One of the best ways to introduce yourself to different types of poetry or to poets you’ve never heard of is by reading poetry anthologies. These collect a huge array of poets into one convenient spot. The poems in anthologies can be selected with many different focuses, such as time period, or topic, or genre, so you can find one that appeals to almost any mood. Keep a list, as you read, of the poems and their writers that resonate with you, and you now have a list of poets whose work you can explore.
Here are ten poetry anthologies to start with:
Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times, edited by Garrison Keillor: Every morning, Keillor hosts The Writer’s Almanac on NPR, wherein he shares some literary details (birthdays and interesting facts) with listeners, as well as a poem. Collected in the “good poems” anthologies, these poems cover nearly all topics you can imagine, but share a similarity in that they are accessible and aurally entertaining.
No More Masks! An Anthology of 20th-Century American Women Poets, edited by Florence Howe: The goal of this anthology, which collects poems by women about women’s experience during the twentieth century, is to bring to readers poems that “tell something we didn’t already know about women.” The poems here illuminate the width and breadth of women’s experience as well as the skill and talent of female poets.
Poems to Read: A New Favorite Poem Project Anthology, edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz: During his time as the US Poet Laureate from 1997-2000, Pinsky worked on his “Favorite Poems” anthology, where he collected not just the favorite poems of average, every-day American citizens, but their stories of why the poems were so beloved. In this newer anthology, Pinsky culls 200 favorite poems with an eye and an ear for their readability—the sound of the poem, and the energy it transmits to readers, and the emotion it stirs.
The Poets Laureate Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt: Created in 1937, the role of the poet laureate is to increase interest in the reading and writing of poetry. This anthology includes some of the “signature poems” from each of the 43 poet laureates from 1937-2000, as well as short biographies for each poet.
Morning Song: Poems for New Parents, edited by Susan Todd and Carol Purington: While it focuses mainly on the experiences of pregnancy and raising babies and toddlers, this anthology will appeal to all parents as it explores the hopes for the future, fears, losses, successes, and struggles of parenting.
Fire in the Pasture: Twenty-First Century Mormon Poets, edited by Tyler Chadwick: In 1989, Eugene England created an anthology of LDS poets called Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poems. Chadwick’s anthology grows out of that earlier one, collecting the work of younger poets writing contemporary work that has been published in major literary magazines across the country.
The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing, edited by Kevin Young: “Depressing” or “sad” or “dark” are connotations that readers sometimes have with poetry. This anthology explores the sadness of grief and loss as it’s been written about in poetry during the past century. What is moving and incredible is how the poetics of grief assuage grief, bringing a sort of peace from the knowledge that we are at least not alone in loss.
The Twentieth Century in Poetry, edited by Michael Hulse and Simon Rae: The poems in this anthology are arranged by date, beginning with 1900 and going all the way up to 2000. Read chronologically, it offers an education in the shifting landscape of contemporary poetry, but you can also just open it up to random places and read poems that have influenced that scenery in remarkable, memorable ways.
Poet’s Choice, by Edward Hirsch: This isn’t anthology in the strictest sense. It is still a collection of poems with a specific focus: the way poetry can bring meaning to the different forms of suffering we might experience. But it doesn’t just contain poems; instead, Hirsch (who is the editor of several poetry anthologies) also offers his insight into the poems’ inner workings. If you enjoy reading poetry but aren’t always sure what it might mean, or if you want to have clearer insight to some famous (and some nearly-forgotten or almost-never-heard-of) poems, this is the perfect book for you.
Great American Prose Poems: from Poe to the Present, edited by David Lehman: A prose poem is “a poem written in prose rather than verse.” Which seems sort of obtuse and circular, doesn’t it? Part of the pleasure of a prose poem is the reader’s uncertainty at what is, exactly, being read, and this anthology plays with that pleasure with examples from a wide variety of writers and topics.