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10 Books of Introspective and Uplifting Poetry

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Poetry does not have to be intimidating. Although some feel poetry is only dark, heavy, and something they don’t “get,” that does not have to be the case. Poetry is simply another way to experience language, and because of its usually shorter length, poetry is an easy way to include literature in your life every day. Below are works of poetry meant to uplift. These are great gifts for those who love poetry already or those looking to try something new, but want to start with poems that are lighter and more accessible. Imagine starting your mornings in 2018 with a poem instead of a scroll through Facebook. It could change your life.

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399563249
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Press - October 10th, 2017

I was first suggested to read Mary Oliver as an undergrad. I was trying to construct very nature-centered poems of my own but needed a sort of guide. I had no idea what I was doing. Oliver’s observant, direct approach to natural landscape was my entry. DEVOTIONS serves as a self-curated selected poems of Oliver’s entire body of work. In her poems there is a peaceful curiosity of the natural world, the question of where the self fits into it all. Oliver has the ability to make poetry lovers out of those who normally shy away. The poems in DEVOTIONS feel important to our actual living; they’re right there for you if you want them. 

The Rain in Portugal: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812982688
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - October 17th, 2017

Perhaps Billy Collins is best known for his poem “Litany,” or perhaps it was this three-year old’s recitation of Collins’ poem that garnered attention. But doesn’t this capture the essence of Collins? The simplicity of poetry shared by family, friends? Collins’ most recent collection THE RAIN IN PORTUGAL showcases his  idiosyncratic extended metaphors and pays attention to the everydayness of our lives, finding poetry within the banal. Here he is at the beginning of “The Present,” “Much has been said about being in the present.// It’s the place to be,// according to the gurus, like the latest club on the downtown scene,// but no one, it seems, is able to give you directions.” THE RAIN IN PORTUGAL is full of witty observations and doesn’t take for granted everything we’ve assumed we didn’t need to examine closer.  

The Beauty: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9780345806857
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Knopf - February 21st, 2017

I stumbled upon Jane Hirshfield’s work through Poetry Foundation’s audio poem series, the poet herself reading her meditative, almost spiritual poems with such precision. She meant every word to be carefully heard, her voice quiet, resonant. So it is with her collection THE BEAUTY, a finalist for the National Book Award. The collection contains a series of pseudo-odes to the body, poems titled: “My Skeleton,” “My proteins,” “My eyes,” etc. In THE BEAUTY Hirshfield writes of the resiliency of the the body within a resident landscape: “In the corner of a high rain gutter,// under the roof tiles,// new grasses’ delicate seed heads,// what war, they say.” Hirshfield’s poems give us belief in a cleansing world, not matter present circumstance. 

Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera Cover Image
ISBN: 9781933527819
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Turtle Point Press - August 27th, 2013

While not exactly uplifting in a traditional sense, I feel these poems capture a lightness, a poking fun at the seriousness of poetry, turning the traditional form of haiku to instruct readers on the goings on in the cult soap opera Peyton Place. The book is divided into each season of the long running drama, with numbered haikus referring to every episode, giving a synopsis in lyric form. Take for instance haiku/episode 310: “It was easier// to torment baby-sitters// pre-caller ID.” If you were a fan of the show, it’d be fun to flip through and see if you can identify the episodes with what brief details Trinidad includes. Of all the collections on this list, I would say PEYTON PLACE is the most interesting. 

Break the Glass Cover Image
ISBN: 9781556593949
Availability: Backordered
Published: Copper Canyon Press - June 5th, 2012

Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, Jean Valentine’s 11th collection BREAK THE GLASS is a total meditation. These are minimal poems that stop you, that beg to be read slowly and with serious consideration. The poems serve as a total celebration of life, the final section a chapbook of poems written for Lucy, the Ethiopian figure with the oldest found human remains. Valentine’s poems are the drops of water, slowly accumulating until you realize you’re drenched. Simply consider the way she finishes the first poem in the collection: “You who the Earth was for.” To Valentine, life is to be cherished, and you can’t help but be swept in her devotion to what is absolutely necessary. 

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Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry Cover Image
By Billy Collins (Editor), Billy Collins (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780812968873
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - March 25th, 2003

When Billy Collins was Poet Laureate of the United States, he curated an anthology of 180 poems representing the number of days high school students attended school with the idea of reading one poem a day to students over the school’s PA system. Regardless of the book’s success in high schools or whether you’re even in high school, this is a great way to become acquainted with several poets you may not have heard from, starting or ending each day with a new poem, new voice, new perspective. This is one of those books I kept lending out and never got back. POETRY 180 allows you to add a new ritual to your day; perhaps you’d make it 180 straight. Why not try?

How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times Cover Image
By Annie Chagnot (Editor), Emi Ikkanda (Editor), Elizabeth Alexander (Foreword by)
ISBN: 9780399592836
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Spiegel & Grau - October 31st, 2017

This is the most literal translation of the theme “uplifting poetry.” This anthology is split into sections based on a variety of conflicts. These poems by our best contemporary poets (from Charles Simic to Tracy K. Smith, all the way to Claude McKAy) serve as a channel for your anger/grief/frustration/powerlessness/etc. Simply identify your internal struggle and there will be a poem speaking back to you. This is what poetry can do, it can mirror your emotions but also give you a direction. How could you possibly worry about the world’s shortcomings when you have poems on your side?

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings Cover Image
ISBN: 9780060256685
Availability: Backordered
Published: HarperCollins - December 11th, 1974

Shel Silverstein’s classic WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS is not simply for children. His poems remind us what poetry an be: just bending and playing with language. There’s a purity to the work in this longstanding collection, complete with illustrations and simple rhymes you can take with you. Poetry does not have to be more than a memorable experience with language, which is what Silverstein offers here. I think this book also serves as an alternative to bedtime stories. Try reading a few of these with your family instead of a traditional picture book and see what happens. We need more young poets and this is where it starts. 

Spring and All (New Directions Pearls) Cover Image
By William Carlos Williams, C. D. Wright (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780811218917
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - July 13th, 2011

William Carlos Williams’ essential work SPRING AND ALL is made new by New Directions. This is the collection where Williams freed language of its formal barriers of previous generations of poets, and these poems read that way: liberated, energetic, carry themselves down the page in a seeming celebration of language’s possibilities. Of course, his most well known work, later called “The Red Wheelbarrow,” finds itself tucked in this collection, but it’s just one of many brilliantly composed works that changed how we read and make poetry. Williams raises our everyday American scenes (rural landscapes, road workers, hospitals) to a spiritual level of imagining.

A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks Cover Image
ISBN: 9780807025048
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Published: Beacon Press - May 30th, 2017

This past year, Poetry Foundation asked its members to record themselves reading Gwendolynn Brooks’ “We Real Cool” in celebration of 100 years since the poet’s birth and a new anthology exploring Terrance Hayes’ “golden shovel” form, taken from Brooks’ poem. Angela Jackson continues this celebration in a new biography about Brooks’ emergence as one of America’s most innovative poets. Jackson uses Brooks’ own poems to navigate an arc of resiliency in the face of racial tumult. Brooks is an essential poet to understand and this biography gives us deepening insight into why her love by readers has sustained.