20 Poetry Books That I Love

What are 20 poetry books (if there are 20) that made you fall in love with poetry, the books that made you think:, I want to do this, I need to do this. What are the books that kept you going? Don’t put down the books that you think you’re “supposed,” to like, but list the core ones, the ones that opened all of this up for you. Here’s my list (in no particular order):

[Jan’s note: This is a cross-post with Facebook. I don’t believe in tagging, so consider yourself self-tagged. All of these books have taught me something about what it means to be human.]

1. Live or Die (Anne Sexton)
2. The Dead and the Living (Sharon Olds)
3. Elizabeth Bishop: The Complete Poems (1927-1979)
4. 45 Mercy Street (Ann Sexton)
5. Good Woman (Lucille Clifton)
6. Words Under the Words (Naomi Shihab Nye)
7. The Gold Cell (Sharon Olds)
8. Imago (Joseph Legaspi)
9. What Work Is (Phil Levine)
10. The Simple Truth (Phil Levine)
11. Local Time (Stephen Dunn)
12. Stephen Dunn: New and Selected Poems 1974-1994
13. Different Hours (Stephen Dunn)
14. Natural Birth (Toi Derricotte)
15. Nappy Edges (Ntozake Shange)
16. The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara
17. Captivity (Toi Derricotte)
18. Picnic, Lightning (Billy Collins)
19. Tell Me (Kim Addonizio)
20. Against Which (Ross Gay)
21. Thomas and Beulah (Rita Dove)
22. What the Living Do (Marie Howe)
23. Velocities (Stephen Dobyns)

(I know, there are 23 on the list. I'm not good at following directions.)


susan said…
I love these. Thanks January. I'm writing off the cuff so might pardon misspellings and the like. I read more than I write so my list isn't purely what keeps me motivated to write but fuels my love of reading poetry.

1.Abandon Automobile: Detroit City Poetry 2001 edited by Melba Joyce Boyd and M.L. Liebler
2.Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady
3.like the singing coming off the drums by Sonia Sanchez
4. Cave Canem Anthology 2001 edited Yona Harvey
5.Tangled Vines edited by Lyn Lifshin
6. Language of Life edited by Bill Moyers
7.The Collected Works of Audre Lorde
8.The Collected Works of Nikki Giovanni
9.Claiming The Spirit of Within edited by Marilyn Sewell
10. My Wicked Ways by Sandra Cisneros
11.Magic City by Yusef Komunyakaa
12.What I Notice Now by Dorothy Doyle-Mienko
13. shake loose my skin by sonia sanchez
14.Gathering the Tribes by Carolyn Forche
15.Otherwise by Jane Kenyon
16.Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield
17. Dance Me To The End of Love, Leonard Cohen, illustration Matisse
18.Our Dead Behind Us by Audre Lorde
19.The Flag of childhood: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shiab Nye
20.The Autobiography of A Jukebox by Cornelius Eady
21. Gathering Ground editedby Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, assit. Camille T. Dungy
22.The Body's Question by Tracy K. Smith
23. Leadbelly: Poems by Tyehimba Jess
susan said…
Oops, you said 20.
susan said…
I recently read a new poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. I intend to get her latest collection.
January said…
I did say 20 but my list has more than 20 books, too.

Love your list. I didn't include anthologies but the two CC books and Language of Life are excellent choices.

It's wonderful to see the books people value, so thank you for doing the meme.
Rethabile said…
I'll forgive you both, for your 20-something books being only American. And you know why I'll do that? Because you both write well, that's what.

That saved you.

Europe and Africa and South America have some God-forsaken good poets, too.

I admit still have Asian poets to discover.

And then there's the whole Carribean.

If I didn't like your poetry, you two, I was gonna go after you.
Collin Kelley said…
Loving the Olds and Sexton in your list. My two biggest muses.
January said…
I noticed the Sexton/Olds books on your list, too. Collin.
January said…
Rethabile, I know. I know. My selections are purely U.S. centric. I need to broaden my reading to include more international poets.

As for Asian writers, I recommend Li-Young Lee, my friend Joseph Legapsi, and fellow blogger Oliver de la Paz.
Color Online said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
susan said…

I only listed what I actually own. Now if you're willing to help a sister buy other poets' work, I'd love to add poets from around the globe. List your favorites and I'll make it my business to adding them to my collection. As it is, I get my fill by regularly reading your site.

I love what you do and am truly grateful for the poets you've introduced me, too.
Rethabile said…
I've already enjoyed Joseph's poetry, after having read about him here. I need to add him to my bookshelf. Thanks.

Thanks. I think I will try to come up with a list. Even if I don't know that many more outside the USA. I love the work of Geoffrey Philp, Rustum Kozain, Derek Walcott, Antjie Krog, and Pam Mordecai, among others. Cheers.

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