Poetry has a reputation for being ... well, boring. If the last poem you read was "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day," you might want to pick up a book of contemporary poetry to see how it's changed. Today's poets expound on everything from David Bowie to the fiscal cliff to time machines, leaving no emotional crevasse unexplored and no controversial rock unturned.
April is National Poetry Month. Celebrate by checking out one of these recommended collections from the Library, or visit the Academy of American Poets' website for more ideas.
The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, by Kay Ryan.
Ryan, a wonderfully accessible, widely loved poet, was appointed the Library of Congress's 16th Poet Laureate in 2008. Salon has compared her poems to Fabergé eggs: "tiny, ingenious devices that inevitably conceal some hidden wonder." The collection offers a stunning retrospective of Ryan's work, as well as a swath of never-before-published poems which are sure to appeal equally to longtime fans and new readers.
Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems, by Billy Collins.
In this new collection, the verbal gifts that earned Collins the title of "America's most popular poet" are on full display. Smart, lyrical and not afraid to be funny, these new poems extend Collins's reputation as a poet who occupies a special place in the consciousness of readers of poetry, including the many he has converted to the genre.
Life on Mars: Poems, by Tracy K. Smith.
With allusions to David Bowie and interplanetary travel, this 2012 Pulitzer-winning collection imagines a soundtrack for the universe to accompany the discoveries, failures and oddities of human existence. Smith envisions a sci-fi future sucked clean of any real dangers, contemplates the dark matter that keeps people both close and distant, and revisits the kitschy concepts like "love" and "illness," now relegated to the Museum of Obsolescence.
Meme: Poems, by Susan Wheeler. A meme is a unit of thought replicated by imitation. Occupy Wall Street is a meme, as are Internet ideas and images that go viral. What could be more potent than memes passed down by parents to their children? Wheeler reconstructs her mother's voice -- down to its cynicism and its mid-20th Century Midwestern vernacular -- in "The Maud Poems" and two other longer sequences.
My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge, by Paul Guest.
At the age of 12, Guest had a bicycle accident that left him paralyzed for life. But out of sudden disaster evolved a fierce poetic sensibility -- one that blossomed into a refuge for all the grief, fury and wonder at a life forever altered. Whether he is lamenting the potentiality of physical experience or imagining the electric temptations of sexuality, Guest offers us a worldview that is unshakable in its humanity.
Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty: Poems, by Tony Hoagland.
Hoagland is deep inside a republic that no longer offers reliable signage, in which comfort and suffering are intimately entwined and whose citizens gasp for oxygen without knowing why. With his trademark humor and social commentary, these poems are exhilarating for their fierce moral curiosity, their desire to name the truth and their celebration of the resilience of human nature.
Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys, by D. A. Powell.
Powell's book explores the darker side of divisions and developments, examining how the in-between spaces of boonies, backstage, bathhouse or bar become locations of desire. With witty banter, emotional resolve and powerful lyricism, this collection demonstrates Powell's exhilarating range.
Find this article at