Lighthead, Terrance Hayes
Hayes is a people’s poet, writing about pop culture and race and masculinity and humanity, with whip-smart attention and playful, exuberant lines that pop and puzzle and give it to you straight and give it to you on the sly. This collection, his fourth, won the National Book Award in 2010. For the record, he also gives a killer reading.
Praise, Robert Hass
The former Poet Laureate’s William Carlos Williams-award-winning second collection is flawless. Architectural and intellectual, beautiful and cheeky, and infused with a deep regard for the natural. Then there are those incredible introductory lines: “We asked the captain what course/ of action he proposed to take toward/ a beast so large, terrifying, and unpredictable. He hesitated to/ answer, and then said judiciously:/ ‘I think I shall praise it.’”
The Book of Nightmares, Galway Kinnell
Fierce and forceful, rich and ravishing, alchemical and academic, Kinnell’s poems are like no one else’s. This one might be even better than his Collected, which won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award.
Howl and Other Poems, Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg is one of those figures that our collective consciousness is kind of stuck on. Be one of the people who actually know what his poetry is like — and get more than a taste of the times in which it was written in the process.
Mother Love, Rita Dove
This collection from one of the living poetic greats is modeled on Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, but also makes use of the myth of Demeter and Persephone to explore the cyclical, fraught, essential mother/daughter bond, her poems speaking for those contemporary women who “are struggling to sing in their chains.” Truly glorious stuff.
Mountain Interval, Robert Frost
Avoid the common misunderstanding of the last couplet of “The Road Not Taken” by actually reading the whole poem. Sadly, this is probably the road less traveled. Also, Frost has won four Pulitzers. Just saying.
Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein
The poet for children of all ages.
Sinners Welcome, Mary Karr
If you only know Karr for her incredible memoirs, well, don’t you have a surprise in store: her poetry is packed with just as much truth and beauty and cheeky glory and rough tongues (in the various meanings of the word). This collection centers around her late-life conversion to Christianity, with just the kind of skeptic’s scalpel you’d expect: “I found myself upright/ in the instant, with a garden/ inside my own ribs aflourish. There, the arbor leafs./ The vines push out plump grapes./ You are loved, someone said. Take that/ and eat it.”