poetry recommendations
June 3, 2011 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Poetry recommendations?

I've read some of Paradise Lost and several of Shakespeare's plays (which were of course magical). I like a few of Tennyson's shorter poems very much (Ulysses, Tithonus). Among modern poets, I've slowly worked through a lot of poems by Wallace Stevens. I think my favorite form is fairly-strict blank verse, but, though not in that form, Walt Whitman was also a really big reading experience for me and I liked Galway Kinnell. I don't seem to like reading translated poetry. Could anyone introduce me to one or new poets that would be a good match for my tastes?
posted by Paquda to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Elizabeth Bishop
posted by rumposinc at 12:13 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perhaps Mary Oliver (she has a heavy focus on nature poems).
posted by anya32 at 12:20 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hmm, this is a really broad topic, so it's difficult to say.

Have you ever read any Philip Larkin? His verse is pretty approachable, and his output was small enough that you can read most of his verse collections without too much trouble.

Also, you could do worse than a collection of Seamus Heaney.

Really though, it's difficult to say because you've identified poets from several different periods, so this question is hard to narrow down. Do you have any more specifics of what you're looking for? Style, theme, mood, period? Have you looked through the Poetry foundation's excellent index of poems?
posted by Think_Long at 12:24 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gerard Manley Hopkins. Seconding Larkin.
posted by facetious at 12:40 PM on June 3, 2011

I would recommend maybe trying Susan Howe, Cole Swenson and Lyn Hijinian. Take a look through several of their books to see if they are worth it to you. And I would second Gerard Manley Hopkins!
posted by Dauus at 12:45 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Good point, Think_Long, let me try to narrow it down:

Period: Nothing earlier than Milton. That seems to be the cutoff for me for linguistic intelligibility without notes.

Mood: Hmm..I don't know if I have the vocabulary to talk about mood...don't know the jargon. 'Mysteriousness' affects me very much, if that counts as a mood: e.g., Wallace Stevens' "The Palm Tree at the End of the Mind".

Theme: Probably not nature for its own sake (I'm a city boy and names of species of flowers, etc. whiz by me without eliciting any image), though I enjoy evocations of nature compounded with other elements in a poem, especially lush invocations of night, the tropics, the sea, for example. I think I might be most interested in poems about inner-life. Also, poems on the religious or metaphysical questions of life.

Style: Not sure what to say.
posted by Paquda at 12:45 PM on June 3, 2011

!!!!!! I forgot! I want to highly recommend John Ashbery's THREE POEMS. One of my favorites!
posted by Dauus at 12:48 PM on June 3, 2011

Probably not nature for its own sake (I'm a city boy and names of species of flowers, etc. whiz by me without eliciting any image), though I enjoy evocations of nature compounded with other elements in a poem, especially lush invocations of night, the tropics, the sea, for example. I think I might be most interested in poems about inner-life. Also, poems on the religious or metaphysical questions of life.

I'm glad you've found Wallace Stevens then. Have you read any of the Florida poems? I still find him really difficult, so I haven't been able to dig too deep at this point.

Norma Cole is really famous for writing on the topic of Nature. I haven't really read much of her, so I don't have any specific references.
posted by Think_Long at 1:01 PM on June 3, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, Think_Long, I love the Florida poems. I guess they are really what I was thinking of when I typed that.
posted by Paquda at 1:04 PM on June 3, 2011

gary snyder and ee cummings are great rhythmic American's who use lots of natural imagry or for easy to access and modern I love the list of poems for high schoolers picked by our national poet (so it changes).
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 1:12 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Americans (not American's)
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 1:13 PM on June 3, 2011

Seconding Larkin. Also R.S. Thomas.
posted by Jahaza at 1:16 PM on June 3, 2011

Yet another vote for Larkin.

And Thomas Hardy.
posted by fire&wings at 1:36 PM on June 3, 2011

Thirding Bishop. If you want to try something contemporary, have a look at Rae Armantrout, who I would say shares a bit of the "mysteriousness" and interest in the nature of things that you enjoyed in Stevens.
posted by escabeche at 1:36 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

My favorite modern poet is Sharon Olds. She mostly writes about her life and her children, but her earlier stuff is based on her own childhood. Pablo Neruda and e.e. cummings are my other favorite poets.
posted by ruhroh at 1:37 PM on June 3, 2011

Despite his many shortcomings, I'm still fond of Charles Bukowski. You'll have to wade through a lot of crap to get to the good poems, though, especially if you're reading any of the books that were published after his death.

Pablo Neruda is excellent, in my opinion, but unless you are fluent in Spanish you'll be reading it in translation, which goes against your original post.

And if you're interested in exploring more performance orientated stuff, check out Taylor Mali or Shane Koyczan (both have loads of material on YouTube).
posted by asnider at 2:26 PM on June 3, 2011

James Merrill's Divine Comedies (out of print but easily found used) satisfies all of your requirements while paying an explicit debt to Stevens.

You might also try Paul Muldoon.
posted by otio at 2:33 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Robert Frost - read The Road Not Taken, Mending Wall and Goodbye and Keep Cold, to see why.
W.B. Yeates is sometimes heartbreaking and often mysterious. See When you are old, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, and of course The Second Coming, for a taster.
T.S. Eliot is often considered a "hard" read, simply because his work is so mysterious. See Journey Of The Magi, and The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (one of my favorites - time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea. )
Also try Emily Dickinson. Lots of good examples in the page linked here.
posted by Susurration at 2:44 PM on June 3, 2011

So many wonderful poets already mentioned. I just want to add

Emily Dickinson
Billy Collins
Syvia Plath (and her ass husband, Ted Huges)
Robert Browning

Also, best tip on poetry reading I've ever gotten: read it aloud.
posted by bearwife at 3:07 PM on June 3, 2011

Ted Huges

Seconded, his poetry is epic in scale.
posted by fire&wings at 3:49 PM on June 3, 2011

I LOVE Galway Kinnell, especially The Book of Nightmares.

I am (perhaps only in my own head) notorious for pushing Anne Carson on MeFi people HOWEVER this time I really think she's a good fit for you. The prose narrative of TBoN is very similar to Carson's poetry-as-story works, like Autobiography of Red and The Beauty of the Husband. Nox is her most recent work and is an excellent, epic story of mourning and recovery after her brother's suicide.

Start with Autobiography of Red (the first 20 pages are really weird, but then it opens up into the most compelling love story I've ever read) and go from there.
posted by zoomorphic at 3:56 PM on June 3, 2011

Robert Lowell, an avuncular presence to the confessional post war poets and lifelong pen pal of Elizabeth Bishop.
"Memories of West Street and Lepke" is one of my favourite 20th century poems and I can't recommend it highly enough.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 4:54 PM on June 3, 2011

"I think I might be most interested in poems about inner-life. Also, poems on the religious or metaphysical questions of life."

For this, in the mysterious mood: W.S. Merwin
And some later Stanley Kunitz.
Also: I don't think anyone's mentioned William Blake. I think you'd get a lot from Blake.
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 5:31 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Emily Dickinson kicks ass. She's scary in a very interesting way.

Also, look at James Joyce's 'Ulysses' as a book of poetry.
posted by ovvl at 8:01 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

John Berryman's Dream Songs
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:25 PM on June 3, 2011

Seamus Heaney, Death of a Naturalist
Louise Glück, The Wild Iris
posted by dr. boludo at 9:10 PM on June 3, 2011

Was going to say Louis MacNeice (start with Autumn Journal) and Thomas Hardy but they've been bagged already, so maybe Thomas Kinsella or Michael Symmons Roberts?

Also, don't write off collections if you're looking around for poets to investigate further. Not sure where you're based but in the UK, I've found that the Forward Book of Poetry (published annually) is a great way to sample poets before diving in and buying collections.
posted by unless I'm very much mistaken at 3:20 PM on June 4, 2011

Hi there, I'm just going to copy and paste my long post in the Mirror Universe Why-do-you-hate-poetry version of this thread. That version has links, BTW.

* * *

Hi dudes. Poet here--I won this thing, which is sort of a big deal in poetry which means it has a cultural significance tantamount to being the Candyland champion of America. I'm going to continue my habit of trying to make a persuasive case for values no one cares about in a thread that's always over.


1. YES YOU ARE RIGHT. I grew up in a middle-class immigrant family and was ESL. We didn't have poetry books in the house. I didn't really know poetry existed as someone normal people read until late high school or early college. As I often joke, my poetry career when I decided to apply to a poetry class rather than a fiction class because the fiction class required thirty pages and poetry class only required five. In the rare occasions I teach a workshop, I get students to cut out anything stiff, portentous, and obviously beautiful in their work. I also encourage things like plots and narrative conflict to make poems more dynamic. Once you get used to it, you find you can't read prose because nothing's ever happening. It's just twenty pages of people tying their shoelaces. Poetry doesn't have logistics.

2. WHY PEOPLE DON'T READ POETRY. Okay, this is how I'm reading this thread: People don't read poetry for various reasons. The reasons may be that poetry is too hard, boring, shallow, obnoxious, etc. I think that reasons are also things like: 1) We don't have good poetry pedagogy in this country--we have bad teachers who don't themselves like poetry and force a silly High Modernist / New Critical tonic down students throats. Most poets I know are cool young people who are usually seen making out in the corner of a bar and who run their own presses, make handmade books and throw awesome parties. How awesome would it be to take a poetry class from someone like that? 2) Poetry has no money in it, so there's no distribution or marketing system, so it makes it hard to find a gateway drug or know how or why poetry should interest you. 3) Even though there's no money in it, poetry is viewed as a very classed art form--a symbol of cultural attainment. I sense a lot of shame in the thread. How do I know if a poem or bad if there's no one to tell me? And if I don't get it, does that mean there's something wrong with me? 4) Because poetry is only encountered in a class room, it ends up seeming like homework. Now that graphic novels are getting respectable, I've had non-comics-readers tell me how reading comic books for class also feels like work.

3. YOU ARE REQUIRED TO HAVE FUN. What this means is that you should read shit with the aim of having fun. Don't be a close-minded grump, but don't also get self-conscious if you're waiting for the ride to start and nothing's happening. Lawrence Levine writes about how the values of sanctification took over American arts in the 20th century, so that arts like ballet and opera became semi-religious cultural vitamins and cultural venues became places where you shut up, get improved, and generally don't enjoy yourself. This is part of what people are objecting to in poetry, but not many people these days write poetry that's meant to be decoded. A lot of poetry is akin to stand-up comedy and influenced by pop culture. If you want to wash the navel-gazing sanctity out of your brain, watch this clip of Frank O'Hara reading HAVING A COKE WITH YOU.

4. POETRY = THRILLPOWER. I've been reading INFINITE JEST lately and, while I have mixed feelings about it, it strikes me as being very similar to poetry: lots of pastiche from different registers of language, playfulness of form, layering of patterns, manipulations of different voices. Sometimes the reason I like poetry isn't because it's particularly meaningful, but because it offers pure intellectual thrillpower--more ideas-per-line than any other medium. Richard Siken's CRUSH is like a mesmerizing porno snuff film directed by Michel Gondry under a lake inside your dreams: "He was pointing at the moon but I was looking at his hand. / He was dead anyway, a ghost.". Zbigniew Herbert's fairy tale about an emperor who turned into a wood louse. Bhanu Kapil writes poems about cyborgs and blood; in INCUBATION, the cyborg is a metaphor for the assimilated immigrant. Shanxing Wang is a mechanical engineer who teaches ping pong and protested at Tiananmen Square. He writes poems that express love using differential equations. Tan Lin, who is not to be mistaken for Tao Lin, is a poet laureate of boredom whose books have been released via RSS feed and plagiarised Wikipedia and American Apparel. Thalia Field's last book is filled with pigeons and UFOs. Poetry can be a medium that's all special effects. In a good way.

5. POETRY AS DIY INDIE SCENE. A lot of poetry is narcissistic, self-obsessed, high-toned banality, just as a lot of fiction is harlequin romance novels and mass-market airport novels about law firms and a lot of movies are cynical romantic comedies and plotless CGI shoot-em-ups. The way I see it, the poetry scene today is less like a chamber quartet or lecture symposia and more like a DIY zine scene or indie record label--lots of cool young poeple making things largely outside of financial incentives. So, as Scott McCloud said about independent comics, poetry is one of the few places where you can hear people sounding like real people. I don't like most poetry, but the stuff I do like, I like more than anything else--because it's intimate, cheaper than therapy, and upgrades my perception. Run away from poetry in the New Yorker and from anyone who sounds like they spends their nights looking at themselves in the mirror without any clothes on, intoning deep things.

A lot of people like Joe Wenderoth's Letters to Wendy's, a series of prose poems as Wendy's comment cards. They're often about marijuana brownies, backdoor entry, and skulls. Amazingly, Anne Carson's LIFE OF TOWNS is online on Google Books. Another heartbroken neurotic philosopher, the lovely Louise Gluck is writing really wisdom-creating work at the intersection between prose and poetry. I like how Bob Hass essentially organizes poems based on associative leaps.

posted by johnasdf at 8:59 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all very much for the interesting recommendations and opinions. I bought an anthology with work by many people whose names came up in this thread and will see where it leads me.
posted by Paquda at 1:08 PM on June 7, 2011

Louise Gluck was my professor and I don't recommend her poems.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:25 PM on June 8, 2011

Louise Gluck was my professor and I don't recommend her poems.

posted by Jahaza at 7:42 AM on June 9, 2011

Hard to say, Jahaza, but these quotes may help: "hilarious, in a ghoulish way — like a stand-up vampire" and "a nail-biter's nail-biter" (NYTimes). She was a pretty good prof, and I liked her work a lot back then, but now I feel about her sorta like I feel about Updike.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:12 PM on June 10, 2011

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