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Poetry for Beginners

15 Poets to Check Out

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • November 15, 2021

Amanda Gorman stole the show last January when she shared her poem The Hill We Climb. Her evocative, energizing voice offered a fresh, accessible take on what many consider to be an esoteric, staid genre. Her new book, Call Us What We Carry, comes out on December 7 and here we spotlight fifteen other poets whose verses provide a good entry point into this dynamic artform.

The Veterans

To start we've chosen to feature The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton: 1965–2010. A lesser known poet, Lucille Clifton, who died in 2010, was a celebrated and groundbreaking poet for more than four decades. Her small, lowercase compositions often focus on family life and the African American experience.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins is also known for his approachable style. Sailing Alone Around the Room is a collection of his work that showcases a voice that is at once plain and melodic in poems that deliver surprising emotional agility.

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, who passed away in 2019, has the distinction of being America's bestselling poet. Her gorgeous, emotional verses draw heavily from nature. We love the collection in Devotions, which spans more than five decades of her career.

Universal Themes

It's important to find poetry that taps into your feelings and experiences. These are some poets who write about universal human experiences we all share. Li Young Lee values simple, plain language. Her first book Rose delivers appealing naivety and sentimentality with themes of love and family.

Like Gorman, Patricia Frazier is a former National Youth Poet Laureate. Her chapbook, Graphite, is a heartfelt ode to her grandmother and childhood home in Chicago.

In his debut collection, Date & Time, Phil Kaye takes the reader on a journey from a complex but iridescent childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood. There are first kisses, lost friendships, and hair blowing in the wind while driving the vastness of an empty road.

The Novel-In-Verse

If you love reading fiction and feel intimidated by poetry, this could be the perfect solution for you. Often written in the style of spoken word, these YA selections offer kinetic, rhythmic prose-poetry.

Booked follows Kwame Alexander's Newbery-winning The Crossover continuing twelve-year-old Nick's story as he learns the power of words, wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams.

From Dominican-American author Elizabeth Acevedo, Clap When You Land follows sixteen-year-old half sisters, Yahaira in New York City and Camino in the Dominican Republic, who only learn of each other's existence after their father dies unexpectedly in a plane crash.

The multi-award-winning Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds gets inside the mind of a fifteen-year-old boy grappling with the death of his older brother to gun violence.

Powerful Emotions

Poetry is a great place to address controversial issues and channel powerful emotions around tough topics. There are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker explores contemporary Black womanhood with gorgeous language and imagery. Her work is easy to read, but not lacking depth or complexity.

Some Are Always Hungry traces the lineage of Korean-American author Jihyun Yun through mythmaking and cooking. The collection chronicles a family's wartime survival, immigration, and heirloom trauma through the lens of food, or the lack thereof.

Danez Smith is an award-winning poet celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. His collection, Don't Call Us Dead, is downright volatile, bursting with rhythm and energy.

Vivid and Visual

Poems can be particularly wonderful for creating vibrant images that are nearly palpable. If you're a visual reader, a poet like Brigit Pegeen Kelly may be right up your alley. Her "poem-paintings" in Song are rich with color, myth, and nature.

The Wild Iris by Louise Glück brings a literary garden to life, giving each flower a clever, inventive voice. Her dark, stark poetry addresses themes surrounding death, God, and life.

Offering cinematic brilliance and urgency, Crush by Richard Siken is a powerful collection that captures the ferocity and obsessiveness of young love.

If you're one of the many who found yourself wondering if you might actually enjoy reading poetry after seeing Gorman's star-making performances last winter, consider one of these volumes. They also make great gifts. A collection of poems is something we can return to again and again. We may read a single verse a hundred times and, each time, experience it anew.

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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