Top 20 Books of Poetry

28 Apr

National Poetry Month is coming to an end and I couldn’t let it end without posting my Top 20 favorite books of poetry of all time.  These are books that I’ve returned to again and again, books that have helped me through some rough patches in my life, books that have inspired me to look at poetry in a new way, books that have formed me, books that I have said, “you must read this” to complete strangers.

My Top 20 Books of Poetry

My Top 20 Books of Poetry

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

This is a no-brainer.  I have been a Plath devotee for going on 15 years now and I’ve read this book no less than a dozen times.  Quiz me on it. Go ahead — ask me anything.

Cusp by Jennifer Grotz

Not only is the cover of this book gorgeous, but the poems inside are simply stunning.  I love how Grotz takes the reader on journeys from Texas to France.  Favorite poem: “Kiss of Judas.”  Fun fact: Grotz was my third reader for my undergrad creative honors thesis at the Univ. of Houston in 2006.

Ordinary Things by Jean Valentine

I love Valentine’s poems because of their strangeness and brevity.  Her word economy inspires me again and again.  This is my favorite book by her.  Favorite poem: “After Elegies.”

What the Living Do by Marie Howe

It doesn’t get better than this book by Marie Howe.  This book makes me weep and has inspired me in innumerable ways.  I turned to this book again and again when writing The Glass Crib and helped me come to terms via writing with the death of my brother when I was 16.  Favorite poem: “For Three Days.”

What is this thing called love by Kim Addonizio

This is such a smart, sexy book by a smart, sexy poet.  Favorite poem: “What Was.”

Deposition by Katie Ford

The Catholic girl in me loves how Ford dissects Christian narratives (Catholic ones, primarily) and weaves them with narratives of trauma.  Her fragmented writing helped me move from clear, straightforward narrative to a wilder, broken lyric.  Favorite poem: “The Shroud of Turin.”

Forth a Raven by Christina Davis

I love this book for many of the same reasons why I love Katie Ford’s book (and really, Jean Valentine’s).  Her poems are tiny, fragmented, but have a dazzling attention to detail.  Favorite poem: “Forth a Raven.”

Broken Helix by Dina Ben-Lev

My friend Matthew Siegel turned me on to this (out-of-print) book/poet when I was at Houston and I’m so very thankful.  No one else I know has ever heard of her, which is a shame.  This is the only full-length collection she’s done, and that was back in 1997.  It focuses on her search for identity as an adopted person, which, of course, if you know me, you can easily see the draw.  You can still find used copies of this book on Amazon or ebay for anywhere form $10-$40.  Favorite poem: “The Adopted Daughter’s Lucky Loop.”

Indeed I Was Pleased With The World by Mary Ruefle

Who doesn’t love the weirdness and lyricism of Mary Ruefle? This is by far my favorite book of poems by her.  Favorite poem: “Kiss of the Sun.”

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner

This book has been touted so many times, but if you’ve never heard of it, get thee to a bookstore right now! Turner’s work centers on his experiences in the US Army in Iraq and Bosnia.  This is a book of grit and no other book (except maybe Neon Vernacular from Yusef Komumyakaa) discusses war or a solder’s life better.  Favorite poem: “What Every Soldier Should Know.”

The Subsequent Blues by Gary Copeland Lilley

No one I know has ever heard of Lilley, and that’s a shame.  This is actually my husband’s book, which he bought at AWP in New York several years ago after hearing Kim Addonizio read from it.  This book is dark, witty, important, and just plain amazing.  Favorite poem: “Prayer to Saint James Byrd of Jasper, Texas.”

Sad Little Breathing Machine by Matthea Harvey

My friend Halli and I were Matthea Harvey groupies in college.  We took her Forms of Poetry class at Houston and fell in love with her way of looking at the possibilities of language and poetry.  This book is genius and if you’re trying to move yourself forward in writing, this will do the trick.  This is another book that helped me break out of my boring, staid narrative form.  Favorite poem: “Not So Much Miniature As Far Away.”

Stubborn by Jean Gallagher

This book is so important to me and gave me great inspiration for the writing of my first book, The Glass Crib.  Gallagher’s book creates interesting narratives that focus on Christian symbology, art, mysticism, and theology.  Favorite poem: “Stigmata.”

The Descent by Sophie Cabot Black

I’ve read this book at least half a dozen times and each time I discover something new.  I think that this is an important book due to the way it uncovers the human spirit in terms of nature, psyche, faith, damage, renewal.  The cover of the book actually inspired one of my own poems, “The Wounded Angel, 1903,” which appeared in The Glass Crib and on Poetry Daily in 2007.  Favorite poem: “Done For.”

The First Four Books of Poems by Louise Gluck

The essential Gluck.  I bought this after reading it in June 2005, when I was a fellow at the Bucknell Younger Poets Seminar at Bucknell University.  Consider it a primer.  If you’re a new poet, or a scholar of Gluck, it’s a fantastic resource.  Favorite poem: “The Egg.”

Some Ether by Nick Flynn

Like Matthea Harvey, my friend and I were Nick Flynn dorks as well in college.  I took two classes with him as an undergrad and during that time, I bought this book.  I really think I’ve read this book around 10 times.  It was inspiring to me because it helped me understand how to weave personal narrative without being melodramatic and how to break a line in an interesting way.  I think everyone needs to have this book.  Favorite poem: “My Mother Contemplating Her Gun.”

Song by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

BPK is awesome.  That is all.  And she’s the kindest soul I’ve ever met.  My love for her is unending.  Favorite poem: “Song.”

Trouble in Mind by Lucie Brock Broido

Claudia Rankine turned me on to Broido when I was her undergrad thesis advisee at UH and I’m eternally grateful.  This book helped me, in many ways like Flynn’s did, understand line breaks and form, but also how to build a broken lyric narrative.  Favorite poem: “The Halo That Would Not Light.”  That poem kills me.

To the Place of Trumpets by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

This book is long out of print, alas, but when my friend Matthew Siegel told me about it (and had his own copy), I dashed to Amazon.com used and ebay to find my own copy.  I got it for around $30, but I’ve seen people selling it for upwards of $800.  I highly, highly recommend this book, Kelly’s first, and in some ways like it better than Song.  Favorite poem: “Doing Laundry on Sunday.”

The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forche

There are so many reasons why this is one of my favorite books of all time.  It’s important for how it tackles the intersection of culture and politics, but tender in its discussion of human love.  While “The Colonel” (in this book) is one of my favorite poems in the world, I would have to say that my actual favorite poem in this book is “For the Stranger.”

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4 Responses to “Top 20 Books of Poetry”

  1. Sue William Silverman April 28, 2013 at 2:52 PM #

    I love your list of favorite poetry books! Thank you for posting. I’ve read some of these and now look forward to reading others. Are you familiar with the poetry of Lynda Hull? She’s one of my favorites, too.

    • Amanda Auchter April 28, 2013 at 2:55 PM #

      I have heard of Hull, but have never read anything by her. What do you recommend?

  2. Christine April 28, 2013 at 3:53 PM #

    Nice list. I’ve read a few of these, but not all. I’m always looking for the next great book of poems.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Summer Reading | Books & Baubles - June 18, 2013

    […] realized that it hasn’t been since I did my post on my top 20 books of poetry for National Poetry Month that I’ve talked about what I’m reading/what I recommend […]

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