Book Recs: Poetry Collections (I)

The title says it’s part one & that makes it seem like what should follow is “of many”, but please don’t expect this to be like a regular series. It’s more that I couldn’t decide on just ten collections and then Charlotte made me realise: I don’t have to!

So there will be more parts to this, because poetry is most of what I’m reading these days. Just, it’s gonna take time.

Some of the collections I’m gonna rec are definitely obvious choices. If you know me at all, I’m sure you can guess at least one of them. But hey, we call books classics for a reason, right?





Richard Siken
Rep: gay author

Richard Siken’s Crush, selected as the 2004 winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize, is a powerful collection of poems driven by obsession and love. Siken writes with ferocity, and his reader hurtles unstoppably with him. His poetry is confessional, gay, savage, and charged with violent eroticism. In the world of American poetry, Siken’s voice is striking. In her introduction to the book, competition judge Louise Glück hails the “cumulative, driving, apocalyptic power, [and] purgatorial recklessness” of Siken’s poems. She notes, “Books of this kind dream big. . . . They restore to poetry that sense of crucial moment and crucial utterance which may indeed be the great genius of the form.”

Why Should I Read It?

and this is the map of my heart, the landscape
after cruelty which is, of course, a garden, which is
a tenderness, which is a room, a lover saying Hold me
tight, it’s getting cold. We have not touched the stars,
nor are we forgiven, which brings us back
to the hero’s shoulders and a gentleness that comes,
not from the absence of violence, but despite
the abundance of it.


Night Sky With Exit Wounds



Ocean Vuong
Rep: gay Vietnamese author

Ocean Vuong’s first full-length collection aims straight for the perennial “big”—and very human—subjects of romance, family, memory, grief, war, and melancholia. None of these he allows to overwhelm his spirit or his poems, which demonstrate, through breath and cadence and unrepentant enthrallment, that a gentle palm on a chest can calm the fiercest hungers.

Why Should I Read It?

Brooklyn’s too cold tonight
& all my friends are three years away.
My mother said I could be anything
I wanted–but I chose to live.


If Not, Winter



Sappho, trans. Anne Carson
Rep: sapphic author

From poet and classicist Anne Carson comes this translation of the work of Sappho, together with the original Greek. Carson presents all the extant fragments of Sappho’s verse, employing brackets and white space to denote missing text – allowing the reader to imagine the poems as they were written.


Why Should I Read It?

]you will remember
]for we in our youth
did these things

yes many and beautiful things





Donika Kelly
Rep: lesbian Black author

Across this remarkable first book are encounters with animals, legendary beasts, and mythological monsters–half human and half something else. Donika Kelly’s Bestiary is a catalogue of creatures–from the whale and ostrich to the pegasus and chimera to the centaur and griffin. Among them too are poems of love, self-discovery, and travel, from “Out West” to “Back East.” Lurking in the middle of this powerful and multifaceted collection is a wrenching sequence that wonders just who or what is the real monster inside this life of survival and reflection. Selected and with an introduction by the National Book Award winner Nikky Finney, Bestiary questions what makes us human, what makes us whole.

Why Should I Read It?

Look, if you could bear sobriety,
you’d be sober.

If you could bear
being a person, you would no longer be
an iron bluff.

Do not wander. We are all apportioned
a certain measure of stillness.


Calling a Wolf a Wolf



Kaveh Akbar
Rep: gay Iranian author

“The struggle from late youth on, with and without God, agony, narcotics and love is a torment rarely recorded with such sustained eloquence and passion as you will find in this collection.” — Fanny Howe

This highly-anticipated debut boldly confronts addiction and courses the strenuous path of recovery, beginning in the wilds of the mind. Poems confront craving, control, the constant battle of alcoholism and sobriety, and the questioning of the self and its instincts within the context of this never-ending fight.

“In Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Kaveh Akbar exquisitely and tenaciously braids astonishment and atonement into a singular lyric voice. The desolation of alcoholism widens into hard-won insight: ‘the body is a mosque borrowed from Heaven.’ Doubt and fear spiral into grace and beauty. Akbar’s mind, like his language, is perpetually in motion. His imagery—wounded and resplendent—is masterful and his syntax ensnares and releases music that’s both delicate and muscular. Kaveh Akbar has crafted one of the best debuts in recent memory. In his hands, awe and redemption hinge into unforgettable and gorgeous poems.” — Eduardo C. Corral

Why Should I Read It?

I’m becoming more a vessel of memories than a person          it’s a myth
that love lives in the heart          it lives in the throat we push it out
when we speak          when we gasp we take a little for ourselves


Sonnets of Dark Love



Federico García Lorca, trans. Mar Escribano & Julio Viernes
Rep: gay Spanish author

Sonnets of Dark Love by Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) have been translated into English by Mar Escribano & Julio Viernes. These poems were written in 1935, but were not published until after his death by the ABC Spanish newspaper on the 17th of March 1984, (clandestine editions were released before this date). This bilingual edition includes vintage images to get a better understanding of the romantic love he had for Ramirez de Lucas, together with explanations and comments for each sonnet. Lorca did not go to Mexico on exile (despite warnings that he may be killed) because Ramirez de Lucas’ family refused him permission to travel with Lorca abroad. Ramirez de Lucas was under 21, and in Spain, at the time, you could not legally travel without parental permission.

Why Should I Read It?

This light, this fire that devours,
this gray landscape that surrounds me,
this pain that comes from one idea,
this anguish of the sky, the earth, the hour,

and this lament of blood that decorates
a pulseless lyre, a lascivious torch,
this burden of the sea that beats upon me,
this scorpion that dwells within my breast

are all a wreath of love, bed of one wounded,
where, sleepless, I dream of your presence
amid the ruins of my fallen breast.


This Way to the Sugar



Hieu Minh Nguyen
Rep: gay Vietnamese-American author

A Midwest Asian-American poet beautifully captures the queer American experience. This bruising collection of poems puts a blade and a microscope to nostalgia, tradition, race, apology, and sexuality, in order to find beauty in a flawed world. His work has been described as an astounding testament to the power and necessity of confession.

Why Should I Read It?

His eyes begin
to vibrate, and he doesn’t reach for me. He doesn’t

need me here, really. I am no expert, or exorcist,
or great love. I am just another boy sitting

an arm’s length away from someone he doesn’t recognize
in the light.



The Dream of a Common Language



Adrienne Rich
Rep: lesbian author

The Dream of a Common Language explores the contours of a woman’s heart and mind in language for everybody–language whose plainness, laughter, questions and nobility everyone can respond to. . . . No one is writing better or more needed verse than this.”–Boston Evening Globe


Why Should I Read It?

And that kind of being has other forms:
a passivity we mistake

—in the desperation of our search—
for gentleness.

But gentleness is active
gentleness swabs the crusted stump

invents more merciful instruments
to touch the wound beyond the wound

does not faint with disgust
will not be driven off

keeps bearing witness calmly
against the predator, the parasite.


Prelude to Bruise



Saeed Jones
Rep: gay Black author

“It’s a big book, a major book. A game-changer. Dazzling, brutal, real. Not just brilliant, caustic, and impassioned but a work that brings history―in which the personal and political are inter-constitutive―to the immediate moment. Jones takes a reader deep into lived experience, into a charged world divided among unstable yet entrenched lines: racial, gendered, political, sexual, familial. Here we absorb each quiet resistance, each whoop of joy, a knowledge of violence and of desire, an unbearable ache/loss/yearning. This is not just a ‘new voice’ but a new song, a new way of singing, a new music made of deep grief’s wildfire, of burning intelligence and of all-feeling heart, scorched and seared. In a poem, Jones says, ‘Boy’s body is a song only he can hear.’ But now that we have this book, we can all hear it. And it’s unforgettable.”Brenda Shaughnessy

Why Should I Read It?

Your grief will be useful some day, says no one.

Roadside, my ear still tuned
to asphalt, its moon-crater skin,

I wait.


Nature Poem



Tommy Pico
Rep: gay Native American author

Nature Poem follows Teebs—a young, queer, American Indian (or NDN) poet—who can’t bring himself to write a nature poem. For the reservation-born, urban-dwelling hipster, the exercise feels stereotypical, reductive, and boring. He hates nature. He prefers city lights to the night sky. He’d slap a tree across the face. He’d rather write a mountain of hashtag punchlines about death and give head in a pizza-parlor bathroom; he’d rather write odes to Aretha Franklin and Hole. While he’s adamant—bratty, even—about his distaste for the word “natural,” over the course of the book we see him confronting the assimilationist, historical, colonial-white ideas that collude NDN people with nature. The closer his people were identified with the “natural world,” he figures, the easier it was to mow them down like the underbrush. But Teebs gradually learns how to interpret constellations through his own lens, along with human nature, sexuality, language, music, and Twitter. Even while he reckons with manifest destiny and genocide and centuries of disenfranchisement, he learns how to have faith in his own voice.

Why Should I Read It?

WHAT’S YR NATIONALITY!?!? This guy shouts at me during drag queen karaoke at this gay bar two stops down the line.

In order to talk about a hurricane, you first have to talk about a preexisting disturbance over the ocean, so you have to talk about mean ocean temperature, so you have to talk about human industry and sun rays, so you have to talk about helium, so did you know helium was named for the sun god Helios and was defined by a gap in the solar spectrum so literally not itself but what surrounded it, so of course we have to talk about the solar system, the Milky Way, the networks of universe and the Big Bang.

How far back do you have to go to answer any question about race?


Yes, I did swap out the Why Should I Read It section for simply quotes from the collections, because I figured: what’s better way to get you to read a poem than to give you a taste of it? Honestly, you have to like the feeling of it, not just hear me sing its praises.

Anyway, like I said, I will be back with more! Hopefully, though, you will already find some new favourites here.


6 thoughts on “Book Recs: Poetry Collections (I)

    1. i feel like bc of the way poetry is taught in schools, not a lot of ppl give it a second chance. and there is just nothing better, really!!

      i hope u will find some new favourites here. :>>

      – anna

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s