8 Poets to Read (Other Than Robert Frost)
Disclaimer: I have absolutely nothing against Robert Frost. “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” is an absolute work of art—I love the guy. And Edgar Allen Poe, Pablo Neruda, e.e. cummings, and Sylvia Plath.
The problem is that everyone loves these poets. Everyone loves Robert Frost because everyone knows Robert Frost. But there are so many other poets out there to discover.
On its own, poetry has gotten a bad rap in pop culture. Aside from seeing it as song lyrics’s pretentious older brother, normally people know just two kinds of poetry: the above, and hoards of the Romantic canon only read in AP Lit.
I’m here to expand your horizons. Check out the poets on this list and I promise your perspective on poetry will change.
While not strictly a poet, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets is a brilliant, vivid love letter to the color blue. The entire book is written in prose, but it’s figurative and imaginative enough to be just short of fiction and definitely something that should be on your radar.
I want you to know, if you ever read this, there was a time when I would rather have had you by my side than any one of these words; I would rather have had you by my side than all the blue in the world.
Okay, so you actually may have heard of Frank O’Hara. But he’s a far cry from the William Wordsworth you read in school. He’s not the most accessible of poets, so don’t expect to understand everything he’s trying to say, but reading anything of his is definitely worth it. (P.S. If someone tells you they do understand everything he’s trying to say, they’re lying.)
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world.
—from “Having a Coke with You”
Claudia Rankine established herself as a badass, outspoken poet with her first work, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Later as her work turned more political, she solidified this image with Citizen. Both books present difficult issues in a soft light that does not hide them, but makes them clearer. (So basically, she’s exactly the kind of poet you need in 2017.)
It’s what we can’t do for each other.
What are we to each other?
What does a life mean?
Why are we here if not for each other?
—from Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
You might know Raymond Carver from his short story collections, but a lesser known, horribly underrated side of him is his poetry. Like his fiction, it’s thoughtful and existential. The difference is that instead of appearing as the characters’ thoughts, his poems will hit you personally.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
—from “Late Fragments”
Like good men, James L. White is hard to find. For the longest time, you could hardly get your hands on his work other than at a library—and even then, you had to know what to look for. Luckily for everyone, his book The Salt Ecstasies was re-released in 2010, so you can read him whenever you want (and you totally should).
When you return to something you love,
it’s already beyond repair.
You wear it broken.
—from “Lying in Sadness”
Jeanann Verlee’s writing is basically accessible to everyone. She does performance poetry in addition to her printed works, and both tackle everyday things (sexism, unrequited love, family) in a seriously striking way. If you’re looking for someone to say exactly what you’re feeling in a much better way than you ever could, look no more.
I still think of you.
I’d have broken you in half.
—from “40 Love Letters”
If you’re familiar at all with performance poetry, you’re familiar with Sarah Kay. She’s a wickedly talented performer and even better writer. Listening to her read her work is humbling, but actually reading her work is even more so. She’ll remind you that small things can be big and we’re all doing this crazy life thing, difficult as it is, together.
Will this hurt?
Yes, every day of my life.
—from “Questions and Answers, In No Particular Order”
Richard Siken is the poet who got me into modern poetry. In addition to his poetry books Crush and War of the Foxes (which I recommend to literally everyone I meet), he writes Editor’s Pages for Spork Press, which are even more underrated than his complete works. Read any piece of his and expect your heart to be ripped out of your chest, in the best way.
That is where the evening
splits in half, Henry, love or death. Grab an end, pull hard,
and make a wish.