40 best poetry books to read right now
I rarely remember reading poetry but I always remember feeling it. I feel poetry down to my bones. Stanzas hum. Couplets dance. And I want to move with the words.
Poetry speaks about the unspoken in a way that touches my soul. And for me, good poetry books are revelatory. They pull out my buried feelings and push them up and up until I remember their taste.
These poetry books on love and life and loss are a mix of classic and modern. You’ll find long-standing favorites, underrated debuts, and runaway bestsellers. They’re all books that evoke deep feelings (and feed the soul).
Without further ado, here are our top picks for the best poetry books to read right now!
P.S. This is by no means a comprehensive list so feel free to add your favorite poetry books in the comments below!
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Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry is hands-down one of the best poetry books of all time. Richly layered and warmly written, it’s a curation of all of Angelou’s poetic works. Prepare to read this book in one sitting. Then read it again (and many times more after that).
Angelou’s poems range from heart-breaking to inspiring (and everything in between). They’re deep yet approachable, the kind you can swallow up quickly (but will want to sit with long after).
I remember the first time I read Anne Sexton’s poems. They were shocking, ruthlessly confessional, painful even. Sexton rides bold and vulnerable. Her works are open and bitter and uncensored.
She paints with words. With dark-edged visuals, Sexton’s statements are open coffins of anguish. The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton will rip your soul in two.
If you’re in a mood for sad poetry books (we all have those days), Sylvia Plath: The Collected Poems is also a must. It’s a heart-wrenching, soul-twisting depiction of mental illness.
Plath’s poems are hauntingly beautiful. And you have to read the complete collection to see her journey as a writer. Sylvia Plath: The Collected Poems unfolds her deeply emotive poetic style.
The Road Not Taken And Other Poems is a hand-picked curation of Robert Frost’s early works. When it comes to poetry, Frost’s rhymed and reasoned words have a traditional ring. They’re soothing to the ears and heavy on the heart.
For me, Frost’s poems have always adapted to my mood. When I read Frost on joyous days, I think oh, that’s lovely. And when I read Frost on broody nights, I think was this always so dark? One octave down every serene Frost poem is a chord of grief.
A good translation of Rumi is a tough find. This collection, translated by Nader Khalili, is one of my personal favorites. Rumi, a 13th-century Sufi mystic, talks about love in all shapes and forms. Personal yet relevant, The Love Poems Of Rumi is infused with Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī’s own religious journey. And it’s the kind of timeless writing you’ll want to pull quote after quote from.
All Along You Were Blooming is one of my favorite modern poetry books. Morgan Harper Nichols writes poems that are endlessly uplifting. And this title spoke to my heart at a time when I was healing from hurt.
Split into four parts (for the heart, for the mind, for the body, for the soul), All Along You Were Blooming is a stunning, illustrated reminder of grace. It’s a quick read yet the messages, powerful and emotionally present, linger on long after.
I first heard about Rainer Maria Rilke from Emmie’s YouTube channel and became obsessed ever since. Rilke’s penetrating verses about life and death are ethereal. And after reading The Duino Elegies (I always fall head-over-heels for intense imagery and heavy symbolism), I knew I had to include The Poetry Of Rilke in this list of best poetry books.
Soft Science is one of the most unique modern poetry books in idea, concept, and execution. It’s Franny Choi through-and-through. But it’s also a Turing Test inspired collection (which makes my little Computer Scientist heart sing). Soft Science is mechanical and experimental. It’s a tech-attuned (queer cyborg) poetry collection. At times, it’s cold and disengaging and at times, it’s warm and personal. But I love it all the same.
Chinua Achebe’s poetry is underrated. The Nigerian novelist is well-known known for Things For Apart, the first installment in The African Trilogy. But I wish I was introduced to his poems in school because he adds a beat that pulls and pushes against words. Achebe’s poetry is simple to suck in. It also has a palpable finesse that I’m obsessed with.
Amanda Lovelace’s Women Are Some Kind Of Magic series is a celebration of female empowerment. Lovelace takes a to-the-point approach. The Princess Saves Herself In This One is bold, blunt, and beautiful. There’s no room for guessing here. Lovelace’s message comes across in full force.
I’ve always been fascinated by haikus. How so much depth can fit into such tiny spaces goes beyond me (and in between strict rules no less).
A Japanese classic by Matsuo Bashō, Narrow Road To The Interior is one of the best poetry books for haiku lovers. It’s a travelogue too (which, for quite obvious reasons, made me fall harder for this collection). And the connection between Bashō’s nature-struck poetry and image-heavy haibuns is engaging.
Courtney Peppernell’s Pillow Thoughts series (I’ve lost track of how many installments there are) is one of the most well-loved sets of poetry books. A stylistically unrefined outpouring of feelings, Pillow Thoughts is decidedly journal-style. A great read in early spring, it’s a youthful look at love so sweet and serene.
Words can not describe how much I love Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing. When Elizabeth Acevedo drops a new book, it’s always a first day, must-listen-to-it-on-Audible-now purchase for me.
Acevedo’s gripping tapestries of verse are spun from emotion-colored threads. I loved Poet X. And Clap When You Land, the story of two sisters from two different lands, daughters of the same father, connected by grief, is equally brilliant. I cried and smiled then cried again. It’s a flight of emotions, in more ways than one way.
Night Sky With Exit Wounds is a haunting collection. Content-wise, I found it extremely uncomfortable (some of the latter poems were a bit too crude for my stomach to handle so I’ve since unhauled this title from my personal collection). That being said, Ocean Vuong is a wordsmith. His poems paint a graphic picture of tension. Night Sky With Exit Wounds is about war and family. It’s heavy and scarring. And it’s sublimely cadenced.
I’ve been hooked on Robert and Elizabeth Barett Browning’s poetry ever since I stepped into The Armstrong-Browning Library in Waco. This is a slim volume but it’s a good one – a sample of classic Browning. Swelled up with odes of love, Browning: Poems is one of the best love poetry books of all time.
It’s no secret that Emily Dickinson was a fan of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I mean, a framed portrait of her hung in Dickinson’s bedroom – what more can I say? So if you love Browning’s poetry, you’ll also love Dickinson’s poetry books. Dickinson’s poems defy tradition. There’s a hint of rebellion to them. This set is astute and witty and I highly recommend it!
Like many people, I first discovered Leonard Cohen through Hallelujah (the song at the end of the Shrek soundtrack). Little did I know that beyond his hit singles was an intense repertoire of poetry. Poems and Songs is a curation of lyrics and words by Cohen. It’s a small book (if you can’t tell by now, I’m slightly obsessed with the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series and secretly want to own them all) yet mature and melancholy.
When I think of American poetry, I think of Langston Hughes. The Harlem Renaissance‘s most famous writer effortlessly evokes emotion. And the rhythm of Hughes’ work is legendary. There’s a jazz-like beat to his words. They’re lyrical and poignant, sharp and collectively brilliant.
Every Word You Cannot Say is just as the title describes. It’s an expression of our hardest-to-express thoughts, curled up beneath passages that feel like letters. The color choices (reds and blues in addition to black font) are jarring yet intentional. And like all good insta-influenced poetry books, Every Word You Cannot Say feels like it’s speaking directly to you.
Natalie Diaz is one of the most talented writers of the 21st century. Her writing is an absolute gift (that’s all I can say). When My Brother Was An Aztec centers around discussions of family pain, meth addiction, the complex labyrinth of Native American culture, and everything in between. Diaz swipes humor into her work, lightening (but in no way taking away from) its heavy message. It’s a dark book (painful too) but one of my favorites.
Rival Gardens is one of the most underrated poetry books on this list. It’s a delightful collection by Midwesterner Connie Wanek. Rival Gardens focuses on seeing past the mundane. The style is plain and the poems are dense (and this works on so many levels). To sum up: there’s more to everyday actions than we notice.
When I visited the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site (February last year – crazy to think about that), I rekindled my love for his somber works (why do I like sad poetry books so much?). This complete collection includes all the classics (like Annabel Lee and The Raven) and my personal favorite, Alone (I really don’t know what this says about me).
For those wary of modern poetry books, know that Brute is an exception. Far from too short and too shallow, Brute spins the stereotypes of modern poetry on its head. It’s hard to describe Emily Skaja’s roaring, intense work in words – the roughness of it, the rawness of it. Brute is vulnerability tugged by strength.
I love when artists take big risks. And with Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately, the risk pays off. Alicia Cook sets up this poetry book like an old-school mixtape. The first half is poetry you’d expect. There are music recommendations and verses about human experiences. And the second part uproots the style completely, reimagining Part A in blackout form. Same poems. New meaning.
If you’ve had the pleasure of hearing Rudy Francisco live at any point (I first saw him on YouTube here), you’ll want to run out and grab a copy of one of his poetry books. Francisco’s poems are spoken word and they feel like art come undone – raw and real, made up of the craft. Helium is well-loved. It’s fresh and honest and in so many ways, worth the hype.
Anne Carson’s Autobiography Of Red is a masterful contemporary reimagining of an ancient Greek myth. It’s a bildungsroman, the story of Geryon, the red monster who’ll you’ll learn to love. Carson’s poetry, framed in wit and whimsy, is clever. Prepare yourself. This novel in verse will wreck you.
Deaf Republic poses one question: what is silence? There’s a raw, intentional path paved underneath the arch of townspeople (who become deaf after a soldier shoots a deaf child). Deaf Republic is the winner of the LA Times Book Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and the National Jewish Book Award. The accolades are for moving storytelling and so much more.
If you’ve seen the movie, The Business Of Fancydancing, you know that Sherman Alexie is a treasure. His works are gritty. And The Business Of Fancydancing, a compilation of mostly poetry, is a release of frustration. There’s an intense amount of sorrow in his lyrical reflections of the Native American reservation system. You’ll want to read this title, for all its heartbreaking depth.
Including William Wordsworth on this list is really personal. I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud was the bedtime story of my youth (my mum read it to me all the time when I was really little). So this collection, Wordsworth: Poems, includes my favorite hum of ballads. It’s toyed-with language laced with serenity.
Faces Of Love is a poetry book I’ve long wanted to own. It’s a compilation of works from Shiraz poets – Obayd-e Zakani, Jahan Malek Khatun, and of course, Khwaja Shams-ud-Din Muhammad Ḥafez Shirazi. These poems embrace the human heart. And I’ll be the first to say, I have no idea if this is a good translation or not (I’m not Iranian), but I do tend to trust Penguin Classics Editions (and the poems in here are really beautiful).
No list of best poetry books is complete without a mention of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Comprised of cantos, The Divine Comedy is one of the best-known stories in verse. The premise follows Dante as he travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Dante’s poems are short, which makes this three-part epic all the more digestible. And you’ll want to take it in short chunks because there’s so much underlying meaning.
The Prophet is buried where the lines of poetry and prose blur. Khalil Gibran’s story of Al Mustafa has become a well-loved classic. His musings meander from marriage to beauty. The Prophet is philosophical and contemplative. And it’s been translated into over a hundred languages since its initial 20th-century release.
When I first started compiling this list of poetry books, I told myself that I wouldn’t include any novels in verse (you can see how well this has gone so far). And once I started including them, I knew wanted to share this underrated gem. Rita Dove’s Sonata Mulattica is shout-it-from-the-rooftops good. It’s based on the true story behind Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9. But you don’t need to be a lover of classical music to enjoy this fully orchestrated poetic experience.
If I was forced to keep only one poetry book on my bookshelves, it would be The Book Of Psalms. These Hebrew couplets (well, most are) still sound beautiful translated. The Book Of Psalms is comforting and uplifting. And considering many of the other poetry books on this list allude to The Bible at some point or the other, it’s a great reference manual to have.
Random Side Note: I love this song inspired by Psalm 42. I think the style captures just how pretty Psalms are.
Did you enjoy this list of best poetry books? What are your top picks for poetry books? Let me know in the comments below! This is by no means a comprehensive list and I’d love to get to know your favorite poetry books as well.