Poetry, like most art, is subjective, and people’s tastes run as wide as the collections on offer. Whether young or old, well-versed or a casual dabbler, everyone can find something that speaks to them in this round-up of timeless poetry books, exploring both the personal and the political, the sublime and the endearingly mundane. Best Independent Book Shops in London
10 Timeless Poetry Books
The Poems of T. S. Eliot
Only a cursory glance at the world today reveals the extraordinary prescience of
The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot’s apocalyptic modernist masterpiece. His singular vision and creativity, as well as the universal depth of feeling expressed in popular poems such as The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock make Eliot an essential addition to any reader’s collection. This definitive edition draws on drafts and correspondence to provide illuminating commentary.
Faber & Faber, £16.23, blackwells.co.uk
William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books
A standout visionary even in an age of radical thought, artist and poet William Blake developed his own mysterious medium, relief etching, with which he illustrated his unique ‘illuminated books’. Full of symbolism and allusions to the big moral and political questions of the 18th century, his poetry is best enjoyed as it is presented here, alongside his luminous artworks.
Thames & Hudson, £35, thamesandhudson.com
Ariel by Sylvia Plath
Often relegated to the tired role of patron saint for sad young women the world over, Sylvia Plath’s posthumous reputation at times eclipses her stature as an artist in her own right. A Fulbright Scholar who enjoyed writing success from a young age, Plath was undoubtedly one of the brightest minds of her generation, and nowhere is this more apparent than in
Ariel, her second poetry collection. Written during the tumultuous three years before her death, the poems are by turns dark and tender, showcasing Plath’s masterful grasp of structure and tone.
Faber & Faber, £10.99, waterstones.com
Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde
If your bookshelves are conspicuously lacking in work by authors of colour, remedy this by delving into the work of Audre Lord, an American civil rights activist and feminist who described herself as ‘Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’. A prolific writer, she was confident in the transformative power of language to bring about lasting change, and wrote across numerous genres. This essential volume brings together some of her very best essays, speeches and poetry, with a preface by author Reni Eddo-Lodge and introduction by feminist scholar Sara Ahmed.
Silver Press, £12.99, waterstones.com
Philip Larkin: Selected Poems
Was there ever a poet as British as Philip Larkin? His dry humour and wry observations of the banality inherent to modern existence have made the somewhat reclusive poet a cultural touchstone for many. Dreary though Larkin’s general outlook may be, flashes of love and longing suggest there may be hope for us yet. The poetry selection was made by author Martin Amis, whose father Kingsley was one of Larkin’s closest friends.
Faber & Faber, £6.50, amazon.co.uk
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
The powerful opening lines of ‘Home’ – “
No one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark” – by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire were oft-quoted during the refugee crisis, earning the poet a legion of fans – including Beyoncè, who sampled Shire’s poetry in her 2016 album Lemonade. Shire’s first collection, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth is a work of staggering emotional intensity, weaving together the stories of Shire’s relatives and friends to catalogue the absurdity and longing intrinsic to the immigrant experience.
Flipped Eye, £4, waterstones.com
The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-and-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul
From unrequited love to feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, this beautiful collection, curated by
William Sieghart, is a poetry book for all of life’s worries and woes. Kept by the bedside or in a handbag, it’s the perfect pick me up for when you find yourself in need of guidance, motivation or reassurance that, no matter how difficult your current situation may be, others too have felt it and put it to words. Each poem comes with a grounding introductory passage, and for beginners unsure of where to start, the book also contains a section on how to read a poem.
Penguin, £12.99, waterstones.com
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Simon Armitage
Brush up on the epic poem before the hotly-anticipated film. Written by a still-unknown author in the late 14th century,
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a chivalric romance, following the titular character – a cousin of King Arthur – as his courage and heart is tested after entering a wager with a mysterious green entity. For those not proficient in Middle English, the acclaimed translation by poet laureate Simon Armitage is accessible and entertaining, retaining the subtle humour of the original and made for reading aloud.
Faber & Faber, £10.99, waterstones.com
The Folio Book of Children’s Poetry
It’s never too early to introduce the kids to great poetry. Aiming to entertain and challenge, this Folio Society anthology is bound to be a bedtime hit with younger readers – it even comes with a glow-in-the-dark front cover and slipcase. It features 88 carefully chosen poems from Roald Dahl to Wordsworth, each with a beautiful illustration by award-winning artist Lesley Barnes.
Hope is the Thing with Feathers: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Arguably the finest American poet, in her lifetime Emily Dickinson challenged contemporary religious conventions and the subservient role of women in 19th century society. Full of allusions and cloaked in mystery, her elegant, otherworldly verses have inspired and soothed generations. This beautiful new poetry book groups her work by themes of Life, Love, Nature and, most appropriately, Time & Eternity.
Gibbs Smith, £10, amazon.co.uk start the slideshow
Featured image: Taylor Wright on Unsplash
Good Reads: The C&TH Reading List / Books for Hopeless Romantics/ The Best Long Reads