I’ve been reading the lovely poetry book reviews posted this National Poetry Month by Dave Bonta and Nic Sebastian. It’s a great idea, and one I’d love to do myself, but if I add another thing to my plate I think my head will explode. However, I can at least compile a list of my favorite poetry books of all time, right? Here they are:
The Heath Guide to Poetry. This was the book used by my high school English teacher and the one that first seduced me into learning more about writing poetry rather than just dabbling with my emo teenage journal. This is where I discovered Williams, Roethke, Bishop, Thomas, Cummings, Stafford, Sexton, etc.
The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser. This is the book that taught me about poetry’s emotional footprint. It’s much more an explanation of how poems can move the reader than anything technical, but I think it’s one of the most influential books I’ve read when it comes to my own theory of poetics. I’m always trying to move the reader emotionally in some way thanks to this book.
In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit. This book is a natural extension of Kooser’s. I read it right after and it was perfect because of the way it talks about all forms of poetry (free verse, formal, etc.). Sure, I knew a lot about poetry and forms before, but this book is so well-organized that I still refer to it when I have a quick question. The poems used as examples are a special bonus for any reader of this book. Most of them are brilliant.
A Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie. Where the previous two books are easy and enjoyable reads, this book is a complicated challenge. Nevertheless, I learned more about the nitty gritty theory of poetry from this book than I ever intended. It took me two years, but I read the entire thing and I’m glad I did. Some of it is arcane and impossible to parse, but the encyclopedic detail is incredibly useful.
Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert. The poems in this book are deceptively simple: great imagery, brief narratives. When I found myself reading the poems several times, I discovered a world of emotion and philosophical richness. Gorgeous work.
talking in the dark by Billy Merrell. I didn’t think you could write a memoir with poetry, but this book proved me wrong. The poems are sometimes gritty, sometimes beautiful (sometimes both), but all of them are surprisingly truthful. I don’t know if I could write about my life so honestly.
The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forche. This is the book that convinced me poetry could be gorgeous and horrifying at the same time. I’m still in awe of this work.
Becoming Light by Erica Jong. This book was my first experience reading poetry that made me happy to be female. It’s a celebration of womanhood. My particular favorite is “For My Sister, Against Narrowness.”
What are your favorites? I could use a good summer wish list.