The Best Poetry Books For Your Current State of Mind

A serene woman engrossed in reading a book while sitting cross-legged on a comfortable red couch, surrounded by stacks of books, with a peaceful indoor plant to her side and a lamp overhead.
A serene woman engrossed in reading a book while sitting cross-legged on a comfortable red couch, surrounded by stacks of books, with a peaceful indoor plant to her side and a lamp overhead.

April is National Poetry Month, but this year it is a time of crisis as we stay home and stay healthy. Even the most dedicated readers might find themselves grappling for something that can hold their attention. Easy to pick up and put down, it’s time to turn to poetry. These poets’ focus on daily rituals, details, and other moments of being make them the perfect antidote to these challenging times.

By Jessica Ferri
A tranquil scene with a small boat resting on lush, verdant grass near a body of water, representing a peaceful solitude that complements the title "the boat of quiet hours" by jane kenyon.

Mood: Lonely

Read: The Boat of Quiet Hours by Jane Kenyon

Because Jane Kenyon died so tragically young from leukemia at 47, we only have four books from her. But each poem is a supreme work of art. Influenced by Keats and her home (she and her husband poet Donald Hall lived on a rural farm in New Hampshire), Kenyon’s poems about loss, depression, the march of time and the changing of the seasons are elegant reminders that even the most fleeting domestic moments are packed with lasting meaning.

Cover of 'devotions: the selected poems of mary oliver' featuring a close-up image of hands holding a pencil and a sprig, symbolizing the intimacy and attentiveness of poetry.

Mood: Hopeful

Read: Devotions by Mary Oliver

There’s nothing quite like the natural world to remind us that life soldiers on, and Mary Oliver, who died in 2019 at age 83, might as well be this century’s John Clare for all her intense focus on the beauty (and inherent cruelty) of nature. In Devotions, her selected poems, there are endless verses that assign human emotion and human experience to flora and fauna. In “Wild Geese,” Oliver reminds us, “you do not have to be good . . . you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

The image shows the cover of the book "selected poems" by james schuyler, featuring a painted portrait of a person resting their chin on their hand in a contemplative pose, with a background suggestive of an interior space adorned with floral patterns. the cover also indicates that this edition includes an introduction by john ashbery and that james schuyler is the winner of the pulitzer prize.

Mood: Grounded

Read: Selected Poems by James Schuyler

For some, stepping back from a fast-paced routine can offer respite. Little things, like making the perfect cup of coffee or a lazy afternoon watching your cocktail glass sweat in the heat, were everything to James Schuyler, a contemporary of Frank O’Hara and member of the New York School. All of his poems are masterworks on being present, and, in this particular moment, his poems about New York City burn especially bright.

The image is of a book cover with an abstract blend of warm colors that evoke the feeling of a vivid, perhaps autumnal, scene. the title "bright dead things" is prominently displayed at the top with the subtitle "poems" below it, and the author "ada limón" is at the bottom. the book is noted as a "national book award finalist" and "national book critics circle award.

Mood: Introspective

Read: Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón

Ada Limón is one of our most talented contemporary poets. Her poetry is intimate, contemplative, fierce, and righteously beautiful. There are so many of her poems that feel as if they were written in a kind of isolation. On carrots: “I loved them: my own bright dead things. I’m thirty-five and I remember all that I’ve done wrong.” Or, from The Carrying, her more recent collection, “Instructions on Not Giving Up.” “Fine then, I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf unfurling like a fist, I’ll take it all.”

The image displays the cover of a book titled "obit" with the author's name "victoria chang" below. the background is a monochromatic collage of newspaper obituaries, overlaid with two circular, opaque elements where the title is distinctly presented.

Mood: Grieving 

Read: Obit by Victoria Chang

When Victoria Chang’s mother died, she realized there were many things that died with her. Obit is a collection of obituaries for Chang’s life: for language, civility, privacy, friendships, optimism, as she grieves her enormous loss. These poems speak to a sense of collective grief, whether it’s a literal loss of a loved one or the loss of normalcy. “At what point does a raindrop accept its falling?” Chang asks. “The moment the cloud begins to buckle under it or the moment the ground pierces it and breaks its shape?”

A book cover with a dark background featuring the title 'the collected poems of audre lorde' in bold, central alignment with the author's name in larger font.

Mood: Motivated

Read: The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde

For some, the crisis of COVID-19 has revealed that our system is one that needs changing. Those motivated to see any kind of silver lining in this emergency are quick to point out society will never be “normal” again, and maybe that fact is a good thing. A poet like Audre Lorde would tell you that a raging fire is redemptive. A self-described “black lesbian warrior poet,” Lorde’s gorgeous, searing verse reflects the doomed nature of society that only cares for “acceptable” women. Today, her laser beam focus on race, gender, and class feels more important than ever.

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