When Amanda Gorman took to the stage at the 2021 presidential inauguration, America set its sights on poetry once again. The dynamic, young American poet captured the fancy of the nation and brought renewed interest to the world of poetry. So what are the best poetry books to put on your Amazon wish list?
A book of poetry is different then a novel. instead of being one work from start to finish, a book of poetry is a collection of poems, usually on a theme or by one particular poet.
These are some of the best poetry collections in the English language. If you are getting interested in poetry, they are the ones that you should add to your collection.
The Best Poetry Books Past and Present
As you decide what poetry books to add to your collection, there are some that definitely stand out. We chose these books because of the complexity of emotion they contain, the unique styles of poetry they embrace and the eclectic mix of topics they cover.
1 . The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson
What makes this collection of poems so significant is the fact that only 11 of Dickinson's poems were published before she died in 1886. it was only after her death that her powerful works were discovered, and this book has all 1,775 of them in one work. It's a big book of poems, but one worth exploring.
Becuase the book has nearly 2,000 works in it, chances are you won't love all of them, but it will give you clear insight into what made the poet's mind tick.
“Not knowing when the dawn will come
I open every door.”
2. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Claudia Rankine is worth listing because of her modern take on poetry. She explores racial aggression in 21st-century America in her book.
This is both a social expose and an interesting poem. It challenges the idea that race is no longer an American issue.
“because white men can't
police their imagination
black men are dying”
3. If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Sappho, translated by Anne Carson
This is an interesting book to include because its original writing was in Greek. In fact, Anne Carson, who translated the work, used brackets and white space to show where text was missing in the original.
This gives your imagination the chance to soar, filling in the gaps. Since Anne Carson is, herself, a poet, she is able to bring some poetic verse to the book.
“someone will remember us
even in another time”
4. The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou deserves a spot on this list because of her perspectives on African American life. This book is ideal because it has all of her works, so you don't have to choose between her various books.
In her poems, Angelou pays tribute to many famous people, including Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela, and explores how womanhood has changed over the past decades. one of the books included in this compilation, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
"The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom."
5. Magical Negro by Morgan Parker
Magical Negro explores the everydayness of Black life through poetry and verse. It explores the world of Black womanhood and the struggles faced in daily life.
While Parker does express grievances on themes of racism and injustice, she also talks about the jokes and personal narratives that make the culture of blackness in America.
“I feel most colored when I am the punchline. When I am the trigger.”
6. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman is easily one of the most influential writers of his time. A discussion of poetry would not be complete without one of his books, and Leaves of Grass is a popular one. In the book he celebrated nature, love, friendship and the human body, and the people of his time viewed his work as a bit too erotic for their tastes.
There is quite a bit of self-serving talk in this book, but because of its place in classic American literature, it deserves a spot on this list. It also was one of the first known examples of free verse style, which helped solidify that genre of American poetry.
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
7. Selected Poems by Langston Hughes
Selected Poems is yet another book that features a black poet. Hughes published his first book of poems in 1926, he revolutionized black writing in America. In Selected Poems, he chose his favorite poems from his collection right before he died.
This book makes it on the list because it has several styles of poetry, explores the jazz and blues culture and includes pieces chosen directly by the author.
“Looks like what drives me crazy
Don't have no effect on you--
But I'm gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.”
8. 100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda
A list of the best poetry books wouldn't be complete without a collection of love poems. In 100 Love Sonnets, Pablo Neruda explores the nuances of love in poetic verse.
If you are looking for something to read that is passionate and romantic, this book is a good choice. It can also give you some interesting verses to share with someone special.
“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”
9. Soft Science by Franny Choi
In this new book by Franny Choi, poems explore softness in modern society. It is brilliant in its exploration of the English language. This new collection of poetry is on the list because it is such an intelligent read.
Throughout Soft Science, Choi explores what it means to be human, even in a world surrounded by technology. Choi also explores the theme of the Asian body and how tit fits into the new, modern world.
“If tenderness is any sort of currency
maybe I don't want what it can buy.”
10. When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie DIaz
in this debut collection, Natalie Diaz explores the life of the Mojave people through poetry. The poems have a dark edge to them, and they touch on drug addiction.
When My Brother Was an Aztec makes it on the list because it is edgy and explores a culture often ignored in poetry books that make it on bestseller lists.
“Worry tastes so dirty when it's spread out like a banquet.”
11. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
A discussion of the best books in American poetry is never complete without a look at children's poems, and Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends is one of the most popular collections. The title poem and others in the collection explore the bounds of childhood imagination.
He accompanies these poems with delightful illustrations that capture the whimsy and innocence of childhood.
"There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind."
12. New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
In New and Selected Poems, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver explores the beauty of humanity and the natural world. Her poetry is though-invoking and rarely rhymes, making it a truly interesting read.
This book is an interesting mix of classic poems, like Wild Geese, as well as some of her newer works, so you can see how her work evolved.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
13. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
Milk and Honey includes both poetry and prose. It has four chapters and each chapter deals with a different type of heartbreak. Kaur's goal is to help the reader heal from life's most bitter moments.
This book is unique because Kaur both self-illustrated and self-published it, yet is so popular it is now available in 42 languages.
“Loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself.”
14. The Complete Sonnets and Poems by William Shakespeare
This compilation of the sonnets of the Bard of Avon must be on the list because of how famous the playwright's sonnets are. In fact, they are still quoted today for people who are in romantic relationships.
The cadence and rhythm of Shakespearean sonnets are something you will instantly recognize, and this is an enjoyable read.
“Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:"
15. The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman
Finally, this list would not be complete without a discussion of the first Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, Amanda Gorman. Her inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, is now available as a book.
This poem is moving and features a crisp rhythm and words that everyone, regardless of their age, who calls themselves an American can relate to.
“our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid”
A Final Word on The Best Poetry Books
If you have a taste for poetry, or if you simply want to enjoy some during poetry month, the right book is key. You need a book that captures this literary art form well. Whether you wish to grab a romantic sonnet or wish to challenge your thinking on issues of race and politics, the poetry books on this list will help you do just that.
If you are building a library of classic literature, you will want it to include some books of poetry. Add some o these to your collection, and you will always have something to grab and read when the fancy strikes.
FAQs About the Best Poetry Books
What are the best poetry books?
The best poetry books according to Reedsy are:
- The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
- If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carson
- The Complete Sonnets and Poems by William Shakespeare
- Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
- New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
- The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou
Who was the best poet of all time?
Some of the best poets historically include:
- Emily Dickinson
- William Shakespeare
- Walt Whitman
- Maya Angelou