In university, I barely scraped by in my year-long requisite poetry course. It was long-winded and I struggled to relate to nearly every poem we studied, memorized, and were tested on. However, now, poetry is one of my favourite things to read - it tugs on my heartstrings more than any other type of literature, and I appreciate the absolute skill that goes into its creation. I totally understand the “poetry is scary/dull/not-my-thing” perspective, though - there are a lot of very complicated, convoluted works of poetry that are stunning in their own right, but also incredibly intimidating and inaccessible to a non-English major (and even to English majors, really). Here’s a few individual poems as well as some books of poetry that I think even non-poetry lovers will like.
1. Sonnet 116
O no! [love] is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
READ HERE. I know, I said these would be accessible and that even people who didn’t like poetry would like the poems I recommend, and Shakespeare seems like the direct opposite of that statement, but hear me out. This is my favourite work of Shakespeare, hands down, and I think that’s partly due to the fact that it is still relevant and understandable despite the fact that it is a Shakespearean sonnet. Plus, his ego comes out full force in the last two lines, which brings a bit of levity to a seriously romantic piece. Just give it a try.
2. Ulysses by J. Alfred Lord Tennyson
this gray spirit yearning in desire To follow knowledge like a sinking star, Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
READ HERE. Again, Tennyson is one of those seemingly-scary Victorian poets who wholeheartedly write with Romantic tradition, and Ulysses appears daunting at first glance. However, since I have the last line of this poem as a tattoo, I think I’m obliged to include it on this list. Read it through a few times. Read it out loud. There are a lot of stanzas in this poem that spoke directly to me, and I hope that you find something in it too.
3. Love Song of J. Alred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
READ HERE. T.S. Eliot is, again, one of those classic-literature poets that most people recognize, but then immediately shy away from. This is one of the first poems that I truly fell in love with - the way that he describes his settings and manages to tell a convincing story with multiple hidden meanings left to discover is exceptional.
4. Like Totally Whatever by Melissa Lozada-Oliva
our Likes are our knee pads our Ums are the knives we tuck into our boots our You Knows are the best friends we call when we’re walking down a dark alley like, these are the voices that helps us breathe better.
LISTEN HERE. Slam poetry is one of my all-time favourite things. I highly recommend going through the Button Poetry youtube channel and getting lost for a bit - all of their authors are incredible, Melissa Lozada-Oliva is no exception. I love the feminist commentary in this poem, and the idea of embracing our mutable language and the ways in which women use it to protect themselves.
5. the greeks believed in apricots as the cure for unrequited love - Meggie Royer
The Ancient Greeks believed that apricot pits were all the words a dead person meant to say but didn’t, hardened into a dense stone hidden deep within that pale orange flesh.
READ HERE. I stumbled on Meggie’s poetry thanks to many nights on tumblr procrastinating about any and all pending responsibilities I had, and I’ve been following her work since. She has an eloquence with language that softens the hard subjects she encounters with her work, often using metaphor and allusion heavily as a device.
1. Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn
Turn off the radio, she can’t sleep without noise; you can’t sleep without noise. But noise will sound like her whispering you into the world of lights and breakfast. Make the rain sound like nothing. Make the rain sound nothing like her voice.
PURCHASE HERE.I would highly recommend looking up any of Neil’s slam poetry videos, but the book is excellent as well (however, I would suggest reading it out loud for full effect). Neil has a soft-spoken fervor, and at least one of his poems are bound to spark your emotions.
Him recommend, “Don’t yield before the end…” Blowing him mind with a wild brush like Miles. Like Don painting the scene with him trombone.
PURCHASE HERE.I had the honour of hearing Pamela speak in a Canadian Writers in Person course I took in my first year of university, and her poetry has stuck with me since. She uses the traditional sonnet form, but subverts the language she uses by incorporating Jamaican dialect and speaking patterns. Her poetry is incredibly lyrical and a joy to read.
4. Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
Looking for a bus to ride us back home to Eternity where the heart was left and farewell tears began.
PURCHASE HERE.Allen Ginsberg is my personal favourite of the Beat poets - his language is plain but evocative, and his emotion comes across loud and clear in every word. Personally, America would have to be my favourite of all of his work, but this entire collection is excellent.
5. E.E. Cummings: Selcted Works edited by Richard S. Kennedy
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
PURCHASE HERE.E.E. Cummings is an absolute joy to read. The way that he uses rhyme and unusual punctuation to emphasize and enhance his poems is unparalleled, and I always find myself within his work. He has some incredible one-liners, as well, if you’re looking for some tattoo inspiration!
Let it be known, as well, that I am incredibly biased and must wholeheartedly, enthusiastically recommend Letters to Frida by Rebecca Davison-Mora and a wish by terry abrahams. They are incredible, incredible works of literature, and I am so proud that we had a hand in the publication of them. They are both still available in our shop - please, please, let our lovely authors hold your hand through your discovery of poetry. There are little extras included in each book, too!