Poetry elevates our emotions to the platform of fine art. It transcends taste and resonates with our collective humanity by exploring themes of yearning, jubilation, love, and sorrow. In honor of National Poetry Month, we have compiled a list of our staff’s favorite poetry collections, sharing the poems that speak the most to us, along with audio clips of some. We hope they’ll awaken and inspire you too.
If all of this poetry talk is a little intimidating, a great place to start out is with poetry collections such as Poems That Make Grown Men Cry and Poems That Make Grown Women Cry, both edited by the father–son team Anthony and Ben Holden.
When I received this anthology for my first serious literature class in college, I opened it to a random page and started reading. By chance of fate, this is the poem I came across, and being a young writer myself, struggling with my own “great cargo,” I fell in love with the poet’s images of “windows tossed with linden” and the “dazed starling” and cried at the deep love the speaker clearly feels for his daughter. —Erin
I can’t remember where I first encountered Frank O’Hara’s poem “Morning,” but it has stuck with me over the years for the sheer emotional weight of its simple prose: “If there is a / place further from me / I beg you do not go”—three lines that have come to represent, for me, the power of poetry to resonate deeply and lastingly. —Hilary
“Love After Love” by Derek Walcott
When I picked this collection up, which features poems handpicked by some very famous men, of course I thumbed through the pages looking for my favorite performers. When I found actor Tom Hiddleston’s pick—“Love After Love” by Derek Walcott—I couldn’t move beyond it. With loving words, the poem depicts self-acceptance as a dinner party encouraging readers to “feast” on their lives. If you’ve ever sought permission to love yourself with complete abandon, you’ll find it in Walcott’s words. —Tolani
“Macrophobia: Fear of Waiting”
My favorite poem in this stunning debut collection is “Macrophobia: Fear of Waiting.” Like all of the poems in this collection, it is vibrant and emotional and every time I come back to it, it seems new. —Sarah Jane
“When a Woman Loves a Man”
I love the contrasts and juxtapositions that David Lehman wrote into his poem “When a Woman Loves a Man.” It reminds me of my younger, dramatic self in my past dysfunctional relationships. I think it’s wonderfully unhinged, and hilarious. —Allison
“The Man Without Leather Breeches”I’m endlessly fascinated with James Tate’s ability to take something as mundane as a trip to the grocery store and turn it into something hilariously absurd, which he does so beautifully in “The Man Without Leather Breeches.” He’s won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for good reason. —Chris
“Still I Rise”I first heard Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” when Nicki Minaj recited it at a benefit concert. I love its inspiring message of strength and resilience when faced with oppression and hatred, which is a hallmark of Angelou’s poetry. —Erica
“The Gold Key”Anne Sexton’s collection TRANSFORMATIONS has a foreword by Kurt Vonnegut, which is totally fascinating and recommended reading. I have a lot of favorites (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is soooo good), but the first poem in the book, “The Gold Key,” has one of my favorite opening lines of all time: “The speaker in this case / is a middle-aged witch, me.” —Julianna
Reading Mary Oliver calms me. In my favorite poem, “Wild Geese,” she gives you permission to be your flawed and imperfect self—and assures you that you are still worthy. She promises that we are all the same. “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” She acknowledges that the world is full of pain and heartbreak, and that it’s still wondrous in every way. —Wendy
“Stations”I read Audre Lorde for the first time in a literature class in college and was completely blown away by her ability to inspire outrage and action with a few well-chosen words—a talent epitomized in “Stations.” She also represents my first introduction to feminist literature, a genre that has gripped me ever since. —Hilary
“Mouthful of Forevers”
“Mouthful of Forevers” encapsulates the often indescribable feeling of love after love. While most love poems seem to talk only about the present, von Radics captures the beauty and importance of starting over and learning to love again. —Nicole
Listen to the poem here.
“Where the Sidewalk Ends”
I read WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS at the end of every school year all the way through. The title poem was one of my favorites, because it was about how we dwell in possibility. The line “Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow, / And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go” explains the wonder of childhood exploration with perfect elegance. And that’s really the power of Shel Silverstein. —Leora