courtesy of the publishers
”If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold, no fire can warm me. I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” wrote Emily Dickinson, whose life was dedicated to the hundreds of poems she poured herself into. Poetry, an honest and intimate art form, is a way to question humanity through the use of words and rhythm. Here are 15 books of verse—both contemporary works and well-known collections—that ask the reader to think critically about complicated concepts like race, sexism, and the meaning of life.
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The House on Mango Street
The House on Mango Street tells the coming of age story of 12-year-old Esperanza Cordero through a series of vignettes, offering a perspective on Chicago’s Chicana community, as well as the universal themes of growing up and discovering one’s identity.
Rupi Kaur’s popularity on Instagram and her lasting influence on younger audiences online make her a poet of the digital age, but Milk and Honeywith its simple wording and intimate emotions, is a must-have on any poetry shelf.
Emily Dickinson is now considered one of the most prolific writers in American history, but in her lifetime, only 10 of her poems were known to be published—several of which were heavily edited to fit societal standards of the time. This collection celebrates her genius and includes the unedited, original versions of her work.
Call Us What We Carry: Poems
In Call Us What We CarryAmanda Gorman, known for her performance of “The Hill We Climb” at the 2021 presidential inauguration, presents a collection of her poetry that explores the grief experienced during the global pandemic.
The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Jackie Kennedy was a great appreciator of the arts who highlighted their importance during her tenure as First Lady. This collection, selected by her daughter Caroline, reflects Kennedy’s love for literature and poetry.
Maya Angelou is not only known for her literature but for her contributions to activism, film, and theater. This collection includes long form poems written in her final years as well as the poem recited during the 2008 presidential inauguration “On the Pulse of Morning.”
Following his mother’s death, Ocean Vuong chronicled his grief in this stunning and intimate collection of poetry. Vuong’s work has often been praised for its ability to capture emotion. As Kadish Morris wrote in The Guardian“There’s something about Vuong’s writing that demands all of your lungs.”
One Hundred Love Sonnets: Cien sonetos de amor
Originally published in Spanish, this book presents 100 of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s love sonnets dedicated to his wife Matilde Urrutia. The romantic collection puts love and passion into words as Narudo uses symbolism to express his desire for his wife.
Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place (Kentucky Voices)
Inspired by her childhood, poet and activist bell hooks writes about the marginalization and loneliness she experienced while growing up in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky in this autobiographical work of somber yet compelling poetry.
Sea of Strangers is an earnest and raw collection of poetry and prose that pushes the reader to think about self-discovery and love.
If They Come for Us: Poems
Drawing comparisons between the political injustices in Pakistan and the racial inequity of the United States, Fatimah Asghar’s first collection of poetry offers a candid criticism of politicians who ignore marginalized groups.
Safiya Sinclair explores both racism and sexism in Cannibala bold body of work.
Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 (American Poets Continuum Book 14)
This body of work from Pulitzer Prize finalist Lucille Clifton includes four of her poetry collections as well as her memoir titled Generations.
Citizen: An American Lyric
Celebrated poet and essayist Claudia Rankine, provides an honest perspective on the Black American experience through Citizen: An American Lyric.
Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris is a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection that captures the essence of difficult themes such as mortality, spirituality, and the human condition.
Life of the Party: Poems
Olivia Gatwood uses this collection to voice society’s mistreatment of women. As a Title IX Compliant educator, Gatwood pours her frustration and distress into these poems to reflect the injustices she has seen and heard first-hand.
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