Poetry book

Poetry book (Photo by Graeme Dawes on Shutterstock)

If someone asked you what the best poetry books are out there right now and you had absolutely no clue what to say, you’re not alone. But we are happy you are here because people turn to poetry at moments when we may need it the most. If you haven’t read a lick of poetry since high school, we have helped find the best poetry books to get you back in the groove.

Need additional reasons to flex your poetry muscle? Just ask science. In a unique fusion of art and science, bestselling poet Charly Cox has created a spoken word poem specifically designed to boost people’s moods and encourage physical activity. The poem, entitled “Nothing Feels Better,” was produced in collaboration with sports brand ASICS and DJ/music producer Brian d’Souza, also known as Auntie Flo. Cox crafted the composition from over 40,000 submissions from the public, who shared words that inspire them to be more active. It’s worth checking out for those interested in getting into poetry.

What makes a good poem? In a recent study, researchers sought to figure out what makes poetry most appealing to readers and discovered a few common denominators. The results showed that vivid imagery was the best predictor of whether someone would like a poem. The emotional “lightness” or “darkness” of a poem was also a predictive factor in a poem’s aesthetic appeal. What makes a good poem in your opinion?

Ready to dive into the beauty of written word? StudyFinds has compiled a list of the top seven best poetry books of all time, according to expert reviews and opinions. They will have you feeling intellectual, and sophisticated, and thinking about more than what you’re going to have for dinner. Is your nose stuck in a different poetry book? Let us know in the comments below.

reading poems with a cup of tea
Reading poems with a cup of tea (Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash)

The List: Best Poetry Books, According to Experts

1. “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman

In 1855, Walt Whitman published the first edition of “Leaves of Grass,” at his own expense. “Whitman utilized an innovative free verse style and what was deemed ‘immoral’ subject matter, celebrating nature, love, the body, and friendship. While Whitman continued to work on ‘Leaves of Grass,’ adding new poems with each printing, this edition presents the original twelve poems from his debut 1855 edition,” says Reedsy.

“Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman
“Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman

Also included are some of the highly lauded poems of modern times: “Song of Myself,” and “I Sing the Body Electric.” “‘Leaves of Grass’ is the incomparable achievement of one of America’s greatest poets—an exuberant, passionate man who loved his country and wrote of it as no other has ever done. Walt Whitman was a singer, thinker, visionary, and citizen extraordinaire,” explains Book Riot.

One great takeaway said to be from this great collection, is that we are all in it together. “Modern American poetry arguably began with Walt Whitman, and his fluid, often manic but still joyful words spring off the pages with as much excitement for the modern reader as they did more than 150 years ago. Far from a relic of a bygone era, Whitman and his words are vital today, not in a timeless sense, but in a timely sense,” offers The Manual.

2. “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,” offers Reader’s Digest.

“And Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
“And Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

“And Still I Rise” speaks on concepts from love and dreams, to longing and living in the American South. “Angelou uses this poetry book to invite readers into her trials growing up while acknowledging the many oppressions faced by Black people throughout time. The poems are in first-person lyrics, which helps to make the poems intimate and engaging. The variation in line lengths also gives the poems unpredictability as they reflect the events of Angelou’s life,” shares The Write Life.

Maya Angelou’s unforgettable collection of poetry also lends its name to the documentary film about her life, as seen on PBS’s “American Masters.” “These poems are powerful, distinctive, and fresh—and, as always, full of the lifting rhythms of love and remembering. ‘And Still I Rise’ is written from the heart, a celebration of life as only Maya Angelou has discovered it,” boasts Penguin Random House.

3. “The Complete Poetry” by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou is not only known for her literature, but also for her contributions to activism, film, and theater. “This collection includes long-form poems written in her final years as well as the poem recited during the 2008 presidential inauguration ‘On the Pulse of Morning,'” states Town and Country.

"The Complete Poetry" by Maya Angelou
“The Complete Poetry” by Maya Angelou

Whether you are familiar with Angelou’s work or a newcomer to it, this collection will give you all you need to feel the force of her powerful poetry. “‘The Complete Poetry’ spans from her meditations on African American life, drawn from the collection ‘Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’fore I Die,’ to her renowned proclamation of womanhood in the poem ‘Still I Rise,'” explains Reedsy.

Angelo had an illustrious career in letters, which gifted, healed, and inspired the world. “The beauty and spirit of Angelou’s words live on in this new and complete collection of poetry that reflects and honors the writer’s remarkable life,” explains Book Riot.

4. “The Collected Poems” by Sylvia Plath

Another great poetry book worth checking out is a collection of poems written by Sylvia Plath. “Plath was a poet whose work won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1982 and a lifetime of remembrance. This book is a collection of her poems, edited and introduced by Ted Hughes. It is 341 pages long and contains works that she wrote using a very drastic style of writing,” offers Hooked to Books.

“The Collected Poems” by Sylvia Plath
“The Collected Poems” by Sylvia Plath

If you are a fan of the beloved author, “The Collected Poems” is a must-read. “With close to 400 pages of poetic magic, this collection is one to add to your bookshelf now. If you’re looking to work through any problems in your life, this is the book that will inspire you to keep moving forward,” says She Reads.

Some sites say that Plath’s work seemed obsessed with death and contained an extreme amount of emotion. “Sylvia Plath’s poetry is something of a bridge spanning the realm of classic and modern. Her diction reads almost 19th Century, while her meaning was often ahead of its time. This Pulitzer Prize-winning collection is a gift to the ages from an ageless poet whose short life was a misery, but which enriches ours, and will surely still do so for future generations,” states The Manual.

5. “The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson” by Emily Dickinson

Did you know that the celebrated American poet Emily Dickinson only published eleven poems during her lifetime? “It was only after her death that this prolific writer’s huge collection of work was finally made available to the public. Thankfully, the world eventually discovered her genius, and we’re able to enjoy Dickinson’s unique and unmistakable work that was almost buried by history,” explains Hooked to Books.

“The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson” by Emily Dickinson
“The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson” by Emily Dickinson

“The Complete Poems” features 1,775 poems, which are organized into three chronologically ordered volumes, so you can see how her style has changed over the years. “Emily Dickinson is now considered one of the most prolific writers in American history, but in her lifetime, only 10 of her poems were known to be published—several of which were heavily edited to fit societal standards of the time. This collection celebrates her genius and includes the unedited, original versions of her work,” says Town and Country.

It’s hard not to recognize a Dickinson poem these days, with its signature dashes and short lines. “The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson not only showcases the writer’s genius but also provides a history of her thoughts and feelings — in poems of course,” says Reedsy.

6. “The Raven and Other Poems” by Edgar Allen Poe

“The Raven” holds seventy-three pages of Edgar Allan Poe’s greatest poems, including one of his most well-known works. “His short stories are often mysterious, dark, and spooky. Other than The Raven, this book contains many of Poe’s other works including The Bells, Annabel Lee, Lenore, Dreams, To Helen, The Haunted Palace, and many, many more,” boasts Hooked to Books.

“The Raven and Other Poems” by Edgar Allen Poe
“The Raven and Other Poems” by Edgar Allen Poe

“The Raven” has an introduction that is written by Philip Pullman and includes an index for easy navigation. “Edgar Allan Poe, a pioneer in the modern detective story, crafts his dark and haunting tales through poetry. ‘The Raven and Other Poems’ showcases Poe’s mastery of rhythm, rhyme, and imagery.  With works like ‘The Raven,’ ‘Annabel Lee,’ and ‘The Bells,’ Poe delves into themes of grief, madness, and the fragility of the mind, making this book known for its very spooky and chilling verses,” shares The Write Life.

7. “The Essential Rumi” by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

If you’ve never heard of Rumi, consider him a doctor for the soul. “The Essential Rumi has long been regarded as the definitive selection of Rumi’s mystical poems. And now, this revised and expanded edition features over 80 previously unpublished works,” says Hooked to Books.

“The Essential Rumi” by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
“The Essential Rumi” by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

“Rumi wore many hats including Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Rumi lived in Konya, a city of the Ottoman Empire (Today’s Turkey). His poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages, and he has been described as the most popular poet and the best-selling poet in the United States,” states Book Riot.

This “doctor for the soul: has 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,” says Reader’s Digest.

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