Poetry to Read for the Non-Poetry Readers: Testing the Waters of Verse

Poetry isn’t my comfort zone when it comes to what I pick up from the bookshelf. I don’t gravitate towards it, and I don’t ask for it when my mom requires my Christmas list. I rarely visit the poetry section in bookstores, and I admittedly tune in and out if I stumble onto a poetry reading. 

And I know that this is my loss. 

Like most things I avoid due to discomfort, I know there’s so much that poetry could generously give me if I gave it more of a chance. And it deserves such a chance! So when I do get over the absurd idea of avoiding the genre simply because I think I’m not ‘good’ at it, I uncover such wonderful, hard-hitting collections. 

If you’re wondering where to start in the deep and detailed abyss of poems, and you don’t want to hear another person scoff at you when you confess you haven’t yet read Yeats, then you’ve come to the right place. Here are some of the true, crushing stand-outs that have made a mark on me, a non-poetry reader.

Siste Viator, Sarah Manguso: 

Manguso, not strictly a poet, writes poetry that spans the genres, and writes non-fiction with something one can only define as a poetic pen. Siste Viator is entirely comprised of poems spoken by people who have died, save for one. This collection is from 2006, and Manguso has since gone onto write such polished, silken non-fiction (I can’t recommend 300 Arguments enough,) that it makes me think her foundation in poetry had a hand in her later works.

Love Poems, Pablo Neruda: 

This tiny book cements the bar for writing about love in a way that’s completely unique and magical, a way which is laced with sweet without any of the sap. Each poem has both a Spanish and English translation, and I recommend sifting through both, no matter how versed you are in either. Poems so good they’ll gut you.

Salt, Nayyirah Waheed: 

These sentences just hit the bones and reverberate for a while. I have found such resonation in Waheed’s words, without even searching. It’s as if she’s vacationed in my own brain, took detailed notes of her time there, and then crafted stanzas that form a portrait, showing me and saying, ‘is this you?’ And I imagine that her words easily transpose directly onto others. It, in fact, is her super power.

Ariel, Sylvia Plath: 

We’d all be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the woman who has inspired poets for decades and will continue to do. Without her, we wouldn’t have the verse that we have today. Ariel was written mere months before the renowned poet’s death, with Plath churning out two to three poems a day. They are said to show her truest, most vulnerable self. If we’re ever given a chance to see that in anyone, we should take the opportunity and run.