Which Poets Should You Read?

So, here’s this list of recommended poetry collections for seven different types of readers.

Kudos to the listicle author for opening up with Kay Ryan. I think that Ryan is amazing, but it’s a bold move to place her front and center as the suggested poet for the reader of general fiction. And Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red is an inspired choice for YA book readers. Actually, it might be a great way to introduce contemporary teens to contemporary poetry – and via a poet who is also a well regarded classicist. Two birds, one stone, that kind of thing.

I used to like the idea of a bookstore that, when you entered, the staff would size you up, ask a few questions and give you your book. A book you would not only enjoy, but which would be a truly good book. Not good like ‘John Grisham is a comparatively good writer because so much out there is crap,’ but for goodness real good writing. If you like action, what about Wind, Sand and Stars about the being a pilot when planes were still new and dangerous. Written by the dude who wrote The Little Prince, no less!

But he’s not a poet. Or not primarily. Maybe he wrote tons of poetry, but that’s not what we know him for.

So what poets does the coffee philosopher think you should read?

Autobiography of Red is probably the best introduction to the novel in verse I could recommend. Not that it’s better than The Odyssey or Paradise Lost because that’s just not the case. But it’s a coming of age tale that captures very well all the awkwardness of growing up different, the flush and subsequent crushing betrayal of first love, struggling to find one’s path… that sort of thing.

I’m going to pitch for Wordsworth. Some of his mid length poems, like The Excursion tell a moving and compact tale in clear, yet beautiful language. The Prelude is too long and some of the shorter poems are too specific to the time (poems urging Englishmen to stand fast in the event Napoleon invades). But I think The Excursion, while not my favorite, could really strike a certain kind of someone who thought they didn’t like poetry in a very particular and good way.

So those are both narrative poems. Do I think that’s the best way to pull readers into poetry? Maybe. I wouldn’t have said that if asked, but it looks that way.

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