There are two types of people in the world: those who enjoy poetry and those who have never read the kind of poetry they enjoy. No matter which category you and your circle fall into, I've got 15 poems you can read with your partners and friends to discover your love of poetry.
If you think you don't like poetry, don't worry. I know exactly how you feel. I didn't discover just how much I enjoyed non-musical lyricism until the first day of my university Composition II class, when the professor asked us to interpret two poems: "she being Brand" by e.e. cummings, which is included on the list below, and "Dulce et Decorum est" by Wilfred Owen, which is not. I later took a creative writing class with that same professor, who forced us to write poetry until we bled rhyme and meter and feeling all over the place. It was wonderful.
Many of the poems below may be familiar to you. One is a dreaded sonnet, and the aforementioned cummings piece will challenge you if you pause at the end of every line. Not all of the formatting — the stanza divisions in particular — has translated here, but the rampant punctuation in "she being Brand" has not been left out.
Check out my suggested poems for you to read with your partners and friends below, and be sure to share your favorites with me on Twitter!
1. "Bleecker Street, Summer" by Derek Walcott
Summer for prose and lemons, for nakedness and languor,
for the eternal idleness of the imagined return,
for rare flutes and bare feet, and the August bedroom
of tangled sheets and the Sunday salt, ah violin!
When I press summer dusks together, it is
a month of street accordions and sprinklers
laying the dust, small shadows running from me.
It is music opening and closing, Italia mia, on Bleecker,
ciao, Antonio, and the water-cries of children
tearing the rose-coloured sky in streams of paper;
it is dusk in the nostrils and the smell of water
down littered streets that lead you to no water,
and gathering islands and lemons in the mind.
There is the Hudson, like the sea aflame.
I would undress you in the summer heat,
and laugh and dry your damp flesh if you came.
2. "Welcome Home" by Warsan Shire
all the girls you’ve ever loved, i think i loved them too.
interlude for the grand sonata
every mouth you’ve ever kissed
was just practice
all the bodies you’ve ever undressed
and ploughed into
were preparing you for me.
i don’t mind tasting them in the
memory of your mouth
they were a long hallway
a door half-open
a single suitcase still on the conveyor belt
was it a long journey?
did it take you long to find me?
you’re here now,
3. "Ways of Talking" by Ha Jin
We used to like talking about grief
Our journals and letters were packed
with losses, complaints, and sorrows.
Even if there was no grief
we wouldn’t stop lamenting
as though longing for the charm
of a distressed face.
Then we couldn’t help expressing grief
So many things descended without warning:
labor wasted, loves lost, houses gone,
marriages broken, friends estranged,
ambitions worn away by immediate needs.
Words lined up in our throats for a good whining.
Grief seemed like an endless river —
the only immortal flow of life.
After losing a land and then giving up a tongue,
we stopped talking of grief
Smiles began to brighten our faces.
We laugh a lot, at our own mess.
Things become beautiful,
even hailstones in the strawberry fields.
4. "Letter to My Wife" by Miklós Radnóti
Lager Heidenau, about Zagubica:
in the mountains. Aug.-Sept. 1944
Beneath, the nether worlds, deep, still, and mute.
Silence howls in my ears, and I cry out.
No answer could come back, it is so far
from that sad Serbia swooned into war.
And you're so distant. But my heart redeems
your voice all day, entangled in my dreams.
So I am still, while close about me sough
the great cold ferns, that slowly stir and bow.
When I'll see you, I don't know. You whose calm
is as the weight and sureness of a psalm,
whose beauty's like the shadow and the light,
whom I could find if I were blind and mute,
hide in the landscape now, and from within
leap to my eye, as if cast by my brain.
You were real once, now you have fallen in
to that deep well of teenage dreams again.
Jealous interrogations: tell me; speak.
Do you still love me? will you on that peak
of my past youth become by future wife?
— But now I fall awake to real life
and know that's what you are: wife, friend of years,
— just far away. Beyond three wild frontiers.
And Fall comes. Will it also leave with me?
Kisses are sharper in the memory.
Daylight and miracles seemed different things.
Above, the echelons of bombers' winds:
skies once amazing blue with your eyes' glow
are darkened now. Tight with desire to blow,
the bombs must fall. I like in spite of these,
a prisoner. All of my fantasies
I measure out. And I will find you still;
for you I've walked the full length of the soul,
the highways of countries! — on coals of fire,
if needs must, in the falling of the pyre,
if all I have is magic, I'll come back;
I'll stick as fast as bark upon an oak!
And now that calm, whose habit is a power
and weapon to the savage in the hour
of fate and danger, falls as cool and true
as does a wave: the sober two times two.
5. "I do not want to have you to fill the empty parts of me" by Rupi Kaur
i do not want to have you
to fill the empty parts of me
i want to be full on my own
i want to be so complete
i could light a whole city
i want to have you
cause the two of
could set it
6. "Narcissist Advice Column" by Hinemoana Baker
Pepper blacks the pan so never shake it near me.
Wait for the flagrant animation in my bedroom, in my bed base.
In mountaineering situations sleep swaddled, wake ecstatic
my frantic menus in your mind.
I taste of them all. Refuse to refuse me.
Waste your time on my errands.
Squeeze your lime on my lemons.
Turn up wearing the whole bird not just the feathers.
7. "Tonight" by Ladan Osman
Tonight is a drunk man,
his dirty shirt.
There is no couple chatting by the recycling bins,
offering to help me unload my plastics.
There is not even the black and white cat that balances elegantly on the lip of the dumpster.
There is only the smell of sour breath. Sweat on the collar of my shirt.
A water bottle rolling under a car.
Me in my too-small pajama pants stacking juice jugs on neighbors’ juice jugs.
I look to see if there is someone drinking on their balcony.
I tell myself I will wave.
8. "This Is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
9. "Confession" by Linh Dinh
Perhaps I'm a cruel artist. I always depict
In great details, lovingly, all the defects
On the faces and bodies of my models.
I use my eyes and brushes to thread
The jagged gaps of their stiff smiles. I pamper
Each pimple, hump, massage each incrustation.
I cajole my models into poses that are awkward,
Dangerous, unhygienic, sometimes mortifying.
I don't care to paint smooth, poreless skin but collect
All manners of rashes and eruptions. Inspired,
I've forced a hundred bodies — impossibly old,
Extremely young — onto appalling heaps,
Democratically naked, viscous with sweat, spit and etc.,
Just so I could render the human condition
Most accurately and movingly.
10. "Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art" by John Keats
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors —
No — yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death.
11. "Ah, Ah" by Joy Harjo
for Lurline McGregor
Ah, ah cries the crow arching toward the heavy sky over the marina.
Lands on the crown of the palm tree.
Ah, ah slaps the urgent cove of ocean swimming through the slips.
We carry canoes to the edge of the salt.
Ah, ah groans the crew with the weight, the winds cutting skin.
We claim our seats. Pelicans perch in the draft for fish.
Ah, ah beats our lungs and we are racing into the waves.
Though there are worlds below us and above us, we are straight ahead.
Ah, ah tattoos the engines of your plane against the sky — away from these waters.
Each paddle stroke follows the curve from reach to loss.
Ah, ah calls the sun from a fishing boat with a pale, yellow sail. We fly by
on our return, over the net of eternity thrown out for stars.
Ah, ah scrapes the hull of my soul. Ah, ah.
12. "she being Brand" by e.e. cummings
she being Brand
know consequently a
little stiff i was
careful of her and(having
thorogouhly oiled the universal
joint tested my gas felt of
her radiator made sure her springs were O.
K.)i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her
up,slipped the clutch(and then somehow got into reverse she
minute i was back in neutral tried and
again slo-wly;bare,ly nudg. ing(my
oh and her gears being in
A 1 shape passed
from low through
greasedlightning)just as we turned the corner of Divinity
avenue i touched the accelerator and give
her the juice,good
was the first ride and believe i we was
happy to see how nice she acted right up to
the last minute coming back down by the Public
Gardens i slammed on
brakes Bothatonce and
brought allofher tremB
13. "From the Artist's Sketchbook" by Annette M'Baye
No . . . not entirely black.
He has that bluish-white at the edge of his eyes
And his beautiful lips
Open upon a smile of expensive pearls.
* * *
Round and dusky-headed,
Black baby, fearlessly
Offer your unpristine hand to the daylight,
Say hello, fearlessly, to your life.
14. "America" by Claude McKay
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
15. "Remembering the Plot" by Julie Suk
Today drifts into yesterday.
Difficult to remember
the food eaten, rooms cleaned.
Same with books. You read,
read, but recall only
that someone floated off,
finally, from years of solitude,
and danced naked in a bowler hat.
But the nose has a better memory,
whole lives waft back, the moments
that linger in limbo
pulled out by a random scent.
And you stand in the street
watching a cab drive off
leaving in its wake
the aroma of a man's cigarette
that even now revives
the way his fingers pressed
deep into your thigh,
the hairs on his wrist
suddenly stricken with sunlight.