A few of my favorite poetry collections (and a promising bedtime ritual).

A few of my favorite poetry collections (and a promising bedtime ritual).

Now that Will and I are done staying up crazy late binge-watching Blacklist, I’ve been reclaiming the 5:00 a.m. hour. I’ve been acquainted with the pre-dawn hours regularly throughout my life, but not much in the past six months. These past two weeks I’ve been rediscovering just how much I can get done in the wee hours (thanks to the two-hour jump on my kids) before it feels like the day’s truly begun.

As much as I love my morning shot of productivity, there’s a big drawback to getting up at 5:00 a.m.: I need to go to bed early. (Sleep is not an area where I can afford to be low-maintenance.) My bedtime is now uncomfortably close to my children’s.

I have a well-established routine of reading before bed to decompress, but if I need to fall asleep fast I can’t read just anything. (Especially not the crime novel I’m currently racing through.) To wind down quickly at the end of a long day, I’ve been relying on a little trick a friend gave me years ago: turn to poetry.

Poetry forces me to slow down. I’m a fast reader, but I cannot read a poem quickly. Poetry forces me to attend to every word; it requires me to think, carefully, about what’s happening, and what it means. Good poetry isn’t too demanding to read when I’m tired, but it’s demanding enough to make me realize how tired I am—and that makes it excellent bedtime reading.

These Intricacies, Harrity

My friend Dave Harrity has a new poetry book out with Cascade Books, as part of their highly regarded Poiema series. It’s called These Intricacies, and it’s what I’ve been reading before bed this week. It’s a diverse, interesting, and challenging collection. (Favorites include The Hole, Confession, At Pleasant Hill to Visit Shakertown.)

Dave’s new book has revived my enthusiasm for poetry as a genre. I’m not a rabid reader of poetry (although I might become one if this turns into a nightly ritual), but These Intricacies has me thinking about a few of my favorite collections. Another plus for bedtime reading: I usually dip in and out of them instead of reading straight through.

Series: 5 poetry collections to read before bed
Wendell Berry: New Collected Poems

Wendell Berry: New Collected Poems

Author:
I adore Berry's evocative, deceptively simple style, in prose or poetry. This collection holds so many favorites: a few include To My Mother, Window Poems, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer to the Liberation Front, and The Blue Robe (google that one right now). More info →
Dream Work

Dream Work

Author:
This wonderful collection contains The Journey, which may deservedly be Oliver's best-known poem. Other favorites here include Coming Home, Wild Geese, and Dogfish. More info →
Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems

Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems

Author:
A poignant collection from a former U.S. poet laureate (Yes, that's really a thing!) Introduction to Poetry, Winter Syntax, and Dharma are favorites. More info →
E. E. Cummings: Collected Poems

E. E. Cummings: Collected Poems

Author:
I'm pretty sure it's not cool to like E. E. Cummings anymore, but I don't care. When I first got my driver's license and could drive myself to the bookstore all by myself, this was one of the first collections I bought. I've always loved his playful way with words. I carry your heart with me is a favorite. More info →
The House of Belonging

The House of Belonging

Author:
Whyte is one of my favorites, for his poetry and nonfiction. (Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of identity is currently on my nightstand.) This is worth reading for The Truelove alone, but I also love the title poem and What to Remember When Waking. More info →

P.S. Top nine reasons to read poetry.

Do you have favorite poets, poems, or collections? I’d love to find your favorites: tell us about them in comments. 

Good poetry isn't too demanding to read when I'm tired, but it's demanding enough to make me realize how tired I am—and that makes it excellent bedtime reading. Add these poetry collections to your bedtime ritual.

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66 comments

  1. Shannan says:

    I like to read before bed but don’t do it often because what I am reading is so interesting I never go to sleep or I’m reading something heavy and then can’t sleep. But poetry is an idea! Thanks Anne!

  2. Great post! As a children’s poet, I spend most of my time these days reading and writing poetry for younger people, but I always find it inspiring to go back to my roots in adult poetry. I love your list, and would add … well, a whole lot of diverse people, from Walter Dean Myers to Edna St. Vincent Millay to Sylvia Plath! 🙂

  3. Poems are wonderfull! In Norway the poesiringen (the poetrycirkle) sends a poem every night, many persons contribute to the e-mail list and it is always inspiring to read and comtemplate the poems before going to sleep. My favorite English writing poet is Robert Frost and the excellent Margaret Atwood I have her collection “Eating fire” by my bedside. Thanks for the interesting post!

  4. Heather Leap says:

    Thank you for this. I tend to shy away from poetry because I am always in such a rush to read other things! I love the idea of tucking into poetry before bed to wind down. Currently I’m reading Pat Schneider’s “How the Light Gets In: Writing as Spiritual Practice,” which is sprinkled with poetry, and I find it is lovely to settle into in the evenings.

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