran, a Lebanese writer, seemed to naturally resonate with me. Although born and raised in America, I felt a pull towards Gibran’s work, and in a sense, an emotional connection— a sense of understanding. The Prophet, which may be but one of the most influential and popular works of poetic literature ever to exist, consists of numerous differing poems all mashed together to portray human life, and the varying aspects that both relate and contribute to it, including the good aspects and the bad. 


Brown Girl Dreaming

By Jacqueline Woodson,

Book cover of Brown Girl Dreaming

Why this book?

Brown Girl Dreaming is an absolutely beautiful book. I found the writing simply stunning, with images that stayed with me long after I finished reading. I also loved the use of a variety of poetic forms and found the haiku especially effective in delivering powerful moments with a punch. 

This book is a memoir, based on Woodson’s years growing up in a tumultuous time to be a brown girl, placing YA readers in her head and heart during those years. It’s no wonder that this heartfelt book won so many of the industry’s top awards.  


The Poetics of Space

By Gaston Bachelard, Maria Jolas (translator),

Book cover of The Poetics of Space

Why this book?

I’ve tried to explain this book to people for years, with varying degrees of success. It’s odd considering I’ve read it ten times. Bachelard was a philosopher but this is a work of deeply-rooted poetry. It’s not really philosophy or analysis, this book. It’s more of a seductive, lyrical invitation inside Bachelard’s dreamy, passionate imagination.

It explores the concept of “home” and the distinctions of inside and outside. It has nothing to do with cities or urbanism at first glance, but the second time I read it I tried to superimpose it onto the urban context. The idea of a city as a home - a notion that the Nobel Prize laureate for literature, Johannes V. Jensen, planted in my head in his 1934 novel Gudrun. I still have trouble explaining how, but this book is the seed for many of my thoughts and philosophies about space and cities.


The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play

By Wallace Stevens,

Book cover of The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play

Why this book?

Steven’s poems have the cadence of philosophical argument. Entering into this cadence can raise one’s own writing, and thoughts, to a higher plane, without its becoming flowery or affective. For years I kept this collection open to the poem “The Poems of Our Climate,” with its consolation:  “...the imperfect is so hot in us / Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds."

Leaves of Grass

By Walt Whitman,

Book cover of Leaves of Grass

Why this book?

I can’t say I have a love for poetry, but Walt Whitman sure stirs the soul! "Song of the Open Road," one of the poems in the Leaves of Grass collection, is my favorite. His opening lines, “Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road. Healthy, free, the world before me” makes me want to lace up my shoes! But also, as many wanderers who are conflicted by the call of the open road and place to call home, the last lines of the poem capture that bittersweet tug: “Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me? Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?” Whitman captures the restlessness and longing of our American spirit.

Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems

By Jack Prelutsky, Carin Berger (illustrator),

Book cover of Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems

Why this book?

As an example of just how inventive poetry can be, this book is hard to top. The subject of each poem is a fictitious animal created by combining two dissimilar words that share common sounds. For example, umbrella + elephant = umbrellaphant. The rhythm in Prelutsky’s poems is always smooth, making them fun to read out loud. This book makes me want to drop everything and play with words, which for me is the essence of poetry. Here’s an excerpt from "The Ballpoint Penguins":

The Ballpoint Penguins do not think,
they simply write with endless ink.
They write of ice, they write of snow,
for that is all they seem to know.


Rhymes from the Wicked Nursery

By J.D. Estrada,

Book cover of Rhymes from the Wicked Nursery

Why this book?

Although this isn’t a novel, this poetry collection simply sounded magical with a hint of spooky – my favorite! I met J.D. Estrada years and years ago when we were both starting out. We worked together on several projects, including panel discussions and interviews about publishing and writing. He has since produced eighteen books. I need to catch up! Rhymes From the Wicked Nursery is his latest. I love that this collection focuses on poetry inspiring fear instead of relief. That in a sense is its own kind of unique magic. All in all, this is a great, quick read full of thought-provoking and fun prose that I greatly appreciated.   


Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

By Naomi Shihab Nye,

Book cover of Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

Why this book?

Nye’s poems are at once complex and accessible. Even the poems that are easy to read offer hidden depths, reflecting the powerful connections that we share as a family and as part of both local and global communities. She strips away the differences in culture and value, reminding us that to be fully human we, like Fowzi the fool (from the poem “Different Ways to Pray”), still need to talk to our version of G-d as easily as we talk to goats. Of Palestinian-American heritage, Nye’s gentle, insightful words offer the hope that somehow, we’ll find a way to be kind to those who are different from us.


Dirt & Deity: Life of Robert Burns

By Ian McIntyre,

Book cover of Dirt & Deity: Life of Robert Burns

Why this book?

This is an extensive biography of Scotland’s celebrated bard, Robert Burns, and includes a collection of unpublished letters. Scotland’s own “heaven taught ploughman,” gave life a run for its money, giving us in his few but fruitful years lines of poetry that match Shakespeare himself. 

Oh, would some 
Power the giftie
gie us
To see ourselves as
Others see us!

McIntyre gives Burns a good shot. No Scottish writer, including myself, could think of their career trajectory without Robert Burns standing out prominently along that line. He gave us the gift of hubris and the gift of the poetic gab. 

Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters

By Rachel Kolar, Roland Garrigue (illustrator),

Book cover of Mother Ghost: Nursery Rhymes for Little Monsters

Why this book?

This book is so darn cute! I love the fresh takes on familiar nursery rhymes. I always chuckle when I read the clever new twists (which are only a little spooky). The illustrations are a teeny bit scary, but mostly super cute. When you read this book, you can go all the way through, or just pick one nursery rhyme at a time to chant with the kids. 


Etudes: The Poetry of Dreams + Other Fragments

By John Marx,

Book cover of Etudes: The Poetry of Dreams + Other Fragments

Why this book?

An award-winning architect and poet, Marx explores creative ideas through poetry and watercolors, giving a very different way to view the art and craft of architecture. The paintings have a mysterious calm to them—evoking the work of Giorgio de Chirico—and are poetic in themselves. And then, you get actual poetry alongside the paintings! Graphic artist Jeremy Mende’s layout of the poems adds yet another layer of artistry. The tactility of the book as an object is delightful. Printed on thick watercolor paper, the book appears as a precious portfolio of secret thoughts and dreams. 


If They Come for Us: Poems

By Fatimah Asghar,

Book cover of If They Come for Us: Poems

Why this book?

This book brought me into yet another new world. Fatimah Asghar is a Pakistani, Kashmiri, Muslim-American who grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was orphaned as a child. The layers to her lived experience and perspective are so rich! If They Come For Us is an exploration of identity and coming of age in the absence of parental guidance. She exposed me to how issues of race, gender, sexuality, and violence manifest in other cultures and how it is so closely intertwined and reflective of the experiences of all marginalized people. It reinforced my understanding that we are truly more alike than we are different. The poems are beautifully written and have staying power.


Ethiopia: Through Writers' Eyes

By Yves-Marie Stranger,

Book cover of Ethiopia: Through Writers' Eyes

Why this book?

How do you describe and encapsulate a country that can trace its history back to the days of the Queen of Sheba, whose ethnic peoples speak over 80 separate languages and whose many traditions and culture remain untouched by time? The genius of Ethiopia: Through Writers’ Eyes is that it solves this conundrum brilliantly by compiling the writings of explorers, travel writers, and journalists dating from the ancient Greeks right up to the modern day. The result is a fascinating kaleidoscope of images and experiences that turn constantly in this reader’s mind long after putting the book down. It’s a book I return to time after time and it always transports me back to one of the most mysterious and beguiling countries on earth.       


Alphabet

By Inger Christensen, Susanna Nied (translator),

Book cover of Alphabet

Why this book?

It’s maybe inaccurate to describe this (not too) long poem as a society grappling with the aftermath of a war. There isn’t much grappling to be done, and it only partly exists after a war is through, to the extent a war like the one Christensen describes is ever through once it’s been started. It’s instead a litany of loss, of those things that can’t be reclaimed, which should instead be protected through the avoidance of war.


Superlative Birds

By Leslie Bulion, Robert Meganck (illustrator),

Book cover of Superlative Birds

Why this book?

Learn about the biggest, brightest, smelliest, loudest, featheriest birds on a tour with a chatty chickadee. Each page features a short poem about a superlative bird and includes additional background on the bird’s natural history. There’s also a short glossary and a guide to resources on bird watching and conservation notes. The author even explains the rhyming patterns and structure of each poem. Fun and informative!


Dog Heaven

By Cynthia Rylant,

Book cover of Dog Heaven

Why this book?

I’ve had friends tell me that they don’t want to love another dog because they can’t bear it when the dog dies. It’s hard to lose a pet, no matter whether you are old or young. Dog Heaven allows us to imagine our old friends in an afterlife that’s fashioned just for them. God knows what dogs like—a place to run, dog treats in funny shapes, fluffy clouds as dog beds, and special homes where they are petted and reminded how good they are all day long. This hopeful picture book offers comfort as our Angel dogs “will be there when old friends show up. They will be there at the door.” 


The War Poets: an anthology

By Various,

Book cover of The War Poets: an anthology

Why this book?

The War Poets is a powerful and moving collection that, despite being about fighting and dying, somehow managed to teach and inspire me. For certain, it made me stop and think deeply about life, choices, and consequences. This little book shows the hearts and minds of soldier poets who went to war, and the ultimate self-discoveries they achieved. For such a small book, The War Poets tackles a big topic and goes deep beneath the surface. At times in my life, I have struggled to simply accept, and this collection of raw and honest verse has helped me push on through to the other side.


Who's Your Daddy

By Arisa White,

Book cover of Who's Your Daddy

Why this book?

Arisa White grew up with the looming absence of her biological father—a man whose genes and behaviors haunt her. Finally White, an award-winning poet and teacher who was “born into a bracket of boys,” decides to visit this man in his far-away country to learn more about where she came from and who she may or may not be. The book moves chronologically. It swirls with poetry. It doesn’t always make for easy reading, but every line is well designed and, often, shattering. As a memoir-in-essays, it reaffirms the power of the crystalized scene and the intentional white space.


The Circus Train

By Judith Kitchen,

Book cover of The Circus Train

Why this book?

“Ever since the chemo leaked, your toes have had no feeling. So start there. This is the beginning. Eternal. Cold. A dizzying loss of balance.” These words, high on the first page of Kitchen’s mesmerizing book of pieces, announce what is to come—the mystery of living, the mystery of dying, and the transitory in-between. Kitchen is battling the cancer that will kill her. Her mind takes her back and forth, between her present day and her youth. Stories tug at her and she can’t quite find the center, and there is no room, or time, for extended passages. This is poetry as memoir-in-essays, and it will take your breath away. 


Dante's Inferno

By Dante Alighieri, Charles Eliot Norton (translator),

Book cover of Dante's Inferno

Why this book?

Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, by many accounts, is the most accurate and true portrayal of Hell. It has been long speculated whether or not Dante, by means of dreaming or some other metaphysical affair, was truly able to visit Hell—the ways in which he describes the deadly sins of human life proves to be both very emotional and very comprehendible, in a way that can push one to both care more for the way that they choose to live, care more for the ways that they treat others, as well as understand the burdens of life and thus realize that it could, in some way, be worse off than it presently seems. 


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

By J.R.R. Tolkien,

Book cover of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Why this book?

Sir Gawaine is one of the most interesting knights of the Round Table because of how imperfect he is. He’s not the strongest knight in the world -- that’s Lancelot -- and he’s definitely not the most virtuous -- that’s Galahad, who sucks -- he’s a working-class joe who routinely gets in over his head because he loves to swing swords more than he likes thinking about consequences. Sir Gawaine and the Green knight is a story of one of the knight’s most famous capers, and it does not disappoint. The original story was written in Old English, which is barely even English to be honest, so you’re going to need a translation to read it, and who better to translate such a story than J.R.R. Tolkien himself. Yes, that Tolkien. When he wasn’t making elves and humans kiss each other, he was a prolific philologist and translator, and The Green Knight is some of his best work. He even attempts to replicate the alliterative poetic structure common in medieval English poetry. That said, if Tolkein’s not your thing, plenty of others have translated this story. There’s even an extremely raunchy version of it in the aforementioned Arthur Rex, if that’s more your style.


The Writer's Voice

By A. Alvarez,

Book cover of The Writer's Voice

Why this book?

Talking of voice, finding your writer’s voice lies in the confidence that comes from effort and application. Alvarez was a poet, writer, critic, and poetry editor at The Observer newspaper in the 1960s, where he nourished the writing of Sylvia Plath and others. When you think of your favourite writers it’s usually their voice that grabs and sustains interest and trying to figure out your own, as a writer, can take time. Playing with other voices, trying them on for size, making one your own, is something Alvarez explores through his own insights about the work of Plath, Yeats, Jean Rhys, Freud, and others.


The Art of Chinese Poetry

By James J. Y. Liu,

Book cover of The Art of Chinese Poetry

Why this book?

How does the Chinese language, with all its linguistic idiosyncrasies, including its structure, implications, and associations of words, auditory effects, and grammatical aspects, serve as a medium of poetic expression? What are some of the traditional Chinese views on poetry? How should one understand Chinese poetry as a way to explore worlds and language per se, its imagery and symbolism, its allusions, quotations and derivations, and its natural tendency towards antithesis? Published nearly six decades ago, this book has not been superseded and, in fact, has become an indispensable classic for the English-speaking reader.

Come Hither, Vol. 1: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages

By Walter De La Mare (editor),

Book cover of Come Hither, Vol. 1: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages

Why this book?

Rather than saying that he edited Come Hither, the poet, and author, Walter De La Mare (1873-1956) describes himself as having ‘made’ the anthology. Given the enticing notes to the poems and the selection of verses more than validates De La Mare’s assertion. Indeed the anthology of poetry is like a house designed to the finest detail by Mr. De La Mare, who might be considered the Poe of Poetry, as his verses tended towards the odd, ghostly and ineffable.

He was one of the last of the romantic school and Come Hither reflects his taste, Walter De La Mare is long out of fashion like many of the verses on offer, but that is what makes it all the sweeter, from the speech of The Wandering Spectre by unknown to my very favorite poem Tom O’ Bedlam (another marvel by ‘anon’) to more recognized names, such as William Blake with the heartbreaking Chimney Sweeper as well as contributions from Edith Sitwell and Eleanor Farjeon. ‘Come Hither’ has a faded, bye-gone quality yet each of the poems achieves perfection. I’ve always written poetry, but unlike my books, publishers all say the same thing ‘I like your work but poetry doesn’t sell.’ We live in an era that heralds individuality but does everything it can to stifle it.


Snow Birds

By Kirsten Hall, Jenni Desmond (illustrator),

Book cover of Snow Birds

Why this book?

I adore books that introduce a subject through the magic of poetry. Rhyme, rhythm, meter, and brevity are all appealing factors that keep a young audience engaged. In Snow Birds, the author and illustrator take us on a snowy poetic journey through mountains, forests, and backyards to give us a glimpse of the birds that don’t migrate but stay and brave the harsh climate of wintertime. This book fits the bill for all bird-loving, word-loving kids and adults alike.

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems & Drawings

By Shel Silverstein,

Book cover of Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems & Drawings

Why this book?

This is an absolute staple to this day! The pages are frayed because of my many rereads and trying to master Shel's whimsical and effortless drawings. Countless tales of silly adolescent nonsense but all with that hidden knowledge of greater wisdom. His words echo the innocence and rawness of childhood on an endless journey of ignorance and adventure.


Let Us Dance! The Stumble And Whirl With The Beloved

By Chelan Harkin,

Book cover of Let Us Dance! The Stumble And Whirl With The Beloved

Why this book?

This young woman is profoundly wise beyond her years. In a style reminiscent of the poetry of the mystics Rumi and Hafiz from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Harkin gives voice to the deep feminine as she is emerging into modern consciousness. This is poetry to touch your heart and quicken your inner feminine. Full disclosure: I was honored to write the forward to this beautifully written book.


Place: New Poems

By Jorie Graham,

Book cover of Place: New Poems

Why this book?

There is not a better poet writing in English. For Graham, language is a beautiful, purposeful tool and she is using it, without pretense, to dig deeper and deeper into the ground of being. She asks the questions beneath the questions, and though she does not pretend to answer them, the reader shares and marvels in her asking, in her attention to being human and alive.


Dementia, My Darling

By Brendan Constantine,

Book cover of Dementia, My Darling

Why this book?

The title poem in this collection, (made from lines spoken by the poet’s mother,) manages to embody both caregiver and loved one as Constantine gives gentle structure to a string of seemingly disconnected utterances. Each poem in the book explores themes of loss, memory, and family through a different lens, creating an almost kaleidoscopic vision of the world. The collection is a rumination, a celebration, and a beautiful example of how poetry can expand our perspectives and teach us to speak and hear new rhythms.  


Riding on the Roar of the Crowd: A Hockey Anthology

By David Gowdey,

Book cover of Riding on the Roar of the Crowd: A Hockey Anthology

Why this book?

I love this collection of writing about hockey. It includes memoirs, essays, magazine articles, book excerpts, fiction, poetry, and even a one-act play about the game. Some of my favourites are an elegantly written 1954 magazine article by Hugh MacLennan called "Fury on Ice"; Morley Callaghan’s “The Game that Makes a Nation,” an essay on Canada’s “national drama”; Hugh Hood's riveting close-up look at Jean Beliveau's artistry; and Mordecai Richler’s sad look at a retiring Gordie Howe, who sidelines as an Amway salesman. This book is so full of great reads.


Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People

By Monica Brown, Julie Paschkis (illustrator),

Book cover of Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People

Why this book?

Monica Brown’s picture book biography of Pablo Neruda is a wonderfully written account of his life and the creation of his beautiful writing and poems that sing, even under the weight of tremendous struggles. The lyrical text soars on the page while Julie Paschkis’ colorful illustrations capture the heart and soul of the poet of the people. This is a must-read!


Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry For Your ... Brains

By Ryan Mecum,

Book cover of Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry For Your ... Brains

Why this book?

You’d probably be forgiven if when you think of poetry you think of love, natural beauty, or at worst, melancholic sadness. But with just 17 syllables, the author manages to bring all the grit, gore, and mayhem of the zombie apocalypse into pleasant verse. Haiku is a popular, easily approachable form of poetry (i.e. not pretentious), which makes this book a fun, light read despite its blood-spattered pages.


Alone

By Megan E. Freeman,

Book cover of Alone

Why this book?

As a teacher of verse novel specific classes, I’m always looking for verse novels that take on new and interesting plots and settings. This is the very first dystopian verse novels I’ve read which makes it refreshing. Maddie wakes up alone in her town, everyone, except her neighbor’s dog, has taken a transport that she’s missed. She must survive on her own in this town, find food, water, heat, and fight against scavengers. Verse wise, I loved how her poetry advanced as she aged and read all the poetry books in her local, abandoned library. I had no idea how this book would end, and it kept me on the edge of my seat!  


Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person

By Mary Caroline Richards,

Book cover of Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person

Why this book?

This is a poetic masterwork with the potter’s wheel as a metaphor for creating our lives as “an ongoing process” in which every act integrates all of life. In our current era there is a tendency to cry cultural appropriation when we look beyond our immediate context and study art healing principles within the whole human community and find ourselves in others. Mary Caroline Richards offers good art medicine for this myopia in demonstrating how ideas are not the property of persons “but live in the world” as people and all of nature do. “The deeper we go” in the contemplative process of centering, the more separations “dissolve.”


Oh, the Places You'll Go!

By Dr. Seuss,

Book cover of Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Why this book?

This book is a charm for kids of all ages who are eager to go out and explore the world! Dr. Seuss’ imagery is delightful and bright. His rhythmic poetry sings and rocks the soul. Read the book aloud to hear its music, and once you have reached its last word, please pause for a minute, close your eyes, let your mind wander about, and dream of all the places you will go…

I Love the Rain

By Margaret Park Bridges, Christine Davenier (illustrator),

Book cover of I Love the Rain

Why this book?

Rain can be a bummer unless you can find fun ways of transforming it into an experience of wonder and fun. And that’s exactly what this book does. Fun, fun, fun! Unless you live in the Sahara Dessert, almost every one of us will encounter a rainy day - if we’re lucky!

A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems

By Paul B. Janeczko (editor), Chris Raschka (illustrator),

Book cover of A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems

Why this book?

This anthology of concrete poems (also known as shape poems) is a direct influence on my own book. For anyone who loves concrete poetry, or wants to know more about it, A Poke in the Eye is indispensable. Each poem is by a different poet, and each approaches the form in their own way, which got me excited about trying it myself. I do have to say, while I love the mixed collage-style illustrations by Chris Raschka, it made me want to create my own concrete poetry book without supporting illustrations. In my mind, a concrete poem is its own illustration.


The Giving Tree

By Shel Silverstein,

Book cover of The Giving Tree

Why this book?

The pure poetry of the story - not the words themselves, which are poetic as well, but the story - always hits me emotionally when I read this book, often evoking tears. In the book, The Giving Tree is completely selfless, giving all the time; even when it is not the best thing to do, and yet she gets nothing in return. The character of the Tree is a poignant view of human existence, elucidating how we are happiest when we give, and how we remain ever hopeful, despite all appearances. The Tree also evokes a warning of the dangers of giving selflessly with no care for oneself; we must only give that which we can afford to give, otherwise, we risk our own peril.


The Ghost in the Machine: Poems of Love, Loss, Life and Death

By Barbara Lennox,

Book cover of The Ghost in the Machine: Poems of Love, Loss, Life and Death

Why this book?

What makes Scottish poet Barbara Lennox so special is her ability to draw on her scientific background, striking an exquisite balance between a mechanistic view of nature and a more mysterious, creative approach. I love poems about birds and flight and her poems about an owl ("ears inhale every sound"), hawk ("she’s light/ ready for the off/ half-poised for flight"), and the extinct Archaeopteryx, "smeared to a layer of limestone" are some of the finest written. On top of that, Lennox writes astonishing poems about the Scottish Highlands, where I’ve spent some of my happiest times.


The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova

By Anna Akhmatova, Judith Hemschemeyer (translator),

Book cover of The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova

Why this book?

I love Akhmatova for her talent and her immense courage. Considered to be the ‘Soul of the Silver Age,’ the greatest modernist Russian woman poet, Akhmatova was a brilliant master of conveying raw emotion in her portrayals of everyday situations. She began to write poetry at age eleven and was first published in her late teens. Her father considered this to be an unsuitable and even shameful occupation and forbade her to write using the family name so she chose the surname of her great-grandmother, Akhmatova. Her works range from short lyric love poetry to longer, more complex poems, such as Requiem, a tragic depiction of the Stalinist terror, and written as a testament to the hardship and suffering of the people during this time, particularly women whose husbands and sons were imprisoned and executed. 


13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

By Jane Smiley,

Book cover of 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

Why this book?

Smiley classifies and defines the novel and provides a primer of supportive instructions to the struggling writer. She explores the reasons why some novels succeed and some don’t. She provides the reader with a list of 100 books she has read, from thousand-year-old texts to recent bestsellers, offering her own insights and assessments of each work. Smiley provides a glimpse into the creative process and gives writers and readers new ways to be aware of what goes on between the lines. This book contains important and joyful advice for aspiring writers and is a gift to lovers of literature.



Forest Has a Song: Poems

By Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, Robbin Gourley (illustrator),

Book cover of Forest Has a Song: Poems

Why this book?

Amy has a way of making every poem feel personal, not just in the way the reader connects with the words, but in the way the subjects are presented. The poems are intimate, friendly, surprising, and comforting, whether they are written from a third-person perspective or from the point of view of the animals themselves. Beautiful to read, and beautiful to look at, readers will never look at the forest the same way again.


Without a Net

By Ana Maria Shua,

Book cover of Without a Net

Why this book?

It was hard to settle on a single book by Shua, who is widely considered the “Queen of South American Microfiction,” because her work is just so good. Without a Net is one of her two microfiction collections translated into English. This one deals with characters from circuses and carnivals and is an astonishing collection of microfiction. Each carefully chosen word resonates and illustrates the power of the form. This is a book I would want to have with me if I could only take one book with me on a weeks-long trip.


The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

By Lydia Davis,

Book cover of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

Why this book?

After wading through and translating the verbosity of Proust, she challenged herself to write very tiny stories. She is a pioneer in contemporary American literature and her work deals largely with the experiences of women, particularly those in domestic situations. Her work is sharp and pointed, often poetic and resonant. Her use of language really makes you interrogate how many words you truthfully need to tell a good story. This collection combines several of her earlier collections.


A Writer's Notebook

By W. Somerset Maugham,

Book cover of A Writer's Notebook

Why this book?

An incredible recounting by an author who remained current for over two centuries and in several art forms – plays, films, novels, and short stories. Orphaned at ten, and giving up a promising career in the medical profession to become a writer in his early twenties, Maugham reached the pinnacle of success and wealth in this perilous profession. In this collection of sketches, vignettes, and anecdotes, he looks back on his life at the Biblical age of “three score and ten” and accepts his shortcomings, mistakes, and secrets. His only lament: that there were four more novels left to write – the unreachable star that had been his guiding light throughout life. Five years later, he had finished three…


Pillow Thoughts

By Courtney Peppernell,

Book cover of Pillow Thoughts

Why this book?

This is a book full of enthusiasm and optimism, even when describing the darkest parts of life. Honestly, the pain hurt less after reading this book. 

It was a one-sitting read, and I thought there was a conversation between Courtney Peppernell and me the whole time. 

It felt as if my best friend and I were talking.


Letters to My Lover from Behind Asylum Walls

By Robin Sinclair,

Book cover of Letters to My Lover from Behind Asylum Walls

Why this book?

Every letter of "Sweet Jane'' to her lover "Eleanor" could be a letter written to the person you love the most but you cannot be with, a letter to the person you think of to escape from your hard reality when isolated. 

In each of those letters, I found the memories of the loved one blended with the day-to-day survival, written impeccably by Robin Sinclair, because I could sense the agony and the despair when all one has left is a pen, paper, and feelings.


Book of Haikus

By Jack Kerouac,

Book cover of Book of Haikus

Why this book?

While Jack Kerouac can arguably be synonymous with the Beat generation, the poems in this collection reveal a lesser-known and seldom seen but poignant side of Kerouac’s legacy. He distills his surroundings into short vignettes, reminiscent of the Beat style and motif, but incorporates a significant amount of nature imagery. They’re beautiful glimpses of the world through the eyes of one of America’s most influential authors.


How to Be a Lion

By Ed Vere,

Book cover of How to Be a Lion

Why this book?

Leonard, the lion, knows he’s expected to be fierce and loud. But he’s just not feeling it. Rather than live up to everyone else expectations, he befriends a duck and pursues his love of poetry.

Vere presents boys with a gentle role model and celebrates those who choose to stick up for themselves and their friends. In this way, Leonard’s as brave as any other lion.

This story will affirm those who feel like outsiders and encourages kids to be themselves – and follow their own interests. I love the warmth of this book – from the quirky writing style (which reminded me of Winnie-the-Pooh) to Vere’s palette of hot reds and oranges that depict the savannah so well.


The Aeneid

By Virgil, David West,

Book cover of The Aeneid

Why this book?

Decades ago I wouldn’t have recommended Vergil’s Aeneid. It’s a scandal for a Latin teacher to say that, but there you have it. And then one day the light came on, and I saw the incredible depth of the characters, to say nothing of the artistry of the poetry itself. As I have taught the poem to juniors and seniors each year and worked on my own translation along the way, I never cease to be amazed by Vergil as a writer. He crafts each scene, each character, as if he were a sculptor or a jeweler working the most exquisite cameo. Don’t miss out on a world classic that is too often overlooked in the modern age. For this, I chose a prose translation that really showcases Vergil’s storytelling. 


Officer Buckle and Gloria

By Peggy Rathmann,

Book cover of Officer Buckle and Gloria

Why this book?

I‘ve loved this book for years and if you haven’t read it, please give yourself a treat. Gloria, a dog of few words but lots of action, is one of my all-time favorite picture book characters. Officer Buckle is earnest when he gives his school talks on safety. Gloria, the police dog, is his sidekick and buddy. They have ice cream after their presentations. He thinks she obeys. But when he discovers she has been delighting their audiences while sneakily upstaging him with her antics, he refuses to do any more school talks. The show must go one with just Gloria—alone. But it’s no good. There is a happy ending to this book about teamwork and friendship. The Caldecott Medal-winning art is sublime.


Crush

By Richard Siken,

Book cover of Crush

Why this book?

When I was 21, I moved back to Japan (where I’d lived as a kid), taking a job in the rural south. I didn’t bring a lot with me, but of the few English books that felt indispensable, Crush was one. For the next twelve months of that particular job, I read Crush again and again. Through poetry – the poems are written in a distinct and unified voice – the book took on the quality of a series of monologues, a one-sided conversation that I was overhearing. It was a conversation about queerness, about attempting to forge and re-forge the self, about tenderness, about violence. I was a young queer person far from home, living in a country where I was simultaneously much physically safer and yet much more visible than I had been in my country of birth. Crush offered me both a window into what I had left and a window into what I simultaneously feared and hoped for my future. 


The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

By Sven Birkerts,

Book cover of The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

Why this book?

“One of the first discoveries I made when I began to return in a reflective way to earlier parts of my life was that there was often very little connection between events that by rights ought to be capitalized—important trips, moves, friendships, deaths—and the experiences that had in fact left the most vivid deposit in memory,” Birkerts writes in this little book that packs a punch. Focusing on Coming-of-Age Stories, Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Daughters, Trauma and Memory, Birkerts deconstructs well-loved texts to teach us how their writers chose to manage time.


I Hope You Stay

By Courtney Peppernell,

Book cover of I Hope You Stay

Why this book?

This book was chosen because of the deep, profound love that is displayed throughout the book. It speaks to how vulnerable a person makes themselves when they love deeply and how scary that can be. It also speaks to how you can feel so totally lost in loving another person that you forget to love yourself. I could identify with loving so intensely also and having my heart broken. I also identified with the journey of coming to loving oneself again and with that being open to finding someone better. 


Milk and Honey

By Rupi Kaur,

Book cover of Milk and Honey

Why this book?

I recommend this book because it places emphasis on women knowing their self-worth. This book also speaks about loving deeply and not having that love given back in return. I could identify with being in relationships that have made me feel unloved and unworthy. I could also identify with having that eye-opening moment when you come to the realization that you are this beautiful, gifted, wonderful human being worthy of having a person in your life who recognizes and truly appreciates you for all that you embody. The takeaway from this book I gained is to never love anyone more than you love yourself.


Jose Marti Reader: Writings on the Americas

By Jose Marti,

Book cover of Jose Marti Reader: Writings on the Americas

Why this book?

José Martí was a poet and writer who became the leader of Cuba’s final independence movement from Spain. He died in battle in 1895 and is the island’s best-known hero – images and statues of him can be found in almost every town in Cuba. He spent much of his life in exile, including in the United States. He was a prolific journalist, and his essay ‘Nuestra América’ (Our America, 1881) is one of his most-cited works. His observations about the US and the rest of the Americas were astute, and his work continues to offer insights that are applicable to the present day.


Letters to a Young Poet

By Rainer Maria Rilke, MD Herter Norton,

Book cover of Letters to a Young Poet

Why this book?

There’s nothing in Letters to a Young Poet about craft, writer’s block, or any of the recognizable challenges faced by twenty-first-century writers. Yet this slender volume published more than a century ago speaks to writers everywhere and in every era, who so often work in isolation and, if they are to be true to their art and authentic within themselves, must rip open their souls and spill the contents onto the page without regard for others’ judgment and criticism. In fact, it speaks to anyone, non-writer as well as writer, whose sensitivity and feelings of not belonging make it sometimes feel impossible to express themselves out in the world. In the end, isn’t that what writer’s block is all about. It certainly was for me!


Poetry of the Taliban

By Felix Kuehn, Alex Strick Van Linschoten,

Book cover of Poetry of the Taliban

Why this book?

The Taliban have long used poetry as a means of disseminating their messages, and their website features work in many different languages. Poetry has a very long tradition in Afghanistan, and so while the Taliban have tapped into this cultural current, it would be wrong to dismiss all of the poetry written (or even published) by the Taliban as mere propaganda. The poems in this work provide insight into the hearts and minds of Taliban fighters, who long for peace and for a multitude of things lost in war, who celebrate victories and lament defeats. A very human view of what are often seen as a faceless enemy.


Basho and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary

By Makoto Ueda,

Book cover of Basho and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary

Why this book?

Matsuo Bashō is considered the most influential figure in the history of hokku (or haiku) poems and this book brings them to life with excellent English translations and commentary. I particularly enjoy Bashō because he was a traveller. He didn’t just sit and write poems in comfy surroundings. He hit the road and wrote about his experiences, be they good or bad. In many ways, they are the humorous, spontaneous, gritty writings of a fatigued experiencer of life. One of my favourites - “My summer robe, there are still some lice, I have not caught”. Ueda’s book is brilliant and allows English speakers to glimpse Bashō’s true thoughts as he rambled about the countryside in 17th century Japan.


The Golden Threshold

By Sarojini Naidu,

Book cover of The Golden Threshold

Why this book?

Sarojini, a Bengali born in Hyderabad, was an Indian political activist and poet. She was a poignant figure in India's struggle for independence from colonial rule. Naidu's work as a poetess earned her the sobriquet 'the Nightingale of India', or 'Bharat Kokila' by Mahatma Gandhi because of the colour, imagery, and lyrical quality of her poetry.

With these poems Sarojini captures the imagery of her everyday surroundings and gives it a life of its own. One can already picture her sitting in a shaded veranda, glimpsing out into the bustling street, where she sees people working on their chores/livelihood, yet she takes each character and builds on their story albeit her own interpretation of it. Her poetry ignites an aesthetic sense with its rich sensory images and allows the reader to partake in her cherished moments of joy, pain, and sadness.


How to Read a Book

By Kwame Alexander, Melissa Sweet (illustrator),

Book cover of How to Read a Book

Why this book?

This is not literally a biography of a writer, but an illustrated poem that immerses the reader in the experience of reading. All writers are readers first, and all writers need readers, so that is why I am including it in my list. When I looked at reviews online, many of them complained that the artwork and the script made the book hard to read. I could not disagree more. The writing and the art literally become one in this brilliant mesmerizing book.  I love that Alexander references Langston Hughes reading on a stoop at the beginning. Then he proceeds to the central simile: 

Once you’re comfy,

Peel its gentle skin,

Like you would

A clementine

The color of

Sunrise.

Melissa Sweet’s orange, yellow, and pink collage literally rises from the page. This is a book to savor slowly, to read again, and again, and again.


Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems

By Billy Collins,

Book cover of Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems

Why this book?

There’s a reason Billy Collins served two terms as the Poet Laureate of the United States. His work is known to be both serious and playful, and he is able to take everyday moments and turn them into lessons for living. I always love what he calls “the turn” in his poem—the surprise direction a poem suddenly takes, seemingly departing from its original subject and taking your breath away or leaving you in complete surprise. Aimless Love is a beautiful compilation of fifty new poems and some of the best of four previous books.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

By Suzanne Slade, Cozbi A. Cabrera (illustrator),

Book cover of Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Why this book?

This book inspired my family to start reading poetry together, to create playlists of poets of the Harlem Renaissance, and even to have a Calico Critters poetry reading with tiny dollhouse books (the elephants and hedgehogs are especially good poets). 

Exquisite’s extraordinary illustrations and playful prose, which honors Gwendolyn’s rhythms, take us through the poet’s childhood love of poetry—she begins writing as early as 7. Poetry is Gwendolyn’s world. Eventually, her poems are published—first in her neighborhood, then in her city and beyond—but they don’t pay the bills. Then one day a phone call delivers the news: She is the first Black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize! I adored this book, about how art can elevate and bring joy to everyday life—with all its limitations—and gifted it to several families this year.


Imagine

By Juan Felipe Herrera, Lauren Castillo (illustrator),

Book cover of Imagine

Why this book?

I love books in which children can imagine themselves in the story. This gorgeous book, with its perfect match of gentle text and engaging illustrations, asks readers to imagine a child picking flowers, playing in a stream, moving with his migrant worker family, learning how to speak English, and beginning to write. As the child grows and changes, readers will delight in discovering that the narrator is actually Herrera, a U.S. poet laureate, writing about his own path to finding his voice and becoming a poet. Herrera points to his own journey as a way for children to imagine the wonderful possibilities that lie ahead of them. 


Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

By Don Tate,

Book cover of Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

Why this book?

I’m hooked when authors get to the heart of how someone finds their passion. That’s what Don Tate does as he spins the tale of how an enslaved boy, forbidden to learn to read and write, became a sought-after poet. Children will cheer for George as he teaches himself to read and becomes a published poet. They will hold their breath as George returns to his enslaver, and they will share his joy at his eventual freedom. Tate’s storytelling — this picture book biography brilliantly encompasses the hope, tension, and satisfaction of a story — shows that George’s physical bondage could not imprison his dreams. Through George’s fascinating story, children surely will be inspired to follow their own dreams.



Rumi: Poems

By Jalal Al-Din Rumi,

Book cover of Rumi: Poems

Why this book?

I am not suggesting any particular book of the poems of this famous Persian poet and Sufi mystic. There are dozens of translations. Read any. His ecstatic poetry, as well as reflective musings all, lead to deepening love, the center and meaning of a spiritual experience.


Great Circles: The Transits of Mathematics and Poetry

By Emily Rolfe Grosholz,

Book cover of Great Circles: The Transits of Mathematics and Poetry

Why this book?

Great Circles is a unique tale of the life and works of mathematicians, scientists, philosophers, poets, and other literary figures. It is collections of circles of thoughts and implications that return on themselves as if they are gravitationally attached to some core red dwarf of universal meaning.  

I loved reading this book. One moment I was into the math, and in the next, I was immersed in a relevant poem or was personality attached to some math or a philosophical thought about a connection of a poem with the math. It was a ride more than a read. It is a calming cognitive exercise on tour through and between chapters – mind wandering not permitted-- with a smooth comfort of thought as if Grosholz is in the room (or perhaps in your brain) reading and guiding.  

The poetry is gripping and wonderfully placed between the appropriate background materials. 


Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

By Ron Rash,

Book cover of Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

Why this book?

Ron Rash is a national, literary treasure. The author of multiple award-winning novels, this book is an assembly of 34 short stories, most set in Appalachia, and depicting the social nuances and landscape of the American rural South. I recommend this because it will provide a great introduction to the incomparable author known as The Appalachian Shakespeare. As a writer, Ron Rash epitomizes the idea of landscape as destiny, and his well-drawn characters come to life from his flawless use of regional language. 


Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices

By Walter Dean Myers,

Book cover of Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices

Why this book?

Here in Harlem pays homage to the people of Harlem in the first half of the 20th century. I loved how the rhythmic, musical verse brings the setting to life. It’s modeled on Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, but in a completely unique way that will really speak to YA readers.

The voices depicted in this poetry collection—especially Clara Brown’s recurring testimonies—make the book feel like a fully alive story rather than simple moments captured in time.


Out of the Dust

By Karen Hesse,

Book cover of Out of the Dust

Why this book?

Out of the Dust was the first verse novel I read. Set during the Dust Bowl of the thirties, I was drawn into the story from the first page. I loved Billy Jo, the main character, and was impressed by Karen Hesse’s ability to capture, in so few words, the dust, desolation, and difficulty of living in Oklahoma at that time. 


Talking Texts: A Teachers' Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum

By Lesley Roessing,

Book cover of Talking Texts: A Teachers' Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum

Why this book?

Nothing brings a classroom alive like an engaged and enthusiastic teacher! The best ones know how to guide their students into the heart of a text to make discoveries and connections on their own. I have done hundreds of school visits (virtual and in-person), and I love watching kids beam with pride as they reveal something they’ve learned from reading my book or come to a revelation through our chat. 

Lesley Roessing’s book is not a work of fiction – but it’s an invaluable tool to help teachers guide young readers through the books on this list. The final section of the book is a sample 9/11 book club using all the books on my list (and many more). Any teacher drawn to this list would be well-served by Lesley’s insightful lesson plans.


After Nature

By W.G. Sebald,

Book cover of After Nature

Why this book?

Prose turned into poetry, history made uncanny, this slim volume by the master of cryptic visual illustration is an incredibly useful prompt for how to get one’s own writing going on a new and stranger track. Along the way, Sebald (author of The Emigrants and Austerlitz) delivers yet another powerful suite of stories entwining art and life.


If Not for the Cat

By Jack Prelutsky, Ted Rand (illustrator),

Book cover of If Not for the Cat

Why this book?

After writing 14 children’s books about art appreciation, I decided to try my hand at children’s poetry. When I read this collection of haiku by Jack Prelutsky, it was a revelation. Each poem is a first-person description of an animal, full of rich, unexpected language. By writing in first-person, Prelutsky broke one of haiku’s cardinal rules. But it worked—and inspired me to write my own collection in the first person as well. Here’s one of my favorites poems in his book:

Raucously we caw.
Your straw men do not fool us.
We burgle your corn.


The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief

By Jan Richardson,

Book cover of The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief

Why this book?

In all of my reading after my husband died, I was looking for company. Someone who would share and reflect my experience. Not only the loss, but the toll it took on my faith. Jan’s book spoke to me for several reasons. She had lost her husband several years before writing the book. In her experience I saw someone who was a few years down the road from me, negotiating her own spirituality, and writing from a place of healing.  Her poetry was honest, yes, but more importantly pure comfort. Grief had ravaged my soul leaving me feeling raw and vulnerable. Jan’s words were gentle and soothing. When I couldn’t concentrate enough to read anything else, I could pick up Jan’s book and find a poem and a connection.


Surge

By Jay Bernard,

Book cover of Surge

Why this book?

Jay Bernard’s Surge is a collection of poems about the New Cross fire (1981) and the Grenfell fire (2017), and more broadly about Black British experience and identity. Their poetry is disciplined and musical, and the poems are deeply infused with an evident love for those whose lives were lost in the two fires. The delicacy of attention paid to individual victims brings a profound human beauty to poems about terrible things. I have a lot of respect for what it must have cost to take on that love, together with the grief and anger that it necessarily entails.


Prisoners of Secrets

By Lata Gwalani,

Book cover of Prisoners of Secrets

Why this book?

Set in South India in the 1950s, this is a story of Meera, Manuel, and Shankar—three conflicted souls, each with secrets that can destroy the other. It is a beautiful novel showing how one can become a prisoner of one's secrets and live compromised lives. The descriptions are so hauntingly vivid that they will remain etched in my mind forever. I loved the narration and the poetic language, and the bittersweet ending was like icing on the cake.


Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning

By Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi,

Book cover of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning

Why this book?

My son loved this adaptation of Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. "It shows you things that are hidden," he said. "And reveals things that America doesn't want you to know about." This 12-year-old tore through the book, prepared for youth by brilliant KidLit writer Jason Reynolds. He found it utterly readable, and very compelling. If every middle and high school history class had Stamped as a required text, we would undoubtedly be having very different (meaning: better) discussions about race in this country.


Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life

By Ashley Bryan,

Book cover of Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life

Why this book?

Based on actual slave documents, Ashley Bryan, through his accomplished paintings and poetry, imagines the lives of eleven men and women sold at auction in 1828. We learn the market prices of the eleven, but Bryan goes deep, showing us the true value of each unique individual. The soul and spirit of this lovely book lay in the astounding resilience, the survival of hope and dreams in the hearts and minds of these enslaved people. Amidst the ugliness of slavery, Bryan manages to leave me uplifted, even joyful — joyful about the unwavering human belief in and desire for freedom.  


Rumi: The Path of Love

By Jalal Al-Din Rumi,

Book cover of Rumi: The Path of Love

Why this book?

There can be no revolution without love. The 13th-century Persian poet, Sufi philosopher, and Muslim scholar Rumi is the best guide to put you on the road to an open heart and to keep you in constant connection with our shared humanity. He is the ultimate lover because his words lift off the page and teach you how to be vulnerable and courageous with your heart.


The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar!

By J. Lewis,

Book cover of The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar!

Why this book?

When it comes to animal photography, National Geographic set the standard for excellence – and when one pairs 200 of their best photographs with poetry from some of the country's finest poets, you end up with a beautiful, coffee table book that deserves to be in every house.

From classic poets like Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Rudyard Kipling to contemporary writers including Naomi Shihab Nye, Jack Prelutsky, and Jane Yolen (and even a few from anthologist and former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis) this is a book you will want to take time to peruse read, and ponder.


The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

By Allan Wolf,

Book cover of The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

Why this book?

The Watch That Ends The Night tells the story of the Titanic through the voices of those who were there. I read this after I had written my own most recent book and was struck with how similarly Allan and I approached historical catastrophes. Both books are multi-voiced and contemplate the same issues of privilege and class distinctions. Like me, Allan chose to listen to nature and endow her with a voice of her own.


Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

By Karen Swallow Prior,

Book cover of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Why this book?

One summer I took this book with me on vacation as one of my beach reads. I could not put it down. Dr. Prior shares her favorite books from childhood to adulthood and how each book influenced her. Because she is a college literature teacher, Karen knows how to share the ins and outs of a book—its plot as well as its literary elements and themes—while also intertwining her own life story as part of the discussion of the book. Since I love learning about themes, metaphors, and character development, reading these things was a treat for me. She discussed Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins and John Donne, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, and others. 


All Because You Matter

By Bryan Collier, Tami Charles (illustrator),

Book cover of All Because You Matter

Why this book?

This is a gorgeous book of affirmations in narrative form. It speaks to the magnificence of Black youth, as well as the ancestors who would love to know them. This book blends fantastical spreads like a mother and son rocketing into space with the power of reading, and more somber grounded family scenes to great effect. In many ways, this book helped me see what feelings I would want my young readers to leave my stories with. 


Little Labors

By Rivka Galchen,

Book cover of Little Labors

Why this book?

A friend once described her early years of motherhood as non-stop work but also total idleness. Galchen’s slim book of collected observations and witticisms about babies and motherhood, some only one dazzling paragraph long, made me pause to savor each word. I liken reading this book to reading fun poetry or admiring a pop-up gallery. You can read a bit of this book every day, without losing the thread. Each chapter (they are very mini chapters) made me see the world in a new light. Many made me laugh out loud with joy. 


Voicing Suicide

By Daniel G. Scott,

Book cover of Voicing Suicide

Why this book?

Voicing Suicide is a collection of poems about suicide and its impact on lives. When my stepdaughter killed herself, I desperately needed an anthology like this. Decades later, the poems here still resonate and console me. The book arises out of a conviction that poetry offers an opportunity to understand some of the difficult aspects of suicide by allowing us to give it voice; through memory, and elegy, through an honest declaration of the draw of death. In poetry, we can enter the spaces suicide shapes around loss and sorrow and give it voice. Poems can speak to the loss of a loved one, to considering suicide, to struggling to make sense of suicide and poems can offer the words of those who have suicided. Although intense and sometimes painful, the book is honest, in moments delicate and tender. It offers an important exploration of suicide by writers who have been close to suicide and speak of it without disguise. Voicing Suicide also provides a short guide to relevant resources.


The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492

By Peter Cole,

Book cover of The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492

Why this book?

Among the wonders of medieval Spain is the appearance of the first Hebrew secular poetry since Biblical times. In this masterful and unparalleled set of translations by Peter Cole, we witness the profound, pious, chauvinistic, and indeed, sensual traditions of secular poetry over centuries. A fusion of Arabic and Hebrew traditions, in and of themselves, these poems stand as a metaphor for the Jewish community itself as well as its dynamism and endurance under Muslim and then, Christian rule.