Suggestions for a poetry collection book
August 26, 2013 5:37 AM   Subscribe

Looking for recommendations for a book of poetry collections for someone new to poetry.

Ok, so I have never been into poetry, but I want to become exposed to it. I have always appreciated it, but novels and fiction and other categories of literature always captured my time. But I want that to change. I would love to get started with something that is beginner friendly, yet allows me to read some good poetry without getting bogged down or turned off.

Is there such a collection that I can purchase online? Does anyone have any recommendations?

Ultimately, I would like something that touches on a bit of everything (vs. something that is strictly 'modern' or focuses on an era - pre-1800s, for example). I even thought of looking into some high school or first year college poetry text books as a starting point.

I am not looking for a fancy coffee table book that is hard cover and mainly for looks. I would actually prefer soft cover and something that I plan on reading.

Any thoughts? I am in Canada, so I would have to purchase from

posted by dbirchum to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps an anthology spanning a certain period? This way you could dip your toes into various poets' work and go from there?


The Poetry Foundation has a terrific online catalogue which I often peruse when in search of something new. I keep a list of poems and poets that tickle my fancy and then go off in search of their work.

Have fun!
posted by hollypolly at 5:49 AM on August 26, 2013

100 Best Poems of All Time is the sort of thing you might be interested in. It has my favorite, Dover Beach in it.

To this old English Teacher's eyes, it's the Pop of poetry anthologies. .

You can move onto the Norton Anthology of Poetry. This is more of a college survey textbook, but I like them because they sure are comprehensive.

Once you get through these, you can decide what kinds of poems you like, and then branch out from there. Do you like metaphysical poetry (Donne), romance poetry (Byron, Keats, Shelley), Victorian poetry (Arnold, Tennyson, Robert Browning) or modern (Rita Dove, Ezra Pound, etc.)

Then you drill down from there.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:54 AM on August 26, 2013

The giant Norton Anthology of Poetry is extremely comprehensive for an Anglo-American focus, but might be a little intimidating for a novice poetry ready. Still, it has decent introductions and annotations, which are often helpful, particularly for older work with antiquated terms. I think the 5th ed (2004) is the most recent edition, though if you find an older edition used through Alibris or whereever I doubt it would matter all that much. There is also a "Shorter" edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry as well, which I'm sure would be fine as well as an introduction. The Norton Introduction to Poetry is another big book with more emphasis on commentary.

I like the big multi-vol. Poems for the Millenium anthology, which includes a lot of non-Western and non-traditional work.

An excellent but often-overlooked anthology that has a somewhat American focus is Hayden Carruth's The Voice that Is Great Within Us.

Good luck and have fun.
posted by aught at 5:59 AM on August 26, 2013

Another possibility is that if you have a good nearby library you might be able to get one of the big anthologies, read through and find styles or periods that appeal to you, and then get more specific anthologies in those areas to buy.
posted by aught at 6:00 AM on August 26, 2013

Sound and Sense. A solid poetry collection wrapped in a decent introductory text.

The Rattlebag also works as a broad introductory anthology.
posted by pie ninja at 6:07 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Garrison Keillor is a decent judge of "Good Poetry" and if your heart is set on a sample of poems from many time periods then his collection of random stuff could be a short intro.

I might also recommend reading up on poetic forms, either in a delightful poem about forms (Rhyme's Reason by John Hollander [RIP]) or as a practical guide to trying to write some yourself (Mary Kinzie's A Poet's Guide to Poetry).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:08 AM on August 26, 2013

Seconding The Rattle Bag. It is my go-to best loved anthology and I have bought a lot of anthologies of poetry. The poems span all ages and forms and themes, united by being very good poems. Plus, the way it's arranged makes it delightful to randomly read, rather than feeling like an introduction to poetry 101.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:20 AM on August 26, 2013

I glanced at at the table of contents of Ruthless Bunny's first suggestion and really, really like it. has a free poem-a-day in your email service you can sign up for. I took a quick look at the archives, and it looks like an great eclectic mix of old, new, and in-between.

I'd only start with the Norton Anthology if you're the kind of person who likes jumping in the deep end on the first day.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:22 AM on August 26, 2013

I think you will enjoy the BBC collated "The Nation's Favoirite Poems". Voted for by the british public in the 90's,. Available on Amazon ca for a cent.
posted by BenPens at 6:38 AM on August 26, 2013

I second pie ninja's Sound and Sense recommendation, for poetry with commentary, which is helpful when you are a beginner.
posted by onlyconnect at 6:50 AM on August 26, 2013

Since the Norton Anthology has already been recommended, all I'll add is: try Robert Service, especially his 'Spell of the Yukon'.
posted by easily confused at 7:03 AM on August 26, 2013

Garrison Keillor is a decent judge of "Good Poetry" and if your heart is set on a sample of poems from many time periods then his collection of random stuff could be a short intro.

Seconding Keillor's anthologies - "Prairie Home Companion" gets on my nerves, but he has excellent taste in poetry (his other radio show, Writer's Almanac is a showcase for this.) Good Poems for Hard Times is probably the best of them.

I also recommend the two anthologies produced by Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project: poetry from a wide range of eras and places - most written in English, but some in translation - submitted by average readers, along with a note about why they are significant (some of which are very moving.) They introduced me to Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" and Mark Doty's "The Embrace", which alone makes them worthwhile.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:59 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

A friend gave me The Faber Book of Beasts and I think you might enjoy it. It's edited by Paul Muldoon and the collection spans from Homer to modern poets.
posted by daisyk at 8:17 AM on August 26, 2013

The Dover Thrift Editions have a handful of small, inexpensive collections of classic poems, either by period/movement or by author, as well as a few overviews. I think these are all public domain poetry so you are of course limited to older work.

You could do worse than to pick up, say, each of these:
101 Great American Poems
African-American Poetry
The Classic Tradition of Haiku
Great Short Poems from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century
100 Best-Loved Poems
100 Favorite English and Irish Poems

Together, you can buy all six of these books for under $20 total (plus shipping, of course) and will give you a pretty broad exposure to pre-20th century poetry. Read a poem or two every night before bed -- ideally, I think, aloud -- to get a sense of what you like.

Garrison Keillor's anthologies might also be a good start and will contain more recent poetry. I also find that you can pick up Best American Poetry of [YEAR] books at thrift stores and they might also be a good entry point. But I'd go with the Dover books first.
posted by gauche at 8:52 AM on August 26, 2013

OK, this comes with a bucketload of caveats. I don't know how and if it works in Canada. And even though all the volumes are listed, for some reason, I could only get Volume 2 to open. And, it's entirely possible that the only reason it engaged me way back when was that it was available and portable, which the e-version may not turn out to be. And it was hopelessly, kneebritchesly old-fashioned even back when it was in my grubby little mitts, and for all I know, even when it was hot off the presses in 1929. But it's what I learned on as a wee tyke, and it's what got me hooked. It was a gateway drug to a lifetime of looking for poems in all the wrong and right places, and making my own when the right one wasn't there yet.

It was a set of little crumbly blue-bound books that came in a dollar mystery box from an estate sale. If you try it. I'm sure you'll come to disagree with the title on a regular basis; I know I did! It leans a bitheavily on the old white men, and it's a skipper-arounder. But there's gold in them thar moldy leaves In print, they were awesome bathroom books. It was always a running gag in our family to call them by a different number every time. "Hey, wasn't that in 'The World's 6,342 and-a-half Best Poems?'" The last one came up missing eight years ago. I saw a set on, but too expensive for anyone without an emotional attachment to pay. But if you ever catch it at a thrift shop or library sale, give it a look.

I am perfectly sober; I've just spent my lunch hour drinking too much coffee, eating too much sugar, and reading too much Byron.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:21 AM on August 26, 2013

The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry is awfully specific but I quite like it and it has breadth even within the constraint it's set up.
posted by marylynn at 9:01 PM on August 26, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you so much to all that replied. I have a LOT of reading and research to do, and for that, I am grateful.

The passion and love of poetry by those who have replied to my question is extremely evident, and for that, I am excited and thankful....

I appreciate everyone who took the time to express their suggestions and recommendations on the topic.
posted by dbirchum at 10:16 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Anything but "We are the Champions"   |   Tips for living with hard water Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.