Help me find five (different!) books of amazing poetry to give as gifts!
June 13, 2014 6:27 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to give my 5 bridesmaids a book of poetry each as a gift. Your poetry suggestions, give them to me!

So a combination of hype around Patricia Lockwood and choosing readings for our wedding ceremony has rekindled my interest in poetry, and got me thinking that books of poetry would be great gifts to thank the 5 women who've been helping out with the wedding, aka bridesmaids1.

Unfortunately, my poetry reading habit kind of died when I was an undergrad. I know I really love Billy Collins, Frank O'Hara, Elizabeth Bishop, and obvy Patricia Lockwood now. I am painfully aware that this is a very limited range.

So what I'm after is (what even is the term for this?) books of poetry (chapbooks?) that you've found really enjoyable and inspiring. I'd prefer not to give anthologies, and nothing that's too much of a bummer. Bonus points for interesting contemporary poets and diversity. I'm happy to clarify where necessary.

1 You'll have to take me at my word that they'd appreciate this - please, no discussion of whether a book of poetry is an appropriate bridesmaid gift.
posted by nerdfish to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I love the Elizabeth Bishop book Questions of Travel, and in this edition it's also a beautiful object.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:38 AM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Some more suggestions:

Jack Gilbert's The Great Fires: Poems 1982-1992.*

John Ashbery: Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Adrienne Rich: Diving into the Wreck

Anne Carson, Nox (Maybe too much of a downer...)

Seamus Heaney, Field Work

I tried to avoid "Collected Works" and linked, as best I could, to first editions that are available (sometimes used) on Amazon, because I think there's a romance to them that makes for a really good gift. This is a lovely idea, by the way!

*Whoops, except for this one which is the Kindle ebook for some reason, but I'm sure you can find the print version if you look.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:55 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Anything by Jane Kenyon is wonderful, though it can be melancholic at times.
posted by Think_Long at 6:56 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I really like Mary Oliver. New and Selected Poems, Volume One is good, though if one of your bridesmaids is a dog lover, you might go with Dog Songs.
posted by neushoorn at 7:10 AM on June 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

Here's my personal selection of accessible and timely things that folks who don't read poems will be able to "get," but folks who do read poetry will probably be really excited about and startled by, too:

  • 1996 by Sara Peters, is filled with understated desire and violence of the sort girls encounter in adolescence and struggle to make sense of, and I'm crazy about it.
  • Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, the eerie modern retelling of a red-winged boy's first love affair with a jaunty older boy.
  • The Descent of Alette is a miraculously strange feminist journey though a mythical underworld subway system presided over by "the tyrant." It's told with a kind of almost metrical faceting of language through the use of quotation marks, and it's both striking and also super accessible. (If you're into eerie disaster-driven archetypal journeys set in the rural south/gulf coast, there is also All night in the new country which is an unabashed self-link, and if you're into post-apocalypse there is Rebecca Gayle Howell's Render: An Apocalypse.)
  • If you happen to like your poems heavily inflected by rural landscape (I do), I'd start with Paradise, Indiana by Bruce Snider; the incredible fricative childhood landscapes of rural North Carolina in Atsuro Riley's Romey's Order; Judy Jordan's Carolina Ghost Woods is one of the most sprawlingly eerie and incredible books I've ever read; Frank Stanford's sort of mythopoetic bayou violence in The Light the Dead See is also incredible if a little bit too goddamn misogynistic for me to be entirely comfortable recommending without reservation.

  • posted by tapir-whorf at 7:15 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

    BIG fan of Philip Levine, "What Work Is".
    posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 7:16 AM on June 13, 2014

    My favourites recently have been Wayne Miller's The City, Our City and Kendra DeColo's Thieves in the Afterlife.
    posted by joannemerriam at 7:16 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Seconding Mary Oliver, her book Dream Work has the poem Wild Geese which seems like her most beloved poem.

    Sharon Old's work is wonderful. Direct, confessional at times, never using three words when one will do. Might be more intense then you are looking for. She does have a light hearted poem here and there (Pope's Penis). The poem Sex Without Love leaves me speechless even fifteen years after I first read it. Her newest book (Stag's Leap) got a Pulitzer, I haven't read it so can't make a recommendation.
    posted by rip at 7:47 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Stag's Leap is gorgeous, but it tells the story of the poet's divorce after her husband's infidelity, so I'd voted against it as a bridesmaid's gift.
    posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:50 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

    This edition of the love poems of Pablo Neruda seems perfect.
    posted by HotToddy at 8:33 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

    No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay.
    posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:40 AM on June 13, 2014

    Another vote for Mary Oliver. Her writing is luminous, earthy and just wonderful. I personally like American Primitive. And what a great idea for a bridesmaid gift!
    posted by LaBellaStella at 8:48 AM on June 13, 2014

    B. H. Fairchildis a wonder. Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest, specifically. Also, check your MeMail.
    posted by minervous at 8:51 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

    One of my bridesmaids got me this Wendall Berry collection, in part because of Country of Marriage, which we had been incorporating in a lot of wedding stuff.

    Anne Carson's work is generally fantastic, especially her classics-inspired/derived pieces. I don't have specific books for these, but you might also look at Wallace Stevens, who has really beautiful pieces.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 9:47 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Tony Hoagland, What Narcissism Means to Me

    One of my favorites
    posted by Aubergine at 9:47 AM on June 13, 2014

    I was going to recommend Captain's Verses, Odes to Common Things, or Book of Questions, all by Neruda. They are really beautiful and timeless. Odes to Common Things is one of my favorite books period.

    But if that's too sort of classic or schmaltzy (not that Neruda is schmaltzy!), maybe you could go with Marriage and Other Science Fiction (or one of his other books - they're all amazing) by Albert Goldbarth.
    posted by Lutoslawski at 10:10 AM on June 13, 2014

    I love Phyllis Webb (The Vision Tree is a particular favorite) as well as P.K. Page (Hologram). If you're looking for something more contemporary, I'd suggest Hello, the Roses by Mei-Mei Bressenbrugge, Undark by Sandy Pool, or North End Love Songs by Kathereena Vermette.

    What a great gift! I wish I'd come up with that idea when I was getting married.
    posted by platitudipus at 10:52 AM on June 13, 2014

    Michael Ondaatje is better known for his novels, but I prefer him as a poet. The Cinnamon Peeler is a great book of poetry.

    If any of the bridesmaids has a keen sense of humour or taste for the bizarre, I have never laughed harder than I have at the Second Charnel House Anthology of Bad Poetry.
    posted by Shepherd at 11:19 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

    I really like Katherine Larson's first book, Radial Symmetry, and could imagine it being appropriate for this context. Particularly good if any of your bridesmaids are into the natural sciences.

    It'd be a lot easier to make recommendations if we knew anything at all about the interests of your bridesmaids.
    posted by .kobayashi. at 1:52 PM on June 13, 2014

    Not exactly contemporary, but inspiring and enjoyable: The Gift by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky.

    Sufi. Lyrical. Ecstatic love poems. The Gift is a true gift.
    posted by magnislibris at 2:49 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Here are some contemporary poets I like:

    Mark Jarman - To The Green Man
    Andrew Hudgins - A Clown at Midnight
    Rita Dove - American Smooth
    Stephen Dunn - Different Hours
    Medbh McGuckian - On Ballycastle Beach

    Here is some older stuff I like:
    James Merrill - The Changing Light at Sandover
    LE Sissman - Night Music
    John Berryman - Dream Songs
    Denise Levertov - A Door in the Hive

    Here is the best book of poetry I ever got as a present:
    Basho - Haiku
    posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:04 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

    The Moon Is Always Female - Marge Piercy. I love, love, love this book!
    posted by SisterHavana at 12:11 AM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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