50 Essential Books of Poetry That Everyone Should Read


It’s National Poetry Month, and you’re probably thinking: “I should really read more poetry. But where oh where do I start?” Well, sound the trumpets, because here is Flavorwire to the rescue! After the jump, you’ll find a list of 50 essential books of poetry that pretty much everyone should read. There’s something for everybody here, from the deeply established canonical works to riveting, important books by newer poets, from the Romantics to the post-modernists, from the goofy to the staid. NB: as with other lists like these, only one work per author has been included, and there is a bias against the “Collected Poems of” unless necessary. Obviously, inevitably, painfully, there are many, many poets and works of poetry, both of great renown and less so, that are missing here and should still be read by everyone. This list can only reflect personal taste, chance meetings, and wild subjectivity…

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3 responses to “50 Essential Books of Poetry That Everyone Should Read

  1. I am aghast at the omissions. Not just wildely subjective, but lacking in true knowledge of poetry. A very slanted list, indeed, though some great books are, of course, there and must-reads. The list is short on Mid-East and Eastern poets, too, of course, and on Cuban and Latin American poets, also. Long on the English Canon, but a list like this needs to be 3 times as long and limit the books to those OVER 25 years old. For example the best-selling American poetry book of all time, of the second half of the 20th century was, A CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND by LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI, and it’s missing? It has sold over a million copies and is still out-selling most books on this list, and was written by the man who founded the most influential poetry books store in the world City Light Books and City Light Press. It made some on the list possible. They would not exist without Ferlinghetti’s clear head and entrepreneurship, and Ferlinghetti is still alive and writing clearly in his 90’s, because he wasn’t a druggy and level headed, and widely cultured. A CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND is an amazing book with great literary learning evident in its very accessible and imaginative pages. Ginsberg would be a footnote without Ferlinghetti in American Poetry. I want Ginsberg on the list, of course, but he never even attended the HOWL trial for obscenity. It was Ferlinghetti who won the case for him and all of us, allowing us to be more candid about human sexuality and socio-politics in our poetry. We owe Ferllinghetti a huge debt and it is nothing short of OBSCENE to leave his book off this list.Yes, I’m jumping up and down! He is fluent in several languages, has done much translation, published many poets who would not exist without him, and has won top prizes from several countries. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is of great international renown compared to some on this list, and far more essential reading than many in terms of both quality of his work’s lasting-power, literary intelligence, talent and wide-raging influence! The omission of Ferlinghetti makes the list highly provincial indeed! But, thanks GRL for giving me this opportunity to rage about what’s good and what terrible about the list, not originally produced by GRL, but interesting to see!

  2. To correct my type-s, and not finding a way to do it I add: Way TOO subjective! Too many young whipper-snapers who have NOT stood the test of time, and many who have, are missing!

  3. C.K Williams and Gerald Stern for just two one can mention who are not on this list of essential reading and that is dead wrong. Also, John Logan’s Zig Zag Walk was a seminal book for so many of Logan’s students like Robert Hass, Daniela GIoseffi, Bill Knott, and Al Poulin, founder of BOA Editions, Ltd. Logan had wide-ranging influence. Do I see Stanley Kunitz founder of Poets House NY, missing? He is so revered. What strange omissions? And where’s Robert Bly and James Wright? Yikes, these were HUGE influences on poery and so much more profound than some tauted here. THIS LIST IS CERTAINLY WILDLY SUBJECTIVE! Some of the books on it belong there, but where is William Butler Yeats for heaven sakes! Way to wildly subjective, and lacking in good research of what poets and books were truly influential and have stood the test of time. Many young wipper-snappers who have not yet lasted long and may very not be read in future are here when others should be who were seminal and long lasting. A very slanted list, indeed, though some great books are, of course, there.