As I’ve said many times, I use poetry as the kickstart to my writing practice most days. In fact, I’m reading Eloise Klein Healy’s A Wild Surmise right now for just that reason. Her language – as if true of many poets – has depth and play, elements I can tease out and take anew in my own work.
So today, I give you ten books of poetry that I simply adore. There are many more that I could list, of course. Wordsworth didn’t make the list, for example, but these represent some of the works that have had the most profound influence on me as a writer.
1.100 Love Sonnets: Cien sonetos de amor by Pablo Neruda – Romance, tight poetic form, and lots of references to bread as a symbol of love – this is the heart of Neruda’s collection to me. I especially love this edition, too, because it has Tapscott’s translations (which I can read) and Neruda’s original Spanish poems (which I can roll around in). I read the English version silently, and then I try my lips around Spanish, even as I’m not sure what words mean what. It’s a lovely experience.
2. Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney – Finney’s work is an example in carefully controlled power. Her words are strong, the emotions they describe large – and yet, the form, the rhythm, the language holds them close and lets me breathe them in.
3. Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot – It took me a long time to “get” Eliot, but when I did, well, he came on like a dust storm. The Four Quartets is profound, powerful, and something to be savored. For me, that meals small bites, rolled around and around in my mind.
4. Wind in a Box by Terrance Hayes – I read this book while I wrote the draft of You Will Not Be Forgotten. Hayes words, his imagery, his musicality seeped – I hope – just a little into my own words. I will return to this book again because I surely did not get all I could from it.
5. Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake – Blake, so much remembered for only his Tyger and yet so much more. These small poems are not small in depth or meaning. Plus, Blake illustrations in this edition are powerful. Some day, I’d love to own a full set of them for my office wall.
6. View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska – If I had to pick a favorite poet, it would probably be Szymborska. Her imagery, her way of turning myth and story to a new angle, the soft strength of her language – these are all things I’d like to emulate.
7. Eve’s Striptease by Julia Spicher Kasdorf – Julia was my poetry professor in college, and her work is the first I studied with depth, probably because I so admired her and hoped to find more of her in her work. I appreciate how she weaves in tradition and iconoclasty, home goods and academics. Her poetry is what I want my life to be.
8. Bellocq’s Ophelia by Natasha Tretheway – I have always loved art that is inspired by other work, and Tretheway takes this tradition on new journeys. She explores questions of racial identity and sexuality, art and privilege – all in language that is gorgeous and rich and carefully sculpted.
9. Second Space by Czeslaw Milosz – I love Milosz’s honesty, his ability to write about aging and love and loss with such power. Plus, his words are precise and grandiose, beautiful.
10. Any collection of George Gordon Lord Byron’swork. I love Byron, his absolute passion for nature’s strength, his broodiness. I imagine him always with arms spread wide on a mountainside meadow. Fun, big reading.
What are some of your favorite books of poetry? I’d love some recommendations.