The Colorado Poet, #21, Winter 2012

100 Poetry Books Everyone Should Read

(Joe Hutchison)
In August of 2012, Joe Hutchison wrote the following on his blog, The Perpetual Bird, and we thought it might arouse some interest.
“I ran across a list online the other day—"100 Novels Everyone Should Read"—and while I only half-enjoy these kinds of lists, it hit me that someone ought to assemble a similar list of "100 Poetry Books Everyone Should Read.

“In thinking through the shape of such a list, it struck me that we think of poetry in ways fundamentally different from novels. Whatever the quality of Flaubert's writing in general, Madame Bovary is clearly a masterpiece. Some poems are viewed as masterpieces, but—with the exception of book-length narrative poems and sequences—are typically gathered into collections of poems that are not masterpieces. So what qualifies for such  a collection?

“First of all, the collection has to have masterpieces in it. Second, it has to constitute a peak of the poet's powers, at least in a given phase of his or her work. (The Neruda of the Residencia en la Tierra period is not the Neruda of the Odas Elementales period, but the poet produced masterpieces in the characteristic style of each period.) Third, it must be a volume whose poems end up having influence far beyond the poet's home nation. Some readers reckon Charles Olson, for example, to be a great American poet, and that may be; but I believe that Olson's influence has not been terribly significant outside the United States. Finally, a poetry collection everyone should read ought to be a landmark volume apart from its masterpieces; that is, it should mark the advent of a style, a subject matter, and/or an angle of vision that remains compelling long after the poet's death.

“My previous sentence suggests that the list should not include living poets, which seems either myopic or unfair or both. Should the fact that Gabriel Garcia Marquez still draws breath force One Hundred Years of Solitude off the novels list? If so, then we'd have to bar Tomas Tranströmer from our poetry list while Wislawa Szymborska, thanks to a visit from the Grim Reaper last year, may safely be listed. This smacks of an arbitrariness that takes some of the fun out of making and pondering such a list. So I've decided to let a few living poets through the turnstile and onto the list below, which I put forward in full awareness of its subjectivity—that is, with humility and a keen sense of contingency.

“One last note. Translated poetry is almost always presented in the form of "selected" volumes, which is why many of the translations on my list are "selected poems," and in a couple of cases even "collected poems." In other cases, such as my entry for a pivotal volume in the work of Robert Browning, readers interested in finding the poems might do better looking into Browning's Complete Poems rather than trying to locate a reprint of the individual book.


Anon., The Epic of Gilgamesh; Adonis, Mihyar of Damascus: His Songs; Anna Akhmatova, Selected Poems; Yehuda Amichai, Time (in The Early Books of Yehuda Amichai); A. R. Ammons, Sphere: The Form of a Motion; Guillaume Apollinaire, Alcools; John Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.

Ingeborg Bachmann, Songs in Flight; Bāsho, Back Roads to Far Towns; Charles Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil; Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel (in The Complete Poems 1927-1979); William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; Yves Bonnefoy, On the Motion and Immobility of Douve; Robert Browning, Men and Women, or Transcendentalism: A Poem in Twelve Books.

Ernesto Cardenal, Cosmic Canticle; Hayden Carruth, Brothers, I Loved You All; Catullus, The Poems of Catullus; C. P. Cavafy, Selected Poems; Paul Celan, From Threshold to Threshold; Dante, Inferno; Mahmoud Darwish, Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone?

Emily Dickinson, The Selected Poems; Robert Duncan, Roots and Branches
Gunnar Ekelöf, Guide to the Underworld; T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Other Poems; Paul Éluard, Capital of Pain; Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Selected Poems; Faiz Ahmed Faiz, The Rebel’s Silhouette.

Ghalib, Lightning Should Have Fallen on Ghalib; Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems; Eugene Guillevic, Carnac; H. D., Trilogy; Han Shan, The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain; Seamus Heaney, North; Zingier Herbert, Mr. Cogito; Nazim Hikmet, Human Landscapes From My Country; Friedrich Hölderlin, Selected Poems and Fragments; Homer, The Iliad; Horace, Odes; Ted Hughes, Crow.

Issa, Cup of Tea Poems; Rolf Jacobsen, The Silence Afterwards; Saint John of the Cross, The Poems of St. John of the Cross; Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, Poems, Protest, and a Dream; Kabir, Ecstatic Poems; John Keats, Selected Poems; Vénus Khoury-Ghata, She Says; Galway Kinnell, The Book of Nightmares; Irving Layton, A Red Carpet in the Sun
Giacomo Leopardi, Canti; Denise Levertov, Life in the Forest; Li Ch’ing-chao, Complete Poems; Li Po, Selected Poems; Federico Garcia Lorca, Poet in New York; Lucretius, The Nature of Things.

Louis MacNeice, Autumn Journal; Osip Mandelstam, Stone; Harry Martinson, Aniara; Thomas McGrath, Letter to an Imaginary Friend; W. S. Merwin, The Lice; Czeslaw Milosz, Selected Poems 1931-2004; Mirabai, For Love of the Dark One; Gabriela Mistral, Selected Poems; Eugenio Montale, The Storm and Other Poems; Pablo Neruda, Heights of Macchu Picchu; Pablo Neruda, Selected Odes; Lorine Niedecker, The Granite Pail.

Ovid, Metamorphoses; Cesare Pavese, Hard Labor; Octavio Paz, Selected Poems; Pindar, Odes (Richard Lattimore translation); Sylvia Plath, Ariel; Po Chu-i, Selected Poems; Ezra Pound, Personae; Sextus Propertius, Elegies; Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck; Rainer Maria Rilke, New Poems; Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations; Jalal al-Din Rumi, The Essential Rumi; Umberto Saba, Songbook; Nelly Sachs, O the Chimneys; Sappho, Poems and Fragments; George Seferis, Collected Poems; William Shakespeare, The Sonnets.

Shinkichi Takahashi, Triumph of the Sparrow; Shuntarō Tanikawa, Midnight in the Kitchen I Just Wanted to Talk to You; Alfonsina Storni, Selected Poems; Wislawa Szymborska, Miracle Fair; Georg Trakl, Song of the West; Tomas Tranströmer, The Half-Finished Heaven; Marina Tsvetaeva, Selected Poems; Tu Fu, Selected Poems.

Giuseppe Ungaretti, Selected Poems; César Vallejo, The Black Heralds; François Villon, Poems; Virgil, Aeneid; Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass; Wang Wei, Laughing Lost in the Mountains; William Carlos Williams, Spring & All; and William Butler Yeats, The Tower.