Poetry recommendations
July 23, 2008 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend some recent poets to read, for someone (me) interested in exploring poetry for essentially the first time. By recent, I mean since, say, 1980.
posted by slab_lizard to Writing & Language (35 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
My favourite modern poet, Simon Armitage.

My party piece:
I strike, then from the moment when the matchstick
conjures up its light, to when the brightness moves
beyond its means, and dies, I say the story
of my life -

dates and places, torches I carried,
a cast of names and faces, those
who showed me love, or came close,
the changes I made, the lessons I learnt -

then somehow still find time to stall and blush
before I'm bitten by the flame, and burnt.

A warning, though, to anyone nursing
an ounce of sadness, anyone alone:
don't try this on your own; it's dangerous,
posted by Acarpous at 12:24 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is a list of 180 poems compiled by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Intended for high school students so the 'difficulty' or whatnot might be debatable, but it should introduce you to some names. I'm not sure of the dates but it's certainly a well-edited selection.

Slate publishes a poem every week.

(Sorry I can't suggest specific names; I'm not much for them.)
posted by acidic at 12:26 PM on July 23, 2008

I love Mark Strand and Billy Collins.
posted by shesbookish at 12:30 PM on July 23, 2008

There are thousands of books of poems published every year, so you'll probably need to narrow it down to the sorts of things you like before we can give you good recommendations.

Here are some things that have come out in the past couple years that I personally enjoyed (all from a sort of an avant-garde tradition, so they'll be rather different than, say, Billy Collins):

Harryette Mullen's Sleeping with the Dictionary
Anthony Hawley's Forget Reading
Graham Foust's Necessary Stranger
Laynie Browne's Daily Sonnets
Jay Wright's Music's Mask and Measure
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 12:45 PM on July 23, 2008

I'd recommend Philip Larkin as well actually, he may only just make your timescale but I'm guessing you're looking for accessible poetry.
posted by fire&wings at 12:46 PM on July 23, 2008

I should add that "avant-garde" doesn't necessarily mean inaccessible. I taught Sleeping with the Dictionary in an introductory college course about a year ago and a number of my students found it to be their favorite part of the semester.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 12:51 PM on July 23, 2008

Mark Doty.
posted by rtha at 12:52 PM on July 23, 2008

I really loved Verses That Hurt -- gritty, gripping, vivid, like a really high-quality poetry slam.
posted by ecsh at 12:52 PM on July 23, 2008

Seconding Mark Strand
posted by grateful at 12:59 PM on July 23, 2008

I too love Mark Strand (a few excerpts here, though I especially love "The Continuous Life" which is not included). Here is an excerpt from his "Elegy for My Father."


Why did you travel?
Because the house was cold.
Why did you travel?
Because it is what I have always done between sunset and sunrise.
What did you wear?
I wore a blue suit, a white shirt, yellow tie, and yellow socks.
What did you wear?
I wore nothing. A scarf of pain kept me warm.
Who did you sleep with?
I slept with a different woman each night.
Who did you sleep with?
I slept alone. I have always slept alone.
Why did you lie to me?
I always thought I told the truth.
Why did you lie to me?
Because the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth.
Why are you going?
Because nothing means much to me anymore.
Why are you going?
I don't know. I have never known.
How long shall I wait for you?
Do not wait for me. I am tired and I want to lie down.
Are you tired and do you want to lie down?
Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down.

I'm also very fond of the serious humor of Kenneth Koch. Here is one of his lesser known poems, "The Boiling Water." And there is also his lighthearted take on William Carlos Williams' "This Is Just to Say," which I've often seen cited to on Metafilter.
posted by onlyconnect at 1:01 PM on July 23, 2008

Seconding Billy Collins. Also, Wendy Cope, who writes delightful, often funny verse in a brain-staggering variety of forms (like pantoum and villanelle).

Also, the brand-new US Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan, who's simply wonderful.

Also seconding the Billy Collins Poetry 180 anthology, in which I found several poems I liked.

Also, the two Garrison Keillor poetry collections, Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times. I'm not a particular fan of Keillor himself, but there are some fine poems in both of these books.

Finally, I just discovered Richard Wilbur through a MeFi comment, although I'm pretty sure at least one of his poems was in one of the anthologies I've just recommended.
posted by kristi at 1:10 PM on July 23, 2008

The best way I've found to explore poetry is to do it locally. Avoid open mic coffee houses. Check with nearby universities and colleges for writers-in-residence and local published poets. Watch for literary festivals. Often geographical proximity helps you relate to the poet. Seeing the poet in person helps as well. And hearing the poems read aloud is most important of all. Poetry should be a performance art in most cases.

Also, trying to start post 1980 isn't always easy. You need to know where you've been before you can know where you're going. Learning a brief history of the literary tradition from Shakespeare on will give you context, although I can't recommend a text that will do that off the top of my head. It took me 4 years. Professors will preach that poetry should stand on its own, but they're also teaching classes that give context. I think you need context, but once you have that context the poem takes on new life.

Poems are more like music than stories. You need to re-read over and over, returning to the same poems again and again to truly appreciate them.

My favorite poets (not local) are Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon, both from Ireland. Heaney is very accessible.
posted by Brodiggitty at 1:17 PM on July 23, 2008

I quite like Semezdin Mehmedinovic. His book of poems Nine Alexandrias is one of my favorites. I've also had Sarajevo Blues recommended to me.
posted by Axle at 1:21 PM on July 23, 2008

you might be best asking for an anthology of recent poets and then, once you know what you like, asking for more like that. as others have said there are a lot of poets out there.

fwiw my favourite poet is probably medbh mcguckian (she's still around, but she first published a bit before 1980). her poems are obscure (to me at least - apparently there's a pile of references/reuse that i would never pick up), layered, things that rely on the cumulative effect of words and images to invoke some sort of emotion.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 1:52 PM on July 23, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks! You all have given me some interesting, accessible corners of the poetry world to explore — mighty appreciated.
posted by slab_lizard at 1:55 PM on July 23, 2008

I like Ruth Stone. Also, some poetry centers also have a listing of poets and poems (example).
posted by ejaned8 at 2:01 PM on July 23, 2008

Two Charleses:

Charles Wright. My two favourite books of his, "Chickamauga" and "Black Zodiac", are collected in the paperback "Negative Blue".

Charles Simic. I'd go to the most recent Selected Poems.

One comment--sharing something about your interests, where you're from, what novelists you like, might make this more fruitful for you. For example, Billy Collins has been mentioned a few times, and he certainly jumps to mind as an accessible poet. However, I know that reading him would never have gotten me into poetry--I just don't connect with it.

For example, if you're into meditation, or environmentalism, or China, I'd practically beg you to pick up "Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China". If you were into Bruce Springsteen, I'd do the same for Philip Levine.
posted by Beardman at 2:11 PM on July 23, 2008

>I'd practically beg you to pick up "Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China".

Oops. I forgot that ancient China is a few years before 1980. But David Hinton's translation...
posted by Beardman at 2:13 PM on July 23, 2008

Not exactly a recommendation of a certain poet, but websites like Verse Daily have modern poets work every day. Some are quite fantastic. At the very least it expands your knowledge of whats out there.
posted by elendil71 at 2:28 PM on July 23, 2008

2nding Brodiggity about the value of stuff pre-1980 especially for "exploring poetry for essentially the first time." You don't absolutely need to dig back to Shakespeare, but I think if you're going to restrict yourself on how far back you're going, you could do worse than looking at post WWII.
posted by juv3nal at 2:58 PM on July 23, 2008

This website has a nice list of more recentish poets. With samples of their poetry.

The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry is something I had to buy for a high school class many years ago and still read today when I get the urge--you might want to look for that used somewhere.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:11 PM on July 23, 2008

2nding Kay Ryan. wonderful!
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 3:32 PM on July 23, 2008

As others have said, this is a huge question. Ask yourself what you're hungry for and start from there.

Books that will make you think about societal problems in new ways
Joseph Lease, Broken World
Thomas Sayers Ellis, The Maverick Room
Daphne Gottlieb, Final Girl

Books that will seriously mess with your idea of what poetry can be or do
Shanxing Wang, Mad Science in Imperial City
Brenda Iijima, Around Sea
Truong Tran, In the Margin
Jen Bervin, Nets

Books that will converse with you
David Antin, i never knew what time it was
Geoffrey G. O'Brien, Green and Gray
John Taggart, Crosses
Ben Lerner, Angle of Yaw

Books that will make you laugh
Anselm Berrigan, Some Notes on my Programming
Sparrow, Yes, You Are a Revolutionary!
Logan Ryan Smith, The Singers
Rosemary Griggs, Sky Girl
Matthew Rohrer and Joshua Beckman, Nice Hat. Thanks.
Joe Wenderoth, Letters to Wendy's

Books that will make your eyes twinkle
Frank Bidart, Star Dust
Densie Newman, Wild Goods
Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Shy Green Fields
Joshua Beckman, Shake

In the spirit of your question, almost all of these are from the past five years. It's true that in many cases, going back a little farther than 20 years is good. The books that you like will have little ways of telling you which ones to look back to.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:03 PM on July 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

It's all personal, but ... here's three poets I like with some poems.

Kim Addonizio What is this thing called love.
Jacob Polley Brink.
Gaia Holmes Doctor James Graham's Celestial Bed.

note: last link is basically me pimping my friend.
posted by seanyboy at 4:54 PM on July 23, 2008

nth-ing Mark Strand.


Louise Glück.
Scott Cairns.
Gail Mazur.
Rafael Campo.
Frank Bidart.
posted by jesourie at 5:45 PM on July 23, 2008

I read both Seamus Heaney's Beowulf translation and his poetry in high school English classes and his poetry as a whole is one of the few things I really love from the genre. Heres a few of his works: Internet Poetry Archive. Of those, my favorite is 'The Tollund Man'.
posted by version control at 6:20 PM on July 23, 2008

I like Mary Jo Salter's "The Age of Reason" and have used it successfully as a starting-off point for teaching poetry. It's a very human poem that lots of people seem to connect with, but it also has intricate formal stuff going on.

I'm also really fond of Christopher Reid's "Two Dogs on a Pub Roof," although I can't find an online text.
posted by Orinda at 8:18 PM on July 23, 2008

(I am so pleased and surprised that so many people are recommending Mark Strand.)
posted by onlyconnect at 8:44 PM on July 23, 2008

If you are looking for modern anthologies, I'd recommend the book at the top of the list linked, Staying Alive and its sequel Being Alive (at 4 on the list). The poems in these books are thematically arranged and cover a good range of poets, though the date range of the poems perhaps starts earlier than you're after. I really do recommend them, though, they're good weighty anthologies that restore your faith after seeing too many expensively produced coffee-table love poem collections with only 20 poems.

And I see that seanyboy has answered above - I think it's him I have to thank for introducing me to Alice Oswald, whose poem 'Wedding' is The One That Got Away from my own wedding.
posted by calico at 4:08 AM on July 24, 2008

Poetry Dailyis an excellent website that publishes a different poem everyday by a contemporary poet. Mostly American Poets but a fair selection of foreign poets as well. Its designed to do the job of introducing people to a wide selection of contemporary poets.

You might also want to take a look at the anthology Poetry with an Edge, Mostly British poets, though it also has work form European and American poets, it was published a while ago now but does a good job of introducing an accessible selection of contemporary poets.
posted by tallus at 8:24 AM on July 24, 2008

Anis Mojgani, Buddy Wakefield, Shane Koyczan, Shappy, and Robbie Q are some of my favorites. And I did not see anyone mention Bukowski, he wrote fantastic poetry into the 90s.
posted by psylosyren at 10:16 AM on July 24, 2008

I'm surprised that no one has come in to badmouth Billy Collins. I like him; I think Litany is really entertaining. But apparently some more "serious" poetry fans don't like him very much. So I'm just warning you, be cautious when bringing him up at cocktail parties.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:26 AM on July 24, 2008

Sigh. If we must... the problem with Billy Collins isn't his poetry. It's that he presents poetry in such a way that makes people think that his sort of poetry is the default, the standard.

I said more here and then realized I was just talking to myself.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:57 PM on July 24, 2008

Also, psylosyren, do I know you?
posted by roll truck roll at 1:57 PM on July 24, 2008

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