15 Best Poetry Books for Modern Poetry Lovers

A poem resonates with the reader in a way that prose cannot, and lovers of poetry will want to add these 15 best poetry books to their libraries.

When Amanda Gorman took to the stage at the 2021 presidential inauguration, America set its sights on poetry once again. The dynamic, young American poet captured the fancy of the nation and brought renewed interest to the world of poetry. So what are the best poetry books to put on your Amazon wish list?

A book of poetry is different from a novel. Instead of being one work from start to finish, a book of poetry is a collection of poems, usually on a theme or by one particular poet.

These are some of the best poetry collections in the English language. If you are getting interested in poetry, they are the ones that you should add to your collection.

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The Best Poetry Books Past and Present

Best Poetry Books
Poetry books to add to your collection

As you decide what poetry books to add to your collection, there are some that definitely stand out. We chose these books because of the complexity of emotion they contain, the unique styles of poetry they embrace, and the eclectic mix of topics they cover. They also include many popular types of poems.

1. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

What makes this collection of poems so significant is the fact that only 11 of Dickinson’s poems were published before she died in 1886. It was only after her death that her powerful works were discovered, and this book has all 1,775 of them in one work. It’s a big book of poems, but one worth exploring.

Because the book has nearly 2,000 works in it, chances are you won’t love all of them, but it will give you clear insight into what made the poet’s mind tick.

“Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.”

Emily Dickinson
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
  • Edited by Thomas H. Johnson
  • Emily Dickinson (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 770 Pages - 01/30/1976 (Publication Date) - Back Bay Books (Publisher)

2. Citizen: An American Lyric By Claudia Rankine

Citizen An American Lyric

Claudia Rankine is worth listing because of her modern take on poetry. She explores racial aggression in 21st-century America in her book Citizen: An American Lyric

This compilation is both a social expose and an interesting poem. It challenges the idea that race is no longer an American issue. 

“because white men can’t police their imagination black men are dying”

Claudia Rankine
Citizen: An American Lyric
  • Rankine, Claudia (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 10/07/2014 (Publication Date) - Graywolf Press (Publisher)

3. If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Sappho, translated by Anne Carson

If Not, Winter Fragments of Sappho

This is an interesting book to include because its original writing was in Greek. In fact, Anne Carson, who translated the work, used brackets and white space to show where text was missing in the original. 

This gives your imagination the chance to soar, filling in the gaps. Since Anne Carson is herself a poet, she is able to bring some poetic verse to the book.

“someone will remember us I say even in another time”

Anne Carson

4. The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou

The Complete Poetry

Maya Angelou deserves a spot on this list because of her perspectives on African-American life. The Complete Poetry is ideal for studying her because it has all of her works, so you don’t have to choose between her various books. 

In her poems, Angelou pays tribute to many famous people, including Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela, and explores how womanhood has changed over the past decades. One of the works included in this compilation, “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die,” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.”

Maya Angelou
The Complete Poetry
  • Hardcover Book
  • Angelou, Maya (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 03/31/2015 (Publication Date) - Random House (Publisher)

5. Magical Negro by Morgan Parker

Magical Negro

Magical Negro explores the everydayness of Black life through poetry and verse. It explores the world of Black womanhood and the struggles faced in daily life.

While Parker does express grievances on themes of racism and injustice, she also talks about the jokes and personal narratives that make the culture of blackness in America. 

“I feel most colored when I am the punchline. When I am the trigger.”

Morgan Parker
Magical Negro
  • Parker, Morgan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 112 Pages - 02/05/2019 (Publication Date) - Tin House Books (Publisher)

6. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman is easily one of the most influential writers of his time. A discussion of poetry would not be complete without one of his books, and Leaves of Grass is a popular one. In the book, he celebrated nature, love, friendship, and the human body, and the people of his time viewed his work as a bit too erotic for their tastes.

There is quite a bit of self-serving talk in this book, but because of its place in classic American literature, it deserves a spot on this list. It also was one of the first known examples of free verse style, which helped solidify that genre of American poetry.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

Walt Whitman
Leaves of Grass: The Original 1855 Edition (Dover Thrift Editions: Poetry)
  • Walt Whitman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 128 Pages - 02/27/2007 (Publication Date) - Dover Publications (Publisher)

7. Selected Poems By Langston Hughes

Selected Poems

Selected Poems is yet another book that features a black poet. Hughes published his first book of poems in 1926, he revolutionized black writing in America. In Selected Poems, he chose his favorite poems from his collection right before he died.

This book makes it on the list because it has several styles of poetry, explores the jazz and blues culture and includes pieces chosen directly by the author.

“Looks like what drives me crazy

Don’t have no effect on you-

But I’m gonna keep on at it

Till it drives you crazy, too.”

Langston Hughes
Selected Poems: Langston Hughes (Vintage V-910)
  • Hughes, Langston (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 297 Pages - 04/12/1974 (Publication Date) - Vintage Books (Publisher)

 8. 100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda 

100 Love Sonnets

A list of the best poetry books wouldn’t be complete without a collection of love poems. In 100 Love Sonnets, Pablo Neruda explores the nuances of love in poetic verse.

If you are looking for something to read that is passionate and romantic, this book is a good choice. It can also give you some interesting verses to share with someone special.

“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”

Pablo Neruda
One Hundred Love Sonnets: Cien sonetos de amor (English and Spanish Edition)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Neruda, Pablo (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 226 Pages - 01/15/2014 (Publication Date) - University of Texas Press (Publisher)

9. Soft Science by Franny Choi

Soft Science

In this new book by Franny Choi, poems explore softness in modern society. It is brilliant in its exploration of the English language. This new collection of poetry is on the list because it is such an intelligent read.

Throughout Soft ScienceChoi explores what it means to be human, even in a world surrounded by technology. Choi also explores the theme of the Asian body and how it fits into the new, modern world.

“If tenderness is any sort of currency maybe I don’t want what it can buy.”

Franny Choi
Soft Science
  • Choi, Franny (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 100 Pages - 04/02/2019 (Publication Date) - Alice James Books (Publisher)

10. When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz

When My Brother Was an Aztec

In this debut collection, Natalie Diaz explores the life of the Mojave people through poetry. The poems have a dark edge to them, and they touch on drug addiction. 

When My Brother Was an Aztec makes it on the list because it is edgy and explores a culture often ignored in poetry books that make it on bestseller lists.

“Worry tastes so dirty when it’s spread out like a banquet.”

Natalie Diaz
When My Brother Was an Aztec
  • Diaz, Natalie (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 124 Pages - 05/08/2012 (Publication Date) - Copper Canyon Press (Publisher)

11. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Where the Sidewalk Ends

A discussion of the best books in American poetry is never complete without a look at children’s poems, and Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends is one of the most popular collections. The title poem and others in the collection explore the bounds of childhood imagination.

He accompanies these poems with delightful illustrations that capture the whimsy and innocence of childhood.

“There is a place where the sidewalk ends

And before the street begins,

And there the grass grows soft and white,

And there the sun burns crimson bright,

And there the moon-bird rests from his flight

To cool in the peppermint wind.”

Shel Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings
  • Hardcover Book
  • Silverstein, Shel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 02/18/2014 (Publication Date) - HarperCollins (Publisher)

12. New And Selected Poems By Mary Oliver

New And Selected Poems

In New and Selected Poems, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver explores the beauty of humanity and the natural world. Her poetry is though-invoking and rarely rhymes, making it a fascinating read.

This book is an interesting mix of classic poems, like “Wild Geese,” as well as some of her newer works, so you can see how her work evolved.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems, Volume One
  • Oliver, Mary (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages - 04/15/2004 (Publication Date) - Beacon Press (Publisher)

13. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey include both poetry and prose. It has four chapters, and each chapter deals with a different type of heartbreak. Kaur’s goal is to help the reader heal from life’s most bitter moments. While the poems are at times sad, they have an overall focus on healthy and rebirth, which makes the book touch the hearts of many readers.

This book is unique because Kaur both self-illustrated and self-published it, yet is so popular it is now available in 42 languages. 

“Loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself.” 

Rupi Kaur
Milk and Honey
  • Genre: Poetry, Body + Mind + Spirit
  • Rupi Kaur (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages - 10/06/2015 (Publication Date) - Andrews McMeel Publishing (Publisher)

14. The Complete Sonnets And Poems By William Shakespeare

The Complete Sonnets And Poems

This compilation of the sonnets of the Bard of Avon must be on the list because of how famous the playwright’s sonnets are. In fact, they are still quoted today for people who are in romantic relationships.

The cadence and rhythm of Shakespearean sonnets are something you will instantly recognize, and this is an enjoyable read. Because the collection has all of his works, it is a good reference to have on hand as well.

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate:”

William Shakespeare
Complete Sonnets and Poems[The Oxford Shakespeare the Complete Sonnets and Poems] [COMP SONNETS & POEMS] [Paperback]
  • WilliamShakespeare (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 05/01/2008 (Publication Date) - OxfordUniversityPress,USA (Publisher)

15. The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

The Hill We Climb

Finally, this list would not be complete without a discussion of the first Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, Amanda Gorman. Her inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, is now available as a book.

This poem is moving and features a crisp rhythm and words that everyone, regardless of their age, who calls themselves an American, can relate to.

“our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful

When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid”

Amanda Gorman
The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country
  • Hardcover Book
  • Gorman, Amanda (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 32 Pages - 03/30/2021 (Publication Date) - Viking Books (Publisher)

A Final Word on The Best Poetry Books

If you have a taste for poetry, or if you simply want to enjoy some during poetry month, the right book is key. You need a book that captures this literary art form well. You might also be interested in learning more about what an anthology is.

Whether you wish to grab a romantic sonnet or wish to challenge your thinking on issues of race and politics, the poetry books on this list will help you do just that.

If you are building a library of classic literature, you will want it to include some books of poetry. Add some o these to your collection, and you will always have something to grab and read when the fancy strikes.

After buying these books, why not take the time to learn how to analyze a poem?

FAQs About the Best Poetry Books

What are the best poetry books?

Some of the best poetry books according to Amazon sales figures are:
1. The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman
2. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
3. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein 
4. The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver by Mary Oliver

Who was the best poet of all time?

Some of the best poets historically include:
1. Emily Dickinson
2. William Shakespeare
3. Walt Whitman
4. Maya Angelou