Adolescence is the perfect time to fall in love with poetry. It can change your life, really, finding a literary form that matches so well with the drama, heartache, angst, and wild happiness of the teenage years, and if you start reading good poems as a teenager, you might be more likely to read them as an adult, too.
Here’s a list of ten poetry books that are perfect for teen readers:
Aimless Love by Billy Collins: Perhaps America’s most well-known poet, Collins brings a witty and sometimes sarcastic humor to his poems. The OPL has nearly all of his books, but this one—which has both new poems and older ones—is the perfect introduction to his range and voice.
Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry, edited by Robert Pack & Jay Parini: You’ll find nearly 100 contemporary American poets here, and nearly 250 poems, each of them continuing a long tradition of poems about nature.
A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver: Mary Oliver almost never gives interviews or attends public readings. Instead, she writes poems and lets them speak for her. Her work is infused with a love of the natural world, and an understanding of it, that brings her native landscape—the marshes and beaches around Provincetown, Massachusetts—to life.
Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems about Love by Pat Mora: A Utah Young Adults’ Book Award Nominee, this book collects poems about being in love in all of its different forms; it also includes explanations about different poetic forms.
Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, edited by Billy Collins: When he was the US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins read something by a high school student that changed him: “Whenever I read a modern poem, it’s like my brother has his foot on the back of my neck in the swimming pool.” Determined to change this painful view of poetry, Collins created a program called Poetry 180, a website with enough poems that a high school could read one every day of the school year. Not just any poems, though—poems chosen for their ability to make readers feel alive and energized, not drowned. The poems in this anthology were chosen with that same ideal.
Poems to Live By in Uncertain Times, edited by Joan Murray: The poet who edited this anthology, Joan Murray, had a life-long habit of gathering “poems to live by,” which are poems that gave her a sense of guidance or direction during dark times. After the 9-11 attacks, she decided to gather them into this anthology, 60 poems which she hopes are useful to readers trying to find their way in uncertainty.
Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye: The topics are wide ranging—family, friendship, childhood, memory, loss, a little bit of romance. What unites them are the voices, themselves varied, but each of them young yet wise, willing to risk without delving into sentimentality.
The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, by Emily Dickinson: There’s just something about Emily D. that resonates with teenagers. Maybe it’s the intensity of the emotion, or the way she refuses to pander while still remaining accessible, or the way that the vividness of her images makes them linger, unforgettable. Whatever—if you are a teenager, you must read her!
The Invisible Ladder: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poems for Young Readers, edited by Liz Rosenberg: Rosenberg’s goal when she compiled these poems was to find contemporary poems written for adults that are also relatable and understandable to teenagers. The book also includes a recent and a childhood photo of each poet, as well as a short essay about how poetry connected to each poet’s childhood.
Stone Spirits by Susan Elizabeth Howe: A professor at BYU, Howe writes striking poems that resonate partly because you recognize the landscapes. Many are set in well-known Utah locations. But she isn’t just a local poet—her work has been published in many national magazines. In Stone Spirits you’ll find poems full of careful observation and loaded language, and plus: you’ll never think about the Statue of Liberty the same way.