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Best Poetry Books to Read in 2020

There are few things truer at heart than good poetry. Now, I know a bunch of you out there are like… Bleck! Poetry’s for saps and boring people. And that couldn’t be farther from the truth. That’s why I’ve put together a list of the best poetry books that’ll change the way you think about poetry.

If you’re like me, some of the first real poetry you were exposed to was from William Shakespeare. And if you’re like me, you also couldn’t stand it. Sorry, but not sorry. Shakespeare’s just not my thing–although you’ve got to respect his contributions to writing as a whole. But there’s a whole world out there full of amazing poets. Hopefully, this list will help you to see that.

The Best Poetry Books to Read Right Now

  1. Soft Science
  2. Severe(d)
  3. Milk and Honey
  4. Salt Water
  5. Good Bones
  6. Lunch Poems
  7. Autobiography of Death
  8. Songs of Innocence and Experience
  9. The Complete Poetry of Maya Angelou
  10. When Rap Spoke Straight to God
  11. How to Pull Apart the Earth
  12. Bestiary: Poems 
  13. The Divine Comedy
  14. The Flowers of Evil

Soft Science

Soft Science
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Choi Franny (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 88 Pages - 04/02/2019 (Publication Date) - Alice James Books (Publisher)

This book is really a mind-bender. It’s a book of poetry written from a queer, Asian-American feminine viewpoint. It’s an oddly specific way of looking at things. And that alone is well worth the read.

But what really sets these poems apart from the rest is the literary agents and themes used. Its interesting and thought provoking views on what it means to be human and the future woes of automation are sure to mesmerize anyone. From Turing-like Tests to cyborgs, this book of poetry really hits the spot for a sci-fi poetry enthusiast.

Severe(d)

Severe(d): A Creepy Poetry Collection
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Riordan, Holly (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 127 Pages - 09/13/2017 (Publication Date)

Ok. So, when you think of horror and poetry, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Obviously, it’s Edgar Allen Poe–the true master of horror. And if you’re a fan of Poe, there’s a great chance you’ll appreciate the poetry of Holly Riordan.

Holly’s writing is exploratory and dark to say the least. Her poems cover everything from heartbreak, grieving, and bouts of depression. But in a good twisted kind of way.

Milk and Honey

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Milk and Honey
  • Genre: Poetry, Body + Mind + Spirit
  • Rupi Kaur (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages - 10/06/2015 (Publication Date) - Andrews McMeel Publishing (Publisher)

There’s a reason Rupi Kaur’s poetry reached #1 on the New York Times Bestseller’s List. It’s one of the best poetry books of the modern age. Translated into over 40 languages and sold worldwide, Milk and Honey proves that poetry is alive and well. And that she’s one of the reasons it is.

The book is actually divided into four different chapters. Each chapter serves a different purpose and addresses a different kind of pain. And as a heads up… this isn’t necessarily kid-friendly. There’s a lot of mature subjects and topics in here. If you’re looking for something PG-rated, do not buy this. But if you can handle (or prefer) more mature poetry, this might just be a good read for you.

Salt Water

Salt Water
  • Brianna Wiest (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 171 Pages - 09/30/2020 (Publication Date) - Thought Catalog Books (Publisher)

Salt Water is author Brianna Weist’s debut poetry collection. And let’s just say, she really gets it right the first go-around.

The main premise of this book is analyzing your self-collective, understanding what it takes to forgive yourself, and moving forward to realize your true potential. It’s a soulful read that can truly motivate you without shoving everything down your throat.

Good Bones

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Good Bones: Poems
  • Maggie Smith (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 114 Pages - 10/01/2017 (Publication Date) - Tupelo Press (Publisher)

Maggie Smith writes this out of her own personal experiences with motherhood–the main theme of this collection. Her writing is directly inspired from the interactions she has with her own children and with their own brand new encounters within the world.

The titular poem “Good Bones” was officially named the poem of the year by Public Radio International, and she herself Ohio Poet of the Year both in 2016.

Lunch Poems

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Lunch Poems (City Lights Pocket Poets Series)
  • Lunch Poems City Lights Pocket Poets Series
  • Frank O'Hara (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 76 Pages - 01/01/2001 (Publication Date) - City Lights Publishers (Publisher)

Lunch Poems is a collection written by the late Frank O’ Hara. And it unequivocally represents 1950-60s New York City. It’s an autobiographical account of his daily life straight down to taxicab journeys and his favorite lunch spots.

O’ Hara’s work has been equated to broadcasting across modern day social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Autobiography of Death

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Autobiography of Death
  • Hyesoon, Kim (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 128 Pages - 11/27/2018 (Publication Date) - New Directions (Publisher)

This isn’t a book for the weak-hearted as Kim Hyesoon’s poetry faces trauma and death head on. She addresses the unjust violence suffered in Korea’s contemporary era from the Korean War onward.

She is considered to be one of Korea’s most important poets and has won several awards for this book including The Griffin International Poetry Prize and the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Award.

Songs of Innocence and Experience

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Songs of Innocence and Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul, 1789-1794 (Oxford Paperbacks)
  • Oxford University Press, USA
  • William Blake (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 226 Pages - 10/27/1977 (Publication Date) - Oxford University Press (Publisher)

Although largely unrecognized during his lifetime, William Blake is now considered to be one of most (if not the most) important poets of the Romantic Era. And his most famous work is Songs of Innocence and Experience.

This work represents the duality of human nature. It’s divided into two separate parts. His songs of innocence deal more with respect for rules, moralism, and repression. Whereas the songs of experience are jaded against and begin to oppose these virtues.

The Complete Poetry of Maya Angelou

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The Complete Poetry
  • Random House
  • Hardcover Book
  • Angelou, Maya (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 03/31/2015 (Publication Date) - Random House (Publisher)

Maya Angelou is easily one of the greatest American poets of all time. And this collection is a complete anthology of every poem–short and long form–she’s ever published. This includes her well-known works such as “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” to those less known like “Human Family”.

If you’re a fan of American literature, you need to have this book in your library.

When Rap Spoke Straight to God

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When Rap Spoke Straight to God
  • Dawson, Erica (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 70 Pages - 09/18/2018 (Publication Date) - Tin House Books (Publisher)

Often, when you think of poetry, small excerpts of text come to mind. Many forget that poetry can actually come in many different lengths. From short little haikus to epics such as The Divine Comedy below. Now, this book isn’t an epic, but it is long form poetry. And that might not rub the right way with some readers.

The book’s about stepping up an owning your voice as a woman–particularly a woman of color–and asserting dominance in the all-too familiar white male patriarchy. Dawson defines her body as one of the main adversaries in her poem early on. And uses it to address previous and current political issues. Honestly, it’s a great read and testament to the power of women.

How to Pull Apart the Earth

How to Pull Apart the Earth
  • Cordero, Karla (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 80 Pages - 11/12/2018 (Publication Date) - Not A Cult (Publisher)

This is a strong book written by an even fiercer woman about the interconnection between Mexico and the United States. Cordero herself grew up along the borderlands and through her poetry tells of the struggles and sacrifices that are all to common for the American Dream there.

This can be a very politically rousing and stimulating read. And it’s a must-have. This book is great even for those who’ve never liked or appreciated poetry.

Bestiary: Poems

Bestiary: Poems
  • Graywolf Press
  • Kelly, Donika (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 80 Pages - 10/11/2016 (Publication Date) - Graywolf Press (Publisher)

Bestiary: Poems truly is a collection of wild and wonder. Winner of several awards including the 2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry, this book explores animalistic themes–both real and imaginative.

Donika Kelley is able to weave stories about whales, chimeras, unicorns, ostriches, etc. into real life lessons about self-discovery, the importance of travel, and love. At the end of this book, you’ll be left wondering who the real beasts actually are and whether humanity is all it really seems to be.

The Divine Comedy

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The Divine Comedy: Inferno; Purgatorio; Paradiso (Everyman's Library)
  • Everyman s Library
  • Hardcover Book
  • Dante Alighieri (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 798 Pages - 08/01/1995 (Publication Date) - Everyman's Library (Publisher)

This is honestly one of my favorite books of all time. Well, favorite three books of all time. Dante’s The Divine Comedy is broken down into three separate parts: Inferno (the most famous), Purgatorio, Paradiso. It’s not just one of the best poetry books, but one of the greatest works of world literature of all time.

Dante Alighieri was able to use this work as a sneaky way to point out the hypocrisies and issues with the Catholic Church. And at that time, going against the Church could mean excommunication or death. This work of art is often accredited to the beginning of the Renaissance.

The Flowers of Evil

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The Flowers of Evil (Oxford World's Classics) (English and French Edition)
  • Baudelaire, Charles (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 464 Pages - 05/15/2008 (Publication Date) - Oxford University Press (Publisher)

If you’re looking for something controversial, then this collection by French author Charles Baudelaire is right up your alley. As a matter of fact, even though written in 1857, printing of some selections from this book were banned from printing all the way up to 1949.

This book of poems is all about opulence, decadence, and eroticism. But it was an extremely important part of symbolist and modernist movements. And it’s long reaching legacy has influenced everything from rock and roll music to science fiction.

Different Forms of Our Best Poetry Books

Poetry can come in all sorts of different forms. From haikus to limericks to epic poems, there are literally so many different types of poems. When read individually, each unique style stands alone. But what about as a book? I think there’s two main things we should consider when looking at poetry in full book form: length and style.

Length

Short Poems: These are some of the most common types of poems. You’ll find these as part of a composition or collection.

Long-form: When Rap Spoke Straight to God would be the best example of this on our list. It’s an entire book that follows one central storyline.

Epic: This would be more along the lines of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. This work is actually three different books explaining a singular significant event Dante’s journey through Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.

Style

Many poems rhyme and establish cadence. However, it’s a common misconception that poems have to rhyme. They do generally have a rhythm to them though. This can be done through syllabic placement and structure. Haikus are short poems with extremely strict syllabic guidelines. And William Shakespeare wrote in his storied Iambic Pentameter.

Structure of Poetry

The structure of a poem refers to exactly how it was crafted and how it appears on page. Poems that have a more pronounced structure are often much easier to navigate and read. In order to properly structure your poetry, you need to know what each component of the structure is.

Line

A line of poetry is just that. It’s a sentence or complete thought. Lines can come in many different lengths, but normally they are relatively uniform throughout a single poem.

Stanza

A poem stanza is a group of lines. Think of them as paragraphs of the poetry world. Again, like lines, these are normally uniform throughout the poem.

Rhyme

We all know what rhyme is. But there are two particular types of rhyming schemes.

The End Rhyme: This is when you have rhyming components at the end of a line.

The Internal Rhyme: These rhymes actually occur within the middle of lines.

The funny thing about rhyme schemes is that you can mix and match them just about however you like. You will come across extremely simple rhyme schemes like Dr. Seuss or insanely deep like Wu-Tang Clan.

Rhythm

This is the sound pattern that you build within your poem. If you’re curious to hear what your rhythm sounds like, just read it aloud.

Best Poetry Books All Summed Up

Well, now that you know where to get started with poetry, go pick up your favorite ereader and get started!

Cheers,

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