ten poetry suggestions

During a recent afternoon haze, I was browsing through Buzzfeed’s never-ending stream of quizzes and listicles when I came across a surprising article on poetry (surprising in that it was 1. a collection of full sentences, and 2. a reasonably thoughtful collection of full sentences). Once you get past the initial fact that “life changing” [sic] is negligently unhyphenated in the title of the piece, it’s not bad. I was especially glad to see Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Joni Mitchell’s song, “Both Sides Now,” included on their list, both of which I would highly recommend. 

And so this final week of National Poetry Month has seen me thinking about life-changing poems, trying to decide what counts as life-changing, what counts as a poem, and falling down the rabbit hole of the Poetry Foundation website. I’ve finally come up with a list of my own “life-changing” poems, and if you’re feeling particularly gluttonous, I would also suggest reading this wonderfully diverse selection recommended by various Carleton College professors.

1. “Loves” by Stephen Dunn – from Landscape at the End of the Century. When people ask me what my favorite poem is, this is usually the piece that comes to mind.

2. “She Had Some Horses” by Joy Harjo – Listen to the recording of Harjo reading this. It’s worth it.

3. “America” by Allen Ginsberg – Why should “Howl” get all the attention?

4. “i like my body” by e.e. cummings – It was incredibly hard to choose a single poem by cummings; reading 100 Selected Poems in its entirety is a worthy pursuit.

5. “Fever 103˚” by Sylvia Plath – From Ariel, another amazing poetry collection that I first read all in one sitting and instantly loved.

6. “I Don’t Miss It” by Tracy K. Smith – From Duende. I would also highly recommend Life on Mars, her Pulitzer-winning collection.

7. “Madame George” by Van Morrison – Yes, it’s a song (track 6 on Astral Weeks).

8. Antigonick by Anne Carson – This is a translation of Sophocles’ Antigone, so it is perhaps a bit of a stretch to claim that the entire play is a poem. But it is one of the best things I’ve ever read, and to call it prose does not do it justice.

9. “I Go Back to May 1937” by Sharon Olds – Olds’ work is fearless in its transparency. I can only hope that one day I will be brave enough to write as honestly as she does.

10. “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke – A villanelle that puts every villanelle I’ve written to shame.

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