13 Poetry Collections To Read For National Poetry Month

This April marks two decades since the Academy of American Poets, and readers and writers of poetry everywhere, celebrated the first ever National Poetry Month. And what better way to honor the celebration than by adding some recent titles to the always-too-sparse poetry section of your bookshelves? Because let’s face it, as much as I’ve grown to love the traditional poets that filled the dog-eared anthologies of my school days (and I really do mean grown to love,) contemporary poetry — with its edgier formats, sharper images, modern themes, and freer verses — is definitely more my jam.

Even if you’re not convinced poetry is really your thing — and believe me, there are plenty of people who feel the same way — National Poetry Month is the perfect time to give the genre another try. I admit, it took me a long time to succumb to the siren’s song of the poetic form too; but in a world of text messages, 140-character Tweets, and emails sent from cell phones, it’s never been more important to appreciate the art of saying something significant, meaningful, and even beautiful, in as few words as possible. Great poets, of course, are the masters.

So in celebration of 30 fabulous days of poetry, here are 13 poetry collections to read during National Poetry Month. Happy reading.

1. They and We Will Get into Trouble for This by Anna Moschovakis

If you’ve ever wondered what it means to be avant-garde, Anna Moschovakis can teach you. If you’re interested in poetry that defies the boundaries of language and structure, They and We Will Get into Trouble for This is the collection for you. A meditation on the body, discomfort, the self, Greek mythology, and art — just to name a few — Moschovakis’s every word, and punctuation mark, and blank space feels thought-out and weighed, and her language will crawl inside you and nest under your skin. 

2. River Electric with Light by Sarah Wetzel

Take yourself on a spiritual pilgrimage with Sarah Wetzel in her recent collection River Electric with Light, through which she accompanies readers to the far flung reaches of Kabul, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Rome, and New York City, exploring the violent and the sacred, the beautiful and the heart-wrenching. Wetzel is a woman simultaneously at home and away in these poems, navigating the landscape of being a partner and caretaker, with being a woman on the road — an emotional landscape as complex as the physical geography she traverses. 

3. Beautiful Zero: Poems by Jennifer Willoughby

I’m kind of obsessed with Jennifer Willoughby, who is somehow able to make sense of a world where things like indulgent television and the human rights ails of the decade march hand-in-hand through people’s consciousness. Her debut collection, Beautiful Zero, is equal parts funny and serious, and somehow seems to create a space for the reader to be certain that whoever you are upon arriving at Willoughby’s collection is exactly who you're meant to be. 

4. A Woman of Property by Robyn Schiff

Poetry personified, Robyn Schiff’s collection, A Woman of Propertyis filled with the secret gardens and shuttered windows of great Gothic literature. Eerie, and earthy — and hauntingly unearthly — the poems in this collection meet at the boundary line of the normal and the supernatural, and explore questions of what it really means to possess something in a world where nothing but the past is permanent. 

5. play dead by Francine J. Harris

Edgy, and raw, and rough around the edges, Francine J. Harris’s poems in play dead explore the formation of the self — inviting you to observe yourself as a creation of your own random circumstance, who could have just as easily been one thing as another, if not for the specific chances that make up your life. Against the backdrop of a world torn asunder by violence, Harris’s words seek out the rock bottom of disaster, from which you can then launch yourself towards hope. 

6. Syllabus of Errors: Poems by Troy Jollimore

Anyone who has turned to nature in the wake of tragedy will immediately relate to the poetry in Troy Jollimore’s collection Syllabus of Errors. The poems themselves makeup a series of meditations informed by bird songs, and travel from the environment populated by birds and fruit through the landscape of loss and grief. And like nature, the observer of this grief will wither, and lose, and rise renewed.  

7. The Kitchen-Dweller's Testimony by Ladan Osman

Filled with the poetry of women who both assert their voices and question their right to have them in the first place, Ladan Osman’s The Kitchen-Dweller's Testimony explores themes of love, divorce, and desire, against the backdrop of colonialism and displacement. Winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, Osman’s work suggests that the kitchen-dweller, and her sisters, might just be the custodians of the types of stories most worth telling. 

8.  Deadly Nightshade: Selected Poems by Liana Langa, translated by Margita Gailitis

Exploring the issues that plague the industrialized world today — rampant consumerism, social isolation, uniformity of thought, fear of death — Liana Langa’s poems in Deadly Nightshade act as a survivor’s defiance against a world determined to separate you from yourself, your values, and your community. With the kind of awareness perhaps accessible only to poets, Langa’s words take the mediocre of the world and turn it into beauty. 

9. Olio by Tyehimba Jess

This unique collection weaves together fact and fiction, poetry and narrative, as it describes the lives and art of ninetieth and early twentieth century African American performers. Spanning the years from just before the Civil War until World War I, Olio explores how these performers, whose art remained largely undocumented, broke rules and defied expectations in order to tell truths about the experiences of their lives. 

10. Songs from a Mountain by Amanda Nadelberg

Reading the poems in Amanda Nadelberg’s Songs from a Mountain is like rappelling from the roof of a very tall apartment building — each poem acts as a small glimpse through the window of a brief moment of time in someone’s life. A flash, an imprint, and then the next appears. These poems are love and home, linen and baking bread, a place you’re drawn to again and again. 

11. Oracle: Poems by Cate Marvin

Set in the particular landscape of Staten Island, New York, the poems in Cate Marvin’s Oracle tell stories of growth and change and self-understanding. They're stories of adolescent coming-of-age, the constant process of learning and re-learning how to be a woman in the world, and the evolution of relationships, even with the dead. If you haven’t fallen in love with poetry by the time you reach Marvin’s work, this collection will convince you. 

12. No Confession, No Mass by Jennifer Perrine

A call to action against the myriad forms of violence humans inflict upon one another, Jennifer Perrine’s No Confession, No Mass explores saint and sinner, and the human and the divine that can be found in the broken, invisible corners of the world. Looking at the violence we inflict both against others and ourselves, this collection seeks to make sense of, and heal, wounds large and small, personal and political. 

13. American Anger: An Evidentiary by H.L. Hix

Timely and necessary, H.L. Hix’s American Anger: An Evidentiary seeks to get to the root of America’s angst-as-identity, the function of anger as a staple in American politics and personal life, and the psychology and philosophy of anger as both a call to action and a debilitating force. Simultaneously beautiful and painful to read, Hix's work takes a critical eye to American anger, and will make you think about what things might be better to build a national identity around. 

Image: Sam Greenhalgh/Flickr

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