Poetry is making a comeback in a big way. At just the mention of spoken word or slam poetry, venues fill up with avid literature fans. There’s no shortage of talent on today’s literary scene—poets are crafting new work all the time. Add these six best contemporary poetry books to your reading list if you want to absorb work that’s evocative, innovative, and lyrically beautiful.
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
Filled with equal parts compassion and pain, the poems in Don’t Call Us Dead are as urgent as they are thoughtful. Within the collection’s pages, you’ll feel the author’s longing for the safety of Black men. Smith uses imagery of the body to confront society’s issues head-on.
The Octopus Museum by Brenda Shaughnessy
Part sci-fi and part reality, The Octopus Museum is as unsettling as it is hypnotic. The poems take you into an alternate reality where, because of humanity’s shortcomings, cephalopods rule the earth. Brimming with maternal anxiety, scathing humor, and enduring terror, these poems are nothing short of a call to action.
New American Best Friend by Olivia Gatwood
Olivia Gatwood got her start at poetry slams, and you’ll feel that same electricity and bite throughout her collection, New American Best Friend. Moving through the stages of childhood to adulthood, Gatwood explores contemporary American womanhood in all its beauty and pain. These sharp-tongued poems ultimately celebrate strong women in every sense of the word.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
At just 30 years old, Ocean Vuong is already something of a poetry prodigy, with numerous awards and fellowships already under his belt. Night Sky with Exit Wounds is Vuong’s first full-length poetry collection. He doesn’t hold back in this collection, addressing all of life’s biggest joys and aches: love, family, war, and trauma. Even with these heavy topics, he has a gentle touch, lending to the book’s standing as one of the best contemporary poetry books out there.
Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón
Ada Limón doesn’t hold back with Bright Dead Things. Featuring a radical vulnerability and strength, these poems pay witness to life’s chaotic beauty and are always informed by feminism and an insistence that they belong in the world. Brimming with every emotion at once, Bright Dead Things comes packed with life.
Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones
Although filled with fear, Prelude to Bruise treks bravely on, addressing the traumas of the past in hopes of a fuller future. Imbued with magic and pain in every word, Saeed Jones’ poems grapple with abuse and sexuality, queerness and racism through stunning metaphors and images. As lyrical as it is blunt, Prelude to Bruise may feel harsh, but it also suggests the beauty of healing.