There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry.
October 9, 2017 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I would like to find a book of poetry, in English, that a second language learner would be able to read without too much trouble (and without the poetry being written for children or coming across as a language textbook).

A good friend of mine is a native Arabic speaker. She can read, write, and speak English, but she is not very confident in her English reading/writing abilities and I do not want to make her feel incapable in any way. She loves to read poetry and often has a book of Arabic poetry on her desk, and she frequently posts poetry passages and song lyrics to Instagram. She has a very artsy soul.

I would love to give her a book of English poems but I don't want to give her something complicated and intimidating, nor do I want to give her something too simple or juvenile. As someone who enjoys poetry, I understand that poetry is often complicated and things might be missed if she is an English language learner (especially things like word play) but I think the overall gesture of receiving a book of English poetry would go over well. She has approached me before about ways to improve her English reading and writing so this might help with that goal (though isn't the main intention at all).

Are there any poetry compilations or anthologies that might be suitable? I will probably have to order it online without seeing it first in person as English poetry books aren't widely available where I am, so if you could provide examples of what's inside, that would be helpful. Or, is there a specific poet you might recommend? I haven't been a devoted poetry reader for a few years so forget many of my favourites and I'm sure I'm not thinking of an obvious choice.

(I did see this thread and if I can't find a book/anthology to suit my needs, I will probably print off a bunch of those poems and make a little book to give my friend, so please feel free to share your favourite poems too if you think they would be suitable.)

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.
posted by gursky to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Any book of poetry by Billy Collins will fill the bill of book of poetry, in English, that a second language learner would be able to read without too much trouble (and without the poetry being written for children or coming across as a language textbook).
posted by Dolley at 6:24 AM on October 9 [2 favorites]

Give Philip Larkin a try.
posted by ouke at 6:31 AM on October 9 [3 favorites]

I wonder if poems by Ellen Bass would be up her alley? She's plainspoken, but her work is so associative that it does simply what other poets do more complicatedly via syntax, etc. Her poems in "Like A Beggar" are slightly sexy, but laughingly, joyfully so.

Please please no more spreading the plague that is Billy Collins into the world.
posted by tapir-whorf at 6:32 AM on October 9

Emily Dickinson comes to mind. Your friend should be able to check the odd or archaic word in a dictionary, and Dickinson is so well loved that your friend would be able to google any poem and find interpretations online, if she wanted to delve further.
posted by gudrun at 6:40 AM on October 9 [5 favorites]

OMG, Robert Frost! The complete poems of Robert Frost.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:54 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]

Jane Hirshfield. You can see some of her work here.
posted by FencingGal at 7:55 AM on October 9

Jane Kenyon.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 9:55 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]

Best Loved Poems of the American People, with a side helping of Mark Strand, TS Eliot (has smaller books of just one large poem,), Sandberg, Maya Angelou.
posted by Oyéah at 10:16 AM on October 9

Songs of a Sourdough by Robert Service is extremely fun and extremely approachable.

William Carlos Williams and Leonard Cohen are also great and pretty approachable, though I'm not sure which book to most recommend.
posted by 256 at 12:49 PM on October 9

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, a Canadian Sikh, has sold over a million copies. (Not often you hear that about a book of poetry for adults.) This afternoon on the radio she was reading from her second book, The Sun and Her Flowers, and I'd describe it as simple language with compelling storytelling.
posted by clawsoon at 2:31 PM on October 9

The full poem that Kaur read on the radio today: Advice I Would've Given My Mother On Her Wedding Day
posted by clawsoon at 2:50 PM on October 9

If she's into romance and metaphor, you might look for a good translation of Pablo Neruda.

Cole Porter wrote some brilliant lyrics, the best of which have ended up in a poetry book.
posted by clawsoon at 3:23 PM on October 9

If you're anywhere near Toronto, you might be interested in paging through the selections at Knife Fork Book in Kensington Market. You'll find unique chapbooks that would be challenging to track down without stalking poets at readings.
posted by clawsoon at 3:51 PM on October 9

Mary Oliver!
posted by epj at 6:53 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]

Mary Oliver! Her new anthology, Devotions, is coming out tomorrow.

Her language is plain, clear and insightful. For example:

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

posted by lydhre at 6:54 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]

The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is a nice mini-survey of (mostly) English-language poetry. Jackie O was an enormous poetry fan, and this is a compilation of some of her favorites, in five sections: America (poems about the country both laudatory and challenging), First Poems (poems to share with children, including Haikus by Basho and RL Stevenson and so on), Adventure, Romance & Love, and Reflection (the ones most personal to Kennedy, dealing with loss and hope mostly). There's also a collection of her own writing about poetry and a few of her own poems at the end. It spans a pretty broad variety of styles, and of complexity, and might give your friend some idea what sorts of English-language poetry she might particularly like! Here's a terribly-formated table of contents. Not much post-WWII, but that's okay.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:02 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]

The Billy Collins-curated anthologies Poetry 180 and 180 More would be perfect for this. Collins' goal with this project was to bring clear, short, accessible great poetry to share with a wide audience; he suggested that one good way to use the anthologies would be to read one each day in schools as part of the public announcements. He included a diverse bunch of poets and the collections are engaging, contemporary, easy to understand on first listen and really fun.

Another option would be Good Poems, Garrison Keillor's collection of poems from the Writer's Almanac Radio series; many of his choices are along the same lines as the ones in the Collins books.
posted by charmedimsure at 10:13 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]

Came in here to say Mary Oliver, too. Not simplistic at all, but certainly easy and rewarding to read.
posted by mani at 10:23 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

« Older Finding someone to be intimate with?   |   Edifying books for last 15 minutes before sleep? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments