27 Best Poetry Books of All Time
Find yourself moved and inspired by the best poetry books, from classics to modern masterpieces
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Poetry (books) in motion
Paul Engle noted that “poetry is ordinary language raised to the nth power.” As if by magic, poetry books capture feelings that are often elusive and put into words our deepest pain and strongest outrage. But the real superpower of poetry lies in giving expression to our love, happiness and passion. From love poems for her and love poems for him to words exploring issues of unity and injustice, gender and race, the best poem books explore all aspects of life.
Whether you are new to the art form or are a budding poet looking for some inspiration, we’ve found the best poetry books and collections for you. Tuck into classic love poems, books by female authors, new works from poets like Whitney Hanson and more. Once you’ve read these, you can move on to some of the best books of all time and most anticipated books of the year. But for now, sit down, put your feet up and get started on a stanza or two.
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1. And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
From one of the most respected and celebrated poets in the world, And Still I Rise is a collection of 32 short poems, divided into three sections. Originally published in 1978, the book speaks of everything from love, longing, dreams and Saturday night partying to the sounds of the South. Home to inspirational poems like “Phenomenal Woman,” this book encourages readers to rise above their difficulties and challenges, irrespective of their race or gender. Stock your shelves with these other great books by Black authors.
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2. I’m Always So Serious by Karisma Price
A can’t-miss 2023 debut, I’m Always So Serious by Karisma Price is an intimate, shimmering meditation on Blackness, loss, family and the poet’s hometown of New Orleans. Starting after Hurricane Katrina, the poems span generations, stories and influences, calling on greats like Cicely Tyson and the legendary jazz pianist James Booker. This poetry book is heavy with love, but also with cultural reckoning and literary innovation, at one point recasting If Beale Street Could Talk with characters from “The Odyssey” in a brilliant turnaround. The title is a nod to Price’s examination of the cost of surviving continued intergenerational trauma and injustices in America. It’s a must-read book from a promising new Black poet.
3. And Yet by Kate Baer
It may only be her second full-length poetry collection, but bestselling poet Kate Baer shows her continuing talent in this fantastic volume, published at the end of 2022. It’s traditional poetry with huge themes—motherhood, love and loss, and friendship—and Baer’s intimate, bold work places her firmly in the camp of other great American female poets. She’s known for her Instagram poetry, which has helped her lyrical style reach a wide audience of fans (“Beach Body” is a standout among her work). This poetry book finds Baer exploring vulnerability and deeper emotional depths with her characteristic realism. Read it as a balm for difficult times, and don’t miss these Mother’s Day poems.
4. Synthetic Jungle by Michael Chang
Pithy, hilarious and delightfully unhinged, Synthetic Jungle, Michael Chang’s 2023 poetry collection, will make you sit down as they frankly discuss race, immigration, love and LGBTQ issues. You’ll laugh, wince and have a hard time putting it down. The rules of poetry books are broken in the most refreshing way as Chang questions what poetry really is, examining themes of personal identity along the way. This is a funny book full of truly funny poems that are treats for the senses; read them aloud to fully appreciate the way Chang plays with punctuation and line breaks. And don’t miss “Best Buddies, 1990” for a particularly memorable jolt.
5. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
The sole book by the “poet of America,” this collection of poems was first published in 1855. Walt Whitman treated Leaves of Grass as an evolving manuscript, editing it, adding new poems and republishing it multiple times. In this collection, Whitman writes passionately about natural beauty, love and relationships that defy the bounds of time. Musings on love sit alongside inspirational poems about nature as Whitman contemplates his existence and purpose in life and pushes the reader to do the same (think of it like a self-help book with poems). If you didn’t read Whitman in school, this collection is a great place to start.
6. Selected Poems by John Keats
Home to some of John Keats’s most celebrated works, such as “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” this book was published in 2007 but contains poems published during the poet’s lifetime (1795 to 1821) and after. Together, the collection celebrates a poet with a profound understanding of art, beauty, suffering, loss and love—a talent the world lost too early. Keep reading with the best fiction books of the year (so far).
7. Judas Goat by Gabrielle Bates
An elegant yet unflinching look at Gabrielle Bates’s childhood in Alabama, the poems in Judas Goat paint a visceral picture of her memories. In Bates’s 2023 debut poetry collection, the scenes switch between her youth in the South and her adulthood in Seattle before they come together in “Mothers,” the longest poem in the book. Bates explores themes of love, betrayal, violence and exorcising childhood fears. Her roots in the Deep South inform her work as she uses words to conjure spectral forces, wild emotions and supernatural figures into the minds of readers. These poems will stay with you for days.
8. The Essential Rumi by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
Rumi’s mystical verses have enchanted, enlightened and inspired people of all religions for centuries. This expanded edition of The Essential Rumi was published in 2004 and features even more of the Sufi master’s poems about love, loss, silence, separation, emptiness, union and more. The poetry on these pages proves Rumi wasn’t just a 13th-century mystic; he was a doctor for the soul. Get more book recommendations with this list of ideal books for your zodiac sign.
9. Musical Tables by Billy Collins
Billy Collins has the biography to prove his talent as a poet: He’s a former U.S. Poet Laureate and bestselling author of Aimless Love. But his 2022 poetry book, Musical Tables, is something quite different. In the collection of more than 100 small poems—we’re talking three to eight lines here—each is like a full-flavored emotional jelly bean. Pop a few at a time for a delightfully mixed range, or dip in and out to savor individual flavors. How best to consume the book is up to you, but rest assured that whichever page you end up on will be hilarious yet profound. Considering the almost universal appeal of these poems, Collins’s collection would make an excellent gift for the book lovers in your life, regardless of whether they’re fans of modern poetry, ancient epics or the sort of funny limericks recited in local pubs.
10. Robert Frost’s Poems by Robert Frost
Robert Frost is arguably one of the most celebrated poets to have emerged from the early part of the 20th century. Home to one of Frost’s best-loved poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” this collection of poems, published in 2002, revolves around themes of nature and humanity. Like classic books that are passed down through generations, Frost’s poetry will never be out of date.
11. Set Me on Fire: A Poem for Every Feeling, edited by Ella Risbridger
If you are tired of all the famous poems from dead white men, this delightful anthology, published in 2019, is a refreshing take. Full of new perspectives and voices from around the world, it covers everything from grief, rage, trauma and loss to happiness and love. Poetry books are ideal for rereading, and this is one you can always go back to. For more of the feels—well, one of them in particular—browse this list of books that will make you cry.
12. Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
After stunning the country during President Joe Biden’s inauguration with her poem “The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gorman became a rarity among poets: a household name. In 2021, she released one of the year’s best poetry books, Call Us What We Carry. The bestselling collection proves, once again, that Gorman was chosen as a presidential inaugural poet in part for her ability to offer hope through her powerful and moving words. Yes, you’ll find the inspired “The Hill We Climb” here, but you’ll also find poems that touch on identity, history, hope, healing and the collective grief of living through a pandemic. With thought-provoking poems that play with form, Gorman has created a poetry book that’s a balm for the soul.
13. Home by Whitney Hanson
If you’re looking to expand your collection of poetry books from emerging talent, pick up Home by Whitney Hanson. She’s created a name for herself by sharing her work on TikTok, and her fervent fan base is proof her poetry resonates. In Home, Hanson faces heartache head on. And while the lyrical entries in this collection may be better suited as post-breakup poems than funeral poems, they deftly mine the universal experience of heartbreak and offer hope for healing no matter what you’re grieving.
14. Mary Wants to Be a Superwoman by Erica Lewis
Published in 2017, the second installment of Erica Lewis’s trilogy of poetry books is a personal account of her family’s history. As a Black poet, she takes care to lift up the voices of the Black women on her mother’s side. Part of the new confessionalism movement, the poems draw from stories she learned as a child living in Cincinnati.
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15. The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
Rupi Kaur is Instagram-famous for her poetry, but the short verses she shares on social media don’t do justice to her ability to access some of the most powerful human emotions. In her poetry books, simple words pack a stronger punch than some of the most refined writing. Her 2017 collection, The Sun and Her Flowers, shifts from the love poems found in Milk and Honey to a commentary on the implications of immigration and racial issues. If you’re a fan of feminist books, you’ll want to pick up one of Kaur’s.
16. How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch
While this is technically not a book of poems, it’s a starter kit for appreciating the poetry books on this list. Edward Hirsch writes with contagious passion about the rules and styles of poetry while analyzing works by the masters. Since its publication in 2000, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry has been helping poetry skeptics think of poetry in a whole new light. Check out these other great nonfiction books.
17. Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar
Kaveh Akbar’s 2017 debut poetry book is, on its face, about addiction and its traits. But Calling a Wolf a Wolf also touches on something bigger and more difficult: existential emptiness. Without shying away from describing the details of alcoholism, Akbar speaks of the respite he felt from his inner spiritual hunger when using substances. A breathtaking voice in poetry, Akbar has shown he’s a poet to watch.
18. The Wild Fox of Yemen by Threa Almontaser
In her stunning 2021 debut poetry collection, Threa Almontaser beautifully switches between English and Arabic, making language a character of its own. Like the best autobiographies, many poetry books get personal, and that’s the case here. Almontaser speaks lovingly of her people in Yemen, juxtaposing it with the reality of a young Muslim woman living in New York after 9/11.
19. When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
The first of Natalie Diaz’s poetry books, published in 2012, draws heavily from her experience as a Native American woman. When My Brother Was an Aztec intersperses stories from Diaz’s life with mythological symbolism. In the process, the poems become a political gesture, speaking about the disintegration of Native American culture. Follow it up with her 2020 collection, Postcolonial Love Poem, which earned her the Pulitzer Prize, and then add these other Native American books to your reading list.
20. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
While many question whether Claudia Rankine’s 2014 poetry book can actually be classified as poetry, a reading of Citizen will prove that it does not matter. Part poem, part critical essay, it’s an honest portrayal of the racism that exists in day-to-day encounters in society. We recommend reading it alongside Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.
21. Afterland by Mai Der Vang
This 2017 collection of poems by Mai Der Vang sings tales of life during the Laos war and of the Hmong refugees starting a new life in a foreign country. Afterland can be a heavy and challenging experience. (In other words, these aren’t lightweight poems for kids.) Still, it’s always important to read and understand the refugee experience in the United States, and it’s worth starting with this powerful book.
22. The Vault by Andrés Cerpa
Between the tumultuous 2020 presidential election and the pandemic, people’s understanding of time has changed. Uncertainties have become a part of life now, and that is echoed in Andrés Cerpa’s 2021 collection, The Vault. Loaded with grief and loss, it is a story of dealing with a father’s suicide and spinning into addiction as an attempt to cope. Cerpa weaves his own narrative around these themes, allowing grief and loss to be nonlinear. Next, browse more books by Latinx authors.
23. The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky
This 2016 collection is like a listicle for a nightmarish, post-apocalyptic world where everything is overdeveloped, capitalized and bureaucratized. It’s on the reader to decide whether the book jars us from our complacency or despairs at the inability to change the dying world. We prefer to look at the glass half full, though! There’s always something to be grateful for; put that feeling into words with these Thanksgiving poems.
24. Lighthead by Terrance Hayes
To read Terrance Hayes’s poetry is to experience lightheadedness as a normal state. It is jarring, uncomfortable and unfamiliar. The poems in this 2010 National Book Award–winning collection are playful yet complicated and cover themes of race, gender, age and even violence.
25. Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell
No list of poetry books is complete without poems about love and heartache. Courtney Peppernell’s 2017 book is an intimate collection of poems that read quite like the pillow talk shared between lovers. The chapters of Pillow Thoughts are divided so readers can find solace in whatever step of a relationship they are in. When you’re done, check out even more LGBTQ+ books.
26. Soft Science by Franny Choi
Published in 2019, Franny Choi’s Soft Science combines the representation of immigrants, people of color and queer people with science fiction. Each poem considers the relationships between people of different colors, genders and sexualities and asks what it means to be human. If you’re a fan of this, you need to pick up her latest, 2022’s The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On.
27. Alexa, What Is There to Know About Love? by Brian Bilston
If you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy poetry beyond funny “Roses are red …” poems because the less-silly stuff has a reputation for pretense and farfetchedness, you’ll enjoy this down-to-earth collection, published in 2021. Called the Banksy of Poetry, Brian Bilston asks the hard questions about love while also throwing in a giggle for fun.
Additional reporting by Chloë Nannestad.