There have been said to be so many life-changing poetry books because poetry is such a personal reading experience that captures and confronts us with what we've privately felt, thought, or believed in some inarticulable capacity. Aside from being more melodic than prose, it plunges right to the core. So when we need company, advice, attitude, motivation, humor, or whatever else to show us the way, poetry is the fearless leader. Cheesy, yes, but what can we say?
To share our passion, we designed a reading list of the best poetry books to get you through every mood and life event you find yourself in. (Don't worry, our syllabus steps outside the Shakespearean box.) Click through the collections below to choose the poetry that speaks the most to you.
Feeling Disillusioned, Seeking Empowerment
Morgan Parker There Are Things More Beautiful Than Beyoncé ($10)
Confrontational, sharp, harsh, and gentle, Morgan Parker's second book is riddled with clever disidentifying pop-culture references that open up a new plank of reason. Every poem is unique, especially formally, and yet together, they're so cohesive that you'll want to devour the entire book in one fell swoop. She's a commanding game-changer, and we are officially devout followers waiting to see what she comes up with next.
"What kind of bodies are movable and feasts. What color are visions."
Feeling Dreamy, Seeking a Lullaby
Federico García Lorca Romancero Gitano ($17)
Dedicating his life to resistant art and beauty during the Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco, Lorca has much to teach us. And though it is impossible to beat the Spanish version of "Romancero Sonambulo," it's still worth reading in any language. Even if you can't understand it, the sounds alone will woo you with their full, soft, and lullaby-like rhythm.
"Verde que te quiero verde. Verde viento. Verdes ramas. Con la sombra en la cintura ella sueña en su baranda."
Feeling Combustive, Seeking Expression
Sylvia Plath Ariel ($4)
Oh, Sylvia! She has helped so many people wrestle and grapple with difficult times. Her poetry is so great at capturing moods without tethering them to particular situations, which makes them so accessible to a variety of experiences and identities. If you liked her poem "Mad Girl's Love Song" in The Bell Jar, read this collection next.
"There's a stake in your fat black heart/ And the villagers never liked you./ They are dancing and stamping on you./ They always knew it was you. Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through."
Feeling Listless, Seeking Creativity
Michael Dickman Green Migraine ($10)
Michael Dickman successfully rethinks sensation, and in this case, pain, by presenting it as a color. The way in which he equips us with language to describe something we'd otherwise be unable to grasp is pretty heroic. It's also fun to hear how a poet imagines the personalities of each color that we all have a relationship to. You'll never look at your favorite color the same way again.
"I can almost get it with these tweezers. Chlorine in the cupola. Feedback out of ferns."
Feeling Wry, Seeking Banter
Eileen Myles I Must Be Living Twice ($10)
Both a poet and a novelist, Eileen Myles has a knack for putting the mundane into language that makes it just a bit more beautiful. If you read her recent memoir, which won her critical acclaim, try this collection of poems next.
"Oh, hello. C'mon in./ You know I was just thinking about how you've always thought I was cool…/ And here I am making fishcakes and broccoli."
"Already I know it will hurt/ this is the hurt country. I came here to hold the hurt like a bird."
Feeling Riled Up, Seeking an Outlet
Allen Ginsberg Howl ($11)
No matter what mood you're in, when you pick up Howl to read out loud you will inevitably feel ready to take on the world. Seriously, there's not enough punctuation to let you catch your breath, so you will run ahead of yourself and get carried away in the mood of the piece as you inherit the mindset the speaker confronts you with.
"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…/Who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm/ clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade."
Feeling Lost, Seeking Guidance
Emily Dickinson The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson ($8)
This book is like a poet's bible. Though a quintessential Romantic active long ago, her advice, playful riddles, and iconic form are still relevant today.
"Hope is the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul, /And sings the tune without the words,/ And never stops at all."
Feeling Insular, Seeking Strength
Ocean Vuong Night Sky With Exit Wounds ($11)
This collection of poetry is as beautiful and evocative as the title implies, full of lyrical yet relatable narratives that introduce you to the feelings you couldn't previously place. There is also a ton of clever wordplay, so if you're a language nerd, you'll love it.
"How sweet. That rain. How something that lives only to fall can be nothing but sweet."
Feel Blessed, Seeking Beauty
Mary Oliver Dog Songs ($10)
Mary Oliver is a gifted poet whose work exudes her uplifting energy so viscerally that you can't help but absorb her sensibilities. If you love the outdoors, you will love her poetry, much of which can be read as an ode to the staggering beauty of our natural landscapes. You can always count on her to show you the way if you need a pick-me-up.
"You do not have to be good. /You do not have to walk on your knees /for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. /You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."
Feeling Bogged-Down, Seeking Motivation
Audre Lorde The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde ($13)
Audre Lorde is a visionary writer and a self-proclaimed "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet." Through an innovative yet accessible arrangement of language and form, Lorde's poems will inspire and motivate you.
"I will endure sand/ I will resist sand/ I am tired of no/ all the time sand/ I too will unmask my dark hard rock sand."
Feeling Lovesick, Seeking Comfort
Pablo Neruda Love Poems ($10)
Pablo Neruda may be the best writer of love letters to have ever lived, and according to Gabriel García Márquez, the greatest poet to have ever lived in any language. This edition of his poetry includes both the Spanish and English versions.
"Do tears not yet spilled wait in small lakes?"
Feeling Cryptic, Seeking Solace
Charles Bukowski Love Is a Dog From Hell ($9)
Charles Bukowski's work has been to known to instigate many a debate about misogyny. But misogynistic or not, his crass poetry is worth reading with a discerning eye and when you need someone to commiserate with (among other things, of course).
"If there are junk yards in hell, love is the dog that guards the gates."
Feeling Silly, Seeking Joy
Frank O'Hara Lunch Poems ($12)
The title reflects the ease at which Frank O'Hara whips up delicious, silly, insightful lessons out of random observations deemed by most as unimportant. Oh, and he really did just jot these poems down during his lunch break. Take a break from your work and read them during yours.
"Leaf! you are so big!/ How can you change your
color, then just fall!/ As if there were no
such thing as integrity!"
Feeling Alienated, Seeking Solidarity
Melissa Broder Last Sext ($8)
Well known for her intimate and hilariously self-deprecating Twitter handle So Sad Today, Melissa Broder crafts confessional, modern, and wry poetry. If you follow her online presence or her collection of essays, you will likely also enjoy seeing her through this softer lens. And while it does feel a little more gentle than her prose, you can always count on Broder to unmask what is grotesque in public but beautiful—or at last normal and common—in private, which is incredibly freeing.
"Am I crying on coal mountain./ The sky is a funnel I want it./ I want to be sucked by the moon."
Next up: The seven best books on Audible for people who don't have time to read.
This story was originally published on December 26, 2017, and has since been updated.