3 poetry anthologies to try for National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, and to mark it my friend Dave and I recorded a special episode of What Should I Read Next at my house last week. (Update: listen here.)

National Poetry Month has been around since 1996, when the Academy of American Poets, inspired by Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), decided to put poetry in the spotlight for April. Dave laughed about it having its own month, saying that just spotlights the inequality of poetry. Crime thrillers don’t need their own month, you know?

(Dave did note that many poets embrace poetry’s perceived irrelevance, many poets see its lower status (I feel like those two words might need air quotes) as a strength, not a liability. When not many people are reading you, and when hardly anyone is paying poets much of anything for it, there’s a real freedom to create whatever you want.)

Unsurprisingly, I came away inspired to read more poetry, especially more poetry by contemporary poets. Dave’s encouragement that poetry teaches us “to read without consuming” made me think it’s exactly what my brain needs more of in the attention-deprived digital age. It trains your brain to not rush, and that’s something that needs reinforcing for me right now.

I enjoy poetry when I make time to actually read it—something I don’t do enough. When I do read it, I typically turn to the same half-dozen poets that I know many of you know and love as well: Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Luci Shaw. I asked Dave for recommendations for branching out, and whoa, did he deliver—with 3 anthology collections I never would have chosen, or even found, for myself.

Our deep dive is coming later this month (update: listen here), but in the meantime I wanted to share Dave’s specific recommendations. These are perfect picks for anyone who doesn’t read poetry and wants a starting point, or who currently reads poetry and wants to branch out.

Dave’s final advice: if you want to do just one thing to support poets and poetry this April, visit an independent bookstore and buy a book by a living poet.

3 Anthologies for National Poetry Month
Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century

Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century

This overview of contemporary American poetry gives you a good idea of what poets in the U.S. are writing right now. The poets selected were born after 1960 and include Rick Barot, Joshua Beckman, David Berman, Nick Flynn, Matthea Harvey, Terrance Hayes, Major Jackson, James Kimbrell, D.A. Powell, Spencer Reece, Matthew Rohrer, Rebecca Wolff, Kevin Young, Matthew Zapruder, Andrew Zawacki, and others. More info →
The Star By My Head: Poets from Sweden (Poets in the World)

The Star By My Head: Poets from Sweden (Poets in the World)

This volume contains translations of Swedish poetry. Dave calls this "quite a beautiful book, lyrical and mystical in many respects." More info →
The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology

The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology

The Arab world has an important poetic heritage, and continues to be richly shaped by its poets. Dave calls this "a wonderful, integrated look at femininity, culture, and language." More info →

P.S. A few of my favorite poetry collections, and 30 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month.

more posts you might enjoy


Leave A Comment
  1. I’m reading one or two poems every Sunday from Wendell Berry’s “A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997”. I love his prose, so I figured his poetry would be a good way to start. It’s lovely.

  2. Renee Tougas says:

    Thank you for this post.

    I have been trying to fill my life and my days with more poetry by turning to poetry instead of social media when I’m bored, want distraction, procrastinating, etc… I find the best way to do this to have poetry books lying around.

    I adore poetry that isn’t too obtuse (this is my limitation as much the writer’s accessibility). And whenever I find myself in good poetry I feel my body relaxing and I feel alive in ways that prose doesn’t offer. But I find I have to overcome some kind of internal resistance to making the effort to read poetry. It is infinitely easier for me to open a novel, read a blog post etc. than it is simply open a poetry book and sit with a poem. Why is that? There’s some kind of mental work that is different in reading a poem. (I could go on and on here but I’ll finish this part by saying I love how Krista Tippett’s work has exposed me to more poetry.)

    I feel like such a newbie to the rich world of poetry and like you, the poets I’ve enjoyed are the ones you list in this post. I want to branch out but I don’t know where to begin.

    I’m currently reading Rilke’s Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy. An obvious choice for a newbie, like myself.

    I’ve also started adding poets to my Instagram feed. I’m looking forward to that podcast.

  3. Susan says:

    My favorite poetry book since I was a child is “The Best Loved Poetry of the American People”. Although not contemporary – I think it was original published in the 20’s or 30’s – the poems for the most part speak to me. I have been reading different sections for years and when I go back and re-read some of the poems it is like welcoming an old friend back into my heart.

  4. Jennifer N. says:

    I’m working through “Morning in the Burned House” by Margaret Atwood, though pathetically slowly. I’ve also had “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur on my Amazon wishlist for awhile. I have a similar block to what Renee Tougas mentions above – I like her idea of keeping poetry books around… in fact a lot of volumes are small enough I can keep them in my purse to read at times when I’d usually resort to Instagram. I think I will do that!

    When I was in high school I was a much bigger fan – I wrote my own regularly and I loved Emily Dickenson. My favorite poem of all time was Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, probably because I had to write a paper about it in AP English my senior year of high school and fell in love with it in the process. Too bad it was never finished!

  5. Knowing it is National Poetry Month seems like a good reason to move Brown Girl Dreaming to the top of my list, since I’ve been meaning to read it for a while now. I generally avoid poetry but occasionally I find something that speaks to me, and I am intrigued by the snippets I’ve seen from this book.

  6. Maryalene says:

    This is interesting timing for me because I just asked some friends last week how they read poetry books.

    Being someone who likes to check things off lists, poetry books befuddle me. Do you start at the beginning and plow your way through? How many poems should you read in a sitting? When can you say you’ve “read” the book? When you read all the poems? Half the poems?

    My friends told me I was overthinking it, lol.

    • Jennifer N. says:

      I am so like this! I like the ability to just flip to a page and just read whatever’s there… but if you read it like that, how do you know when it’s done? What if you paged-over the one poem in the book that was destined to be your favorite? Hahaha. I am definitely over-thinking it. I think my strategy should be start from the beginning and read as many as I feel like, making sure to allow myself to digest each one.

    • Dave Harrity says:

      Yes, start at the beginning! (As long as it is a discrete book and not a book of New and Selected work, which you can randomize as the order likely matters less…)

      I would suggest reading no more than five poems in one sitting.

      You can say you’ve read the book when you feel like it’s give you nourishment as a being. If that never happens, you can put it down for a while. If you’ve gotten through half the poems and this hasn’t happened, feel free to move on.

      You’re not overthinking it… You’re trying to understand it, and that is never wrong!

  7. Grace says:

    I just got Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur out from the library (Amazing!) and I’m waiting on Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn to arrive.

      • Laura says:

        I love Amy Carmichael’s view on the Christian life and the Christian’s relationship with Christ.
        I really enjoy both Carolyn’s poetry and prose. Her ability to paint vivid pictures with her words is something I appreciate.
        Tolkien’s love for words and linguistic background shines through in his poems.

  8. Cassy says:

    Usually when I chose to read poetry, I stay away from contemporary novels (a few YA verse novels are the exception). I stick to my favorite poets: Dickinson, Yeats, Rilke, and Rossetti. But this week, as I was browsing my library’s digital collection, the title of a contemporary poetry book spoke to me and I read it and I loved it. “The Woman I Keep to Myself,” by Julia Alvarez

  9. Kristie says:

    I have not been much of a poetry reader; probably the only poetry in my house is several of Shel Silverstein’s books. Oh, and I think I might have a William Blake book around somewhere – I do love “The Tyger.” I went ahead and ordered The Star by My Head, though. I am entirely Swedish on my dad’s side, so it might be a way to connect to that part of my heritage. Plus the publisher is in Minnesota (as am I), and apparently received money from a grant using constitutionally dedicated funds, which I am happy to support.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.