What To Collect

16 Must-Have Poetry Books for Your Collection

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

First published in 1855 Leaves of Grass was a small book consisting of twelve poems. Whitman revised and republished it throughout his life, resulting in vastly different editions, the last including more than 400 poems.

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson

Although Dickinson wrote over 1800 poems during her lifetime, less than a dozen were published before her death in 1886 at the age of 55. Her younger sister, Lavinia, who lived at home with Emily, agreed to burn her papers after her death, but instead stumbled upon the enormous cache of her writing and preserved them for publication. The first editions of Dickinson’s collected worked were published in the 1890s, although they were heavily edited and altered. The most comprehensive and unaltered edition of her poetry is considered to be Thomas Johnson’s The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, published in 1960 by Little, Brown and Company Boston. In this collection original punctuation and capitalization were restored, along with the poems being arranged in chronological order.

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes

Known as the leader of the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes published multiple books of poetry, starting with The Weary Blues in 1926. The Panther and the Lash, was Hughes most politically explicit book, was published posthumously in 1967. In 1994 Knopf published The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes which included 860 poems Hughes wrote over his lifetime, from the 1920s-1960s, collected from not only books but magazines, literary journals and newspapers and presented in the order he wrote them, along with notes and a chronology of the poet’s life.

Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie by Maya Angelou

Angelou’s second published book, and first of her poetry, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Many of the poems in “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie” were originally song lyrics, written during her career as a night club performer, and recorded on two albums before the publication of Angelou’s first autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Although Angelou is best known for her autobiographies, she was only the second poet to deliver a poem at a Presidential Inauguration when she recited “ One the Pulse of Morning” in 1993.

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsburg

The first edition of Howl was printed by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Publishing in 1956 as number four of the City Lights The Pocket Poets Series, which ran 1000 copies. With an introduction by William Carlos William it is considered a principal work of the Beat Generation. Because of its controversial material Ferlinghetti and Shigeyoshi Murao, the City Lights shop manager, were arrested for publishing and distributing indecent and obscene material in May 1956. The American Civil Liberties Union took up the case, and in October 1957 after a highly publicized trial, Howl was ruled to have ‘redeeming social value.’

The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot

 One of the most famous poems of the 20th century, The Wasteland is 434 lines long, divided into 5 sections. Originally published in the 1922 issue of The Criterion (a U.K. magazine which was founded and edited by Eliot), it later appeared the subsequent month in the Dial magazine as its first U.S. appearance. The Wasteland first appeared in book form in 1922, published by Boni and Liveright in New York in an edition of 1000 copies. The first 500 copies were bound in a flexible black cloth, while the remaining copies were bound in a more traditional cloth hardcover. Both were issued in beige printed dust jackets.

Mountain Interval by Robert Frost

Published in 1916 Mountain Interval is Frost’s third published collection of poetry and includes one of the world’s most well-known, poems “The Road Not Taken.” Frost is the only poet to win four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry (1924 for New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes, 1931 for Collected Poems, 1937 for A Further Range, and 1943 for A Witness Tree, and he was also the United States Poet Laureate 1958-1959.

American Primitive by Mary Oliver

First published by Little Brown, Boston, in 1983, American Primitive won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1984. Mary Oliver, whose poetry describes the natural world in unadorned and accessible language, was named America’s best-selling poet by the New York Times. She went on to win the National Book Award in 1992 for New & Selected Poems.

Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

 Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and A Desperate Song) was first published in 1924, and was considered controversial for its eroticism, especially considering its author’s young age (he was 19). Over the decades, ‘Veinte poemas’ has been translated into many languages and has sold over 20 million of copies. The English edition was translated by W.S. Merwin. Almost one hundred years later, ‘Veinte Poemas’ still retains its place as the best-selling poetry book in the Spanish language. Gabriel Garcia Marquez claimed that Neruda was the greatest poet of the 20th century, in any language.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Ariel was the second book of Sylvia Plath’s poetry to be published, and was originally published in 1965, two years after her death by suicide. In the 1965 edition of Ariel, Ted Hughes, Plath’s estranged husband, changed Plath’s chosen selection and arrangement by dropping twelve poems, adding twelve composed a few months later, and shifting the order of the poems, in addition to including an introduction by the poet Robert Lowell, who had been a big influence on Plath’s life and poetry. In 2004 a new edition of Ariel was published which for the first time restored the selection and arrangement of the poems as Plath had left them; the 2004 edition also features a foreword by Plath and Hughes’ daughter Frieda Hughes. Plath’s Collected Poems was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1982.

Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove

Dove was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987 for this collection, which is a semi-fictionalized chronological story of her maternal grandparents, focusing on her grandfather in the first half and her grandmother in the second. Dove has published nine other poetry collections, including “Mother Love,” and “On the Bus with Rosa Parks,” was named the United States Poet Laureate in 1993–1995.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

First published in 1974 Where the Sidewalk Ends is a classic book of children’s poems by Shel Silverstein, full of childhood concerns and fanciful stories.

Diving Into The Wreck by Adrienne Rich

Diving Into the Wreck is Rich’s seventh volume of poetry, and is considered her masterwork, winning the National Book Award in 1974.  Adrienne Rich was an intellectual, poet, and essayist known for her political activism and devotion to women’s liberation. Her career spanned from the early 1950s through her death in 2012, and her feminist views were seen as radical, especially early in her career. Over the decades she published over two dozen collections of poetry and multiple books of essays as well.

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, John Ashbery

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 1976, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Award. Only 3500 copies were printed of first edition of this collection which is regarded as one of the most important collections of poetry published in the last fifty years.

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 2007, the title of this collection references one of the first black regiments of the Civil War, the Louisiana Native Guards, made up mainly of previously enslaved person, and ordered to guard Confederate POW’s. Trethewey was named the United States Poet Laureate in 2012-2014.

Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks

First published in 1949, Annie Allen was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, making Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American to be awarded the prize. The book consists of three parts, following a young girl as she grows from an egotistic romantic full dreams to a realistic idealist, still hanging onto hope as a married woman in the ghetto circumscribed by poverty and racial discrimination. Brooks was also the first African-American woman to be named United State Poet Laureate 1985–1986.

1 Comment

  • The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot was instrumental in ushering the word “wasteland” into modern English, specifically pertaining to zones in a battlefield between enemy trenches in WW1. Wasteland is the place. The Waste Land is the book. (Really, check the title page or the jacket you show above.)

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