We spent 20 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top picks for this wiki. Poetry is an art as old as language, as human beings have shared their myths and origin stories in rhyming verse since long before the development of the written word. The poetry books on our list represent some of the finest written expressions of humanity, and include diverse compilations, collections by iconic poets of the 20th century, and fine works by contemporary writers. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work.
10. Great American Prose Poems
Some of the greatest poems ever penned don’t adhere to any traditional forms, and instead would find their home in a collection like Great American Prose Poems edited by David Lehman. You won’t see any sonnets or villanelles in here, just blocks of beautiful text.
- Many entries have a narrative arc
- Forward is succinct and useful
- Formalists may not enjoy it
|3.6 / 5.0|
9. The Complete Poems Of Emily Dickinson
One of the most exciting things about many of the pieces found in The Complete Poems Of Emily Dickinson is how short they are. The author could elicit tremendous depth from just a few lines, making this a great collection to pick up when you only have a few minutes.
- Arranged chronologically
- Elegant use of punctuation
- Gets extremely dark toward the end
|Back Bay Books|
|3.7 / 5.0|
8. Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations
Impeccably translated from the original French by the late, great American poet John Ashbery, this edition of Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations breathes an exceptional amount of fire and musicality into a selection that could easily prove allusive to the wrong ears.
- Transcendentally symbolic language
- Biblical imagery is finely woven
- Can come across as too grandiose
|4.1 / 5.0|
7. I Know Your Kind
Winner of the 2016 National Poetry Series, I Know Your Kind by William Brewer takes its readers on an honest and harrowing tour of the Appalachian opioid epidemic that continues to beleaguer the author’s home state of West Virginia.
- Written with immense empathy
- Tender visions of suffering and loss
- Formalism lurks beneath the surface
|I Know Your Kind|
|3.8 / 5.0|
6. Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass
While the United States doesn’t have the rich poetic history of many European or Asian countries, it does have Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass. This facsimile edition presents the writer’s first publication of his iconic work, before he began his endless edits.
- Deeply in tune with nature
- Examines selfhood with swagger
- Somewhat male-oriented
|Walt Whitman’s Leaves O|
|4.0 / 5.0|
5. Howl And Other Poems
Containing what is perhaps the most influential epic poem in American literature since Walt Whitman’s “Leaves Of Grass,” Howl And Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg is a title that should find a place in any serious reader’s library.
- Richly musical construction
- Tackles guilt and fear of death
- Hard to read in one sitting
|4.5 / 5.0|
4. Collected Sonnets By Edna St. Vincent Millay
Fans of more formal poetic construction will appreciate the tight verses contained in Collected Sonnets By Edna St. Vincent Millay. What is most striking about the collection, however, is its decidedly feminist tone in works written before the second World War.
- Employs multiple sonnet structures
- Open and honest bisexual content
- Style may seem outdated to some
|Edna St Vincent Millay|
|3.9 / 5.0|
3. Invisible Cities
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino imagines a young Marco Polo tasked with describing the various cities of the Mongolian Empire to its leader Kubla Khan. The descriptions of each location become philosophical examinations of desire, memory, and self.
- Written in a prose style
- Imagery is incredibly vivid
- Evokes a deep thoughtfulness
|Harcourt Brace Jovanovi|
|4.9 / 5.0|
2. Jack Gilbert: Collected Poems
Written with some of the cleanest language from the Beat Generation, Jack Gilbert: Collected Poems chronicles the poet’s long life in metaphors drawn from Greek mythology, opera, and the landscapes of both his home town of Pittsburgh and his hideaway Mediterranean isle.
- Discovers beauty in loneliness
- Studies the nature of love deeply
- Easy for non-poets to enjoy
|4.6 / 5.0|
1. Ariel: The Restored Edition
Ariel: The Restored Edition takes the version of Sylvia Plath’s last collection of poems that was posthumously edited and released by her husband Ted Hughes, and returns it to her originally intended layout, which is significantly different from its first printing.
- Personal notes show her process
- Shades of emily dickinson
- Stark and haunting diction
|4.8 / 5.0|