Three gateway poetry books for beginners
As a child, I loved nursery rhymes.
When I was a teenager, I discovered poetry and fell in love with it. Completely. As only teenagers can do.
Then I grew up and left poetry behind.
During my twenties, I concentrated on reading only the important stuff. Stuff I thought was important. And poetry wasn’t. At that point I felt poetry was cheesy, and that it did not tell a story. It talked only of love and loss.
Poetry, to my twenty-something-year-old self, was boring not revolutionary.
I wasn’t very clever, nice or happy during my twenties.
And clearly, I was very wrong about poetry.
Then I met the most amazing Dutchman in the world. Moved to Haarlem. Turned 30. Got married and, cheesy as it sounds, reconciled with poetry.
If you are also in the process of reacquainting yourself with poetry or want to discover it for the first time, the following books are a great way to start.
This anthology, selected by Polish-American Nobel prize winner Czeslaw Milosz, includes 300 of the greatest poems written throughout history.
The anthology includes the work of poets such as William Blake, Thomas Merton, Po Chu-I, Rainer Maria Rilke and Emily Dickinson.
One of my favourite poems included in this book is Rainbow at night by Spanish poet Antonio Machado:
“…There’s a traveler made with grief,
no doubt seeing odd things;
he talks to himself, and when he looks
wipes us out with his look.
I remember fields under snow,
and pine trees of mother mountains…¨
Sylvia Plath was an American poet who is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry. She was clinically depressed for most of her adult life and died by suicide in 1963.
The poems in Ariel were written between the publication of her first book in 1960 and her death in 1963.
Ariel´s poems, published after Plath’s suicide, although full of descriptions of mental illness are dark but also tender, destructive while remaining humorous. This collection and its significance contributed to establishing Plath as one of the most important voices of 20th-century poetry.
The Prison Poems, by Miguel Hernandez. Translated by Michael Smith
Miguel Hernandez is my favorite Spanish poet. He was born and raised in a family of low resources and was self-taught in the literary sense.
The poems in this book were written while Hernandez was in prison after the defeat of Republican Spain during the civil war. The book was published after his death and is considered one of the finest pieces of Spanish poetry of the 20th century.
Michael Smith does a beautiful job translating the powerful language and intimate musicality of Hernandez’s poems.
This collection includes one of his best-known poems “Nanas de la cebolla” (“Onion Lullaby”), a reply in verse to a letter from his wife in which she informed him that she was surviving on bread and onions. Below is my favourite part:
Your laughter frees me,
gives me wings.
It sweeps away my loneliness,
knocks down my cell.
Mouth that flies,
heart that turns
to lightning on your lips.
Your laughter is
the sharpest sword,
conqueror of flowers
Rival of the sun.
Future of my bones
and of my love.
The above is a very small and personal sample of my favourite poems. Let us know in the comments if you have any other personal favourites, we would love to hear from you!
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