For the final installment of the five-part series on favorite poetry collections, I’m happy to host Poetic Asides regular Bruce W. Niedt. He’s been involved with this blog so long that I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t commenting and/or sharing his love of poetry and other poets.
Bruce is a career civil servant from southern New Jersey whose poetry has appeared in numerous print and online publications, including Writers Digest, The Lyric, Spitball, Chantarelle’s Notebook, Lucid Rhythms, Curio Poetry, Verse Wisconsin, US 1 Worksheets, and the anthology Best of The Barefoot Muse. He has won the ByLine Short Fiction and Poetry Prize, first prize for poetry at the Philadelphia Writers Conference, and two Pushcart Prize nominations. His latest chapbook is Twenty-four by Fourteen, a collection of sonnets and other short poems, published by Maverick Duck Press. Learn more at http://bniedt.blogspot.com.
This was not an easy list – I wish it could have been a top 10. I left off several favorites, like W. B. Yeats, Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, Billy Collins, and a friend who’s a very talented fellow New Jersey poet, BJ Ward.
So here, for what it’s worth, are five recommended books by poets who have been important parts of my poetic journey:
The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas (New Directions, 2010)
Thomas was one of the earliest influences in my poetic life. I’ll always be grateful to my 10th grade English teacher for introducing me to him, when we listened to a recording of his stentorian voice reading his classic short story/memoir “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” But his poetry is also worth knowing – lush and metaphorical, with a lilting music and an often playful love of language that was a big influence on contemporary verse.
This volume contains his classic “Fern Hill” and the timeless villanelle “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” The new edition has an introduction by another of my favorite poets, Paul Muldoon.
Pictures from Breughel and Other Poems, by William Carlos Williams (New Directions, 1967)
I discovered Williams in college, and he immediately had a huge impact on my poetic development. He advanced poetry in the American vernacular with vivid observations of the simplest things, like a red wheelbarrow or a bowl of plums.
He also convinced me that one can be a good poet and still have a “day job” (in his case, a pediatrician). This collection, which (finally) won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1962, contains much of his late work, including the title series of poems based on works by the Flemish painter Pieter Breughel the Elder, and the long love poem “Asphodel, that Greeny Flower.” For a more comprehensive overview of the latter half of his career, try Collected Poems 1939-1962.
Come, Thief, by Jane Hirshfield (Knopf, 2011)
Jane is one of our greatest contemporary poets and, I am proud to say, a mentor and friend. Her lyrical, Zen-influenced poems are about love, death, nature, praise, and the little reflective moments of life. She draws us into those moments and transforms them into epiphanies, often employing a startling and unexpected image or metaphor. Her poetry is also infused with a strong social and ethical conscience, and one can’t deny her deep humanity and heart.
This is her latest collection, though I would also strongly recommend two of her previous books, After and Lives of the Heart, and her extraordinary book of essays, Nine Gates.
The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, by Marge Piercy (Knopf, 2012)
The prolific Ms. Piercy is a feminist and social activist, a terrific teacher, and one feisty lady. Her poetry celebrates an intense social and political sensibility, a wry sense of humor, and a deep spirituality that goes beyond her Jewish roots.
“To Be of Use” is one of the finest poems ever written about work. This is a well-chosen career overview of her poetry (she is also a renowned prose writer) including some very fine new poems. I also highly recommend her collection The Art of Blessing the Day, some of whose poems are included here.
Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, by Mark Doty (Harper Perennial, 2009)
This National Book Award-winning collection is an excellent retrospective of another great American contemporary poet. Beauty, desire, and love of dogs are some of the recurring themes in Doty’s rich and vivid work.
He was the first poet to help me really understand other aspects of love, especially through his heartbreakingly moving elegies about losing friends and a partner to the AIDS epidemic. Though not generally considered a “formal” poet, his work is verse-like with a seemingly effortless musicality.
Work on the craft of poetry!
I’ve found the best way to improve my writing is through feedback from sources I trust. If you want that kind of feedback for your poetry, consider taking this Advanced Poetry Writing course. It’s an online workshop in which poets gain valuable feedback on how their work is being read by others.
Check out some more poetic posts here:
- Carole Cole: Poet Interview.
- Shann Palmer Has Passed.
- 5 Favorite Poetry Collections: Kelli Russell Agodon.