National Poetry Month celebrates the power of the word in verse. Condensing language to its most vivid and lyrical effect, poetry speaks straight to the heart, and in verse, poets unveil to us the unseen beauties and terrors of our world. There is so much out there to enjoy, but where to start? We reached out to some of our beloved poets to ask them about their favorite poets and collections.
“The chapbook Mammoth by Rachel McKibbens, a short but dense collection of poems in tribute to McKibbens’ niece who died of cancer when she was a toddler, is one of my favorite poetry collections. That book, with its quaking sorrow, its conjure, its unflinching consideration of the body and its fragility, gives me permission to grieve, to elegy, to remember, to howl, to rage, and to accept.”
—Dominique Christina, Anarcha Speaks (forthcoming this October!)
“I’ve been thinking about the poets who have influenced me, and it’s obvious, as I reflect, that poetry is a tissue of allusions. I suspect I’ve never written a line without, somewhere in the background, I could—at least in the inner ear of the imagination—hear lines by Wordsworth or Blake, Hopkins, Eliot, Stevens, or more contemporary poets like Mary Oliver, Charles Wright, or Seamus Heaney. Only last week, I returned to a poem by Wallace Stevens, ‘Men Made Out of Words.’ Here he suggests that life or the life of the mind, ‘this human / Reverie,’ consists of ‘propositions about life.’ I do think that, ultimately, we’re all composed of words, and that we use language as an organ of perception. And to be is the be perceived, in that no object lives except when caught and sung in the human voice. This is the work of poetry, of course. And the work is without end.”
—Jay Parini, New and Collected Poems: 1975-2015
“Brooklyn Antediluvian by Patrick Rosal (Persea Books, 2016), winner of the Academy of American Poets 2017 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.
Sink into a poem in here and as each line rolls out its heaving song, your hair will float up, your palms will gape their surrender, and what you clasp most deeply within you will break, sharply, open: you’ll recognize again how profound poetry can be when so steeped in music, not just any music, but this music—which multiplies and never yields, shutters you from the cold, braves fervent course, and comes singing to you with that grave and flush tender voice as if from your old neighbor’s philco radio: singing your block’s Cee-lo players, singing the small ridges of the spine in a carried body, singing children in a typhoon bobbing their bodies roped together to wait out the deluge, singing history while crying grief, singing laughter when singing names, singing kundimans with despedidas as a body dancing sorrow and joy as two songs, singing wind, singing pennies, and singing bells!—and this book will unplug in you all that you have so tightly held, because this is a music that can hold everything, anything, even you, holds its loves gently above the water as it courses its holy flood.”
—Sasha Pimentel, For Want of Water
One of my favorite contemporary poetry collections and biggest influences is Natasha Trethewey's Native Guard. This book has been a primer for me on how to write about neglected histories and personal and historical geographies (especially ones with which we have conflicted relationships), all in a dazzling array of forms that I love to write in myself, like sonnets, villanelles, and ghazals. This book opened a door for me, teaching me how to combine the personal with the regional and the historical in ways that are elegant, beautiful, accessible, and honest. I seriously think about this book nearly every single day since I read it ten years ago.”
—Melissa Range, Scriptorium