10 Essential Poetry Books to get you started

21 April marks World Poetry Day, here are 10 of our suggestions to get you started. Which are your favourites? Let us know below!

Ariel, Sylvia Plath

The poems in Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, including many of her best-known such as ‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Daddy’, ‘Edge’ and ‘Paralytic’, were all written between the publication in 1960 of Plath’s first book, The Colossus, and her death in 1963. Plath’s poems are deeply felt, deeply menacing dreams, roiling and crystalline and absolutely essential.

Paradise lost, John Milton

In Paradise Lost Milton produced poem of epic scale, conjuring up a vast, awe-inspiring cosmos ranging across huge tracts of space and time, populated by a memorable gallery of grotesques. And yet, in putting a charismatic Satan and naked, innocent Adam and Eve at the centre of this story, he also created an intensely human tragedy on the Fall of Man. Written when Milton was in his fifties – blind, bitterly disappointed by the Restoration and in danger of execution – Paradise Lost ‘s apparent ambivalence towards authority has led to intense debate about whether it manages to ‘justify the ways of God to men’, or exposes the cruelty of Christianity.

Birthday letters, Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters are addressed, with just two exceptions, to Sylvia Plath, the American poet to whom he was married. They were written over a period of more than twenty-five years, the first a few years after her suicide in 1963, and represent Ted Hughes’s only account of his relationship with Plath and of the psychological drama that led both to the writing of her greatest poems and to her death.

Dart, Alice Oswald

Using conversations with people who live and work on the River Dart in Devon as a poetic census, Oswald creates a narrative of the river, tracking its life from source to sea. The voices are varied and idiomatic – poacher, ferryman, sewage worker.

Family Values, Wendy Cope

From a motorway service area to her ambivalent relationship with religion, Wendy Cope covers a wide range of experience in her new collection. Her mordant humour and formal ingenuity are in evidence, even as she remembers the wounds of a damaging childhood; and in poems about love and the inevitable problems of aging she achieves an intriguing blend of sadness and joy. Two very different sets of commissioned poems round off a remarkable volume, whose opening poem sounds clearly the profound note of compassion which underlies the whole.

Opened ground: Selected poems 1966 – 1996, Seamus Heaney

Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996 comes as close to being a ‘Collected Poems’ as its author cares to make it. It replaces his New Selected Poems 1966-1987, giving a fuller selection from each of the volumes represented there and adding large parts of those that have appeared since, together with examples of his work as a translator from the Greek, Latin, Italian and other languages. The book concludes with ‘Crediting Poetry’, the speech with which Seamus Heaney accepted the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded to him, in the words of the Swedish Academy of Letters, for his ‘works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth’.

The poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem

This comprehensive and authoritative edition of Robert Frost’s poetry brings together the full contents of all eleven of Frost’s books of verse – from A Boy’s Will to In the Clearing.This handsome volume, comprising more than 350 poems, was prepared under the editorship of Edward Connery Lathem, a Frost scholar and friend of the poet. In his notes, Mr Lathem records extensive bibliographical information about the publication of Robert Frost’s poetry during nearly three-quarters of a century – from 1894, when his first poem appeared in a national publication, to the final volume Frost worked on just before his death in 1963.

Penguin’s poems for life

Ranging from Chaucer to Carol Ann Duffy, via Shakespeare, Keats, and Lemn Sissay, this book offers something for each of those moments in life – whether falling in love, finding your first grey hair or saying your final goodbyes – when only a poem will do.

Loop of Jade, Sarah Howe

In her exquisite first collection, Sarah Howe explores a dual heritage, journeying back to Hong Kong in search of her roots.With extraordinary range and power, the poems build into a meditation on hybridity, intermarriage and love – what meaning we find in the world, in art, and in each other. Crossing the bounds of time, race and language, this is an enthralling exploration of self and place, of migration and inheritance, and introduces an unmistakable new voice in British poetry.

The world’s wife, Carol Ann Duffy

From Mrs Midas to Queen Kong, from Elvis’s twin sister to Pygmalion’s bride, they’re all here, in Carol Ann Duffy’s inspired and inspirational collection, The World’s Wife. Witty and thought-provoking, this is a tongue-in-cheek, no-holds-barred look at the real movers and shakers across history, myth and legend. If you have ever wondered, for example, how exactly Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, or what, precisely, Frau Freud thought about her husband – then this is the book for you, as the wives of the great, the good, the not so good, and the legendary are given a voice in Carol Ann Duffy’s sparkling and inventive collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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