8 Poetry Books You MUST Read

Someone once told me; you can’t analyze poetry, let the words wash over you and make you feel. That's it.

There was a time when poetry seemed pretentious, boring and exhausting. I stuck my head in between the words trying to make sense of them, thinking I had to grasp the exact meaning of every poem to claim I had truly understood it– otherwise I had failed. Like a little poetry policewoman. Probably a product of school teaching us to dissect and read into every aspect of a piece of writing, flipping it over and around until you've dried it out and killed it.

Then someone told me a few years back; you can’t analyze poetry, let the words wash over you and make you feel. And it really changed my poetry game. Suddenly I was consuming poetry raw, and leaving my head out of it. And it's become something of a therapeutic/spiritual practice I'd recommend to anyone. Here are some of my favorite books.

— Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen (2006) Leonard Cohen is a sensual lyrical genius. His writing and music melts in your ears. He is hands down one of my favorite artists of all time. Published in 2006, the Book of Longing is a compilation of poems and illustrations written in a Zen monastery in California (where Cohen lived for five years) and India where he traveled frequently.

In 2007 Phillip Glass premiered Book of Longing. Song Cycle Based on the Poetry and Artwork of Leonard Cohen, in which he set 23 of the book's poems to music. Some songs include Leonard's signature spoken word.

— salt. by Nayyirah Waheed (2013)

A book I read front to back in one sitting and find myself coming back to often; salt is empowered, soft, and gritty. Not much is known about Waheed's life, but salt feels autobiographical; feminism, xenophobia, racism, heritage, misogyny, and tenderness being the undercurrent of her words. She refers to Africa as her home, in the deeply moving piece "Africa's Lament".

— Howl and other poems by Allen Ginsberg (1956)

A book we will never not mention in anything poetry-related, as it inspired the name of this publication and the MVP. Howl was one of the more important poems of its time (all time?) because of its provocative and boundary-pushing nature. In 1957, the poem was tried for obscenity for its references to "illicit drugs and sexual practices, both heterosexual and homosexual". This extremely long, beautiful poem continues to ring true in today's world; the first line being "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix ..."

Military Academy studying Howl in the 1960's

— There are more beautiful things than Beyonce by Morgan Parker (2017)

Parker is a poet and creative woman that is hitting her stride. Her poems are humorous and powerful, the contemporary voice of the black millennial woman. Her poems are pop-culture, hungry, acute and extremely intelligent.

— Essential Bukowski Poetry by Charles Bukowski (2016)

A perfect collection of Bukowski's poetry (Edited by Abel Debritto). Bukowski's poems are charming, absurd, visceral, sensual, dark, and ironic; a fantastic mirror of life. Bukowski gets under the skin of the most mundane everyday experience of the human condition and exposes the beauty and universality.

— It Gets Bitter by DarkMatter (Alok Vaid-Menon, Janani Balasubramanian)

Alok and Janani call their collaborative duo DarkMatter. Their work, inherently political with permeating themes of trans/nonbinary identity and South Asian heritage, reads like a manifesto. Their deeply moving, autobiographical poems call out the oppression and violence they have experienced as non-binary brown people and allows you to look through their lens if for just a moment.

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