There are so many life-changing poetry books because this art form 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. When it comes to picking a book, we feel poetry is often overlooked.
Here are our picks for the best poetry books you have to read.
There Are Things More Beautiful Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker
Confrontational, sharp, harsh, and gentle, Morgan Parker's second book is filled with clever pop-culture references. Every poem is unique, especially when it comes to its form, and yet together, they're so cohesive that you'll want to devour the entire book in one fell swoop. Parker is a commanding game-changer, and we are officially devout followers waiting to see what she comes up with next. Plus, you can't beat that title.
"What kind of bodies are movable and feasts. What color are visions."
Romancero Gitano by Federico García Lorca
Having dedicated 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."
Ariel by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath 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 her poems so accessible to a variety of people. 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."
Green Migraine by Michael Dickman
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. You'll never look at your favorite color the same way again after reading Green Migraine.
"I can almost get it with these tweezers. Chlorine in the cupola. Feedback out of ferns."
I Must Be Living Twice by Eileen Myles
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, Afterglow: A Dog 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."
Howl by Allen Ginsberg
No matter what mood you're in, when you pick up Howl by Allen Ginsberg to read out loud, you will inevitably feel ready to take on the world. 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 absorb 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."
The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
This book is like a poet's bible. Though a quintessential Romantic active long ago, Emily Dickinson's 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."
Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
This collection of poetry by Ocean Vuong 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 lot of clever wordplay, so if you're a language nerd, you'll love Night Sky.
"How sweet. That rain. How something that lives only to fall can be nothing but sweet."
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
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."
The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde
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."
Love Poems by Pablo Neruda
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. This edition of his poetry includes both the Spanish and English versions.
"Do tears not yet spilled wait in small lakes?"
Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara
The title reflects the ease at which Frank O'Hara whips up delicious, silly, insightful lessons out of random observations deemed by many as unimportant. And he really did just jot these poems down during his lunch break. Take a break from your work and read Lunch Poems 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!"
Last Sext by Melissa Broder
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 in Last Sext. 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."
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
You probably recognize this title by Rupi Kaur. This collection of poetry about survival is a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. It touches on the topics of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity, by a 20-something Kaur.
"Do not look for healing/at the feet of those/who broke you."
The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace
This autobiographical poetry collection by fairy tale lover Lovelace, who is in her 20s, explores "love, loss, grief, healing, empowerment, and inspiration." It won the Goodreads choice award for best poetry in 2016.
"Silence has always been my loudest scream."
Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
Don't Call Us Dead, a National Book Award finalist, is an eye-opening collection of poems about the black male experience in America. It explores desire and mortality with poems about the afterlife for black men shot by the police, an HIV-positive diagnosis, and more.
"Who knew my haven/would be my coffin?/dead is the safest I've ever been./I've never been so alive."
Love Her Wild by Atticus
Instagram poet @atticuspoetry captures love and life in his New York Times bestseller. Who is Atticus? We, along with his more than a million Instagram followers, don't really know. The mysterious poet is always sure to keep his face covered.
"Watch carefully/the magic that occurs/when you give a person/enough comfort/to just be themselves."