13 Poetry Collections For People Who Think They Don't Like Poetry

When I was first asked to make a list of poetry collections for people who think they don't like poetry, my first thought was, "Well, isn't that just about everyone?" Not quite--I do have nearly 2,000 friends on Facebook, of whom the majority are poetry lovers.
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When I was first asked to make a list of poetry collections for people who think they don't like poetry, my first thought was, "Well, isn't that just about everyone?" Not quite--I do have nearly 2,000 friends on Facebook, of whom the majority are poetry lovers. And what better way to make a list than to crowdsource these writer friends who each must know people who don't like poetry? I've taken some of their suggestions, added many of my own favorites, and organized them from "easy" to "harder," since many people say they don't like poetry because they think it is "hard."

1. Sailing Alone Around the Room, Billy Collins: Collins is the king of approachable and accessible poetry that is written well and transcends the mundane to something larger, more philosophical and mysterious. He's probably the best poet to start with for people who think they don't like poetry.

2. Delights and Shadows, Ted Kooser: Kooser's a poet of the simplest, most accessible language and is well-loved by many. His book, like all of his work, draws inspiration from everyday life and the details, objects, and images most overlook.

3. Gold Cell, Sharon Olds: No list like this would be complete without a book by Sharon Olds. This book still sits on my bookshelf, one of the first poetry books I ever purchased, wrapped in contact paper. No other American poet can write about personal sexuality, the body, and family in such universal, unabashed, and riveting ways.

4. The Rose, Li Young Lee: Lee is a poet who values plain language and isn't afraid to veer towards sentimentality when addressing universal themes like love and family. This is Lee's first book and his later works are more sophisticated, but I still love this book the most for its naivety and simplicity.

5. The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, Lucille Clifton: Clifton's physically small lowercase poems were often written at the kitchen table while managing her six children. But their physical size doesn't mean they lack human truth and complexity. Her poems often focus on family life and the African American experience.

6. Elegy Owed, Bob Hicok: Hicok's poetry is always accessible, whimsical, and surprising. He connects unexpected things into fluid poems about death.

7. The Half-Finished Heaven, Tomas Tranströmer: Tranströmer is a Swedish poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011. His poems are mystical ruminations on the human condition and his arresting images leave me holding my breath, usually at the end of the poems.

8. The Cosmos Trilogy, Frederick Seidel: Seidel is a New York poet who dazzles readers with life in the fast (and wealthy) lane. His poems drip of lust, ruin, materialism, and alpha male privilege in the most skilled rhyming ways while they grapple with themes like 9/11, death, and disaster. Anyone who dares to put a Ducati in a poem is worth reading.

9. Letters to Wendy's, Joe Wenderoth: Wenderoth's best book is supposedly written over a year on comment cards at fast-food chain, Wendy's. The unashamed use of Wendy's images like Biggies, Frosties, and even the once virgin-like Wendy's borders on pornographic, but always leaves me laughing.

10. The Wild Iris, Louise Glück: Glück's book which came out in 1992 is still one of my favorite books of poetry for its clever and inventive dramatic monologues in the voices of flowers in the garden. Glück's voice is always dark and stark, but startling as she addresses themes related to death, God, and life.

11. The Best of It, Kay Ryan: Often compared to Emily Dickinson's poems, Ryan's short poems are like little Russian dolls that you keep opening. The poems are always accessible, yet incredibly intelligent and wry.

12. Crush, Richard Siken: In my lifetime, I doubt I will see another book as powerful as Siken's Crush, although I hope that I am wrong. Siken writes about love, desire, violence, and eroticism with a cinematic brilliance and urgency that makes this one of the best books of contemporary poetry.

13. Song, Brigit Pegeen Kelly: The title poem in Kelly's book is a haunting story of the mutilation of a child's pet goat--dark subject matter, yes, but under the hands of Kelly, it's one of the most beautiful and elegant poems I have ever read. She is a master of myth, nature, and poetry.

And there are so many others like Mary Oliver, Jack Gilbert, Jane Kenyon, Sylvia Plath, T.S. Elliot, Yusef Komunyakaa, W.S. Merwin, and Anne Carson that readers can check out if they're brave enough to make it through this list.

Victoria Chang is the author of the new poetry collection The Boss.

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