Favorite Poets

Who are your favorite poets?

There are poems I have come across in my life that spoke to me, that I could not get out of my mind, that I think about years after I first read them. Those are the poems I think of as great, that have the potential to explain or change the way we see ourselves and the world. Often a poem is haunting, circling around in our inner being waiting to take hold. A great poem speaks to us individually and sometimes we are never the same. It creates images out of the unusual language in a way unique to poetry. Great poems, the ones which seem to have been written expressly for us, bring great depth, beauty, sadness and sometimes surprise.

Our current Poet Laureate is Juan Felipe Herrera. He was appointed in 2015 by the Librarian of Congress for the year and is currently serving a second annual term. He is the first Latino poet to be appointed. He is a Californian and has written 28 books which include poetry collections, novels in verse and children’s books.

In 1996, April became National Poetry Month in the United States. Events to celebrate poetry are organized by the Academy of American Poets.

In 2011 a N.Y Times writer did a survey of the best poets of all time to determine the N.Y. Times top 10 poets. The results put Pablo Neruda as number 1, Shakespeare as number 2, although many similar polls have Shakespeare as number 1. The other poets on the list were Dante, Walt Whitman, John Donne, Emily Dickinson, William Butler Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Rumi and Li Po.

In 2016 the U.K newspaper The Telegraph published an article about The 15 best poetry books of all time. On the list were:

  • The Selected Poems of Li Po (c 750 AD) These poems were popular among the Chinese in the 8th century and are still popular today.
  • Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609) are thought to be the best sonnets and poems of love ever written.
  • John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667)
  • Wordsworth & Coleridge Lyrical Ballads (1798)
  • Don Juan by Lord Byron (1819-1824)
  • Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin is a novel in verse.
  • The Man With Night Sweats by Thom Gunn (1992)
  • Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855) was one of my favorites in college.
  • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1890 +) is another favorite. Her small and intense poems are memorable.
  • The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot (1922) is a sad and poignant account of WW1.
  • Howl, Kaddish, and Other Poems by Alan Ginsberg (1961)
  • Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes (1998) These are the first of his poems that talk about his marriage to Sylvia Plath.
  • Dart by Alice Oswald (2002)
  • Family Values by Wendy Cope (2011)
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante (1308 – 1321) Not an easy read, and required reading when studying the European Middle ages, it is his journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

I did my own (informal and decidedly unscientific) survey among family and friends and here were the most popular poets in no particular order:

William Shakespeare
Robert Frost
T.S. Elliott
Mary Oliver
David Whyte
Adrienne Rich
Gary Snyder
W.B. Yeats
E.E. Cummings
Billy Collins
Charles Wright
Richard Wilbur
Galway Kinnell
Czeslaw Milocz
Maya Angelou
Pablo Neruda
Theodore Roethke

I am going to enjoy getting to know the poets whom I did not know before writing this article. As Roger Housden, author of many books of the Ten Poems series says, “You may never have read a poem in your life, and yet you can pick up a volume of Mary Oliver say, or Neruda, or of Rumi, open it to any page, and suddenly find yourself blown into a world full of awe, dread, wonder, marvel, deep sorrow, and joy.”

We would love to know if you have a favorite poem or poet. Leave your choices in the comments.

Header Image Credit; Marek Uliasz ©123RF