5 essential poetry collections to read this World Poetry Day


Man reading a bookThere’s little doubt that poetry has the ability to evoke strong emotions and inspire hearts and minds through the power of language, and it has been doing so for thousands of years. 

Though, with so many seminal works and collections out there, it can often be challenging to decide which you should commit your time to reading. 

Conveniently, 21 March was World Poetry Day, a national awareness campaign to highlight the talents of poets from around the world, and even encourage more people to explore the diverse world of poetry. 

With that in mind, continue reading to discover five poetry collections worth reading and adding to your bookshelf. 

1. The Spirit Level, Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1995, is widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. 

If you’d like to explore some of his inspiring works, it may be worth starting with The Spirit Level, his ninth collection overall and first as a Nobel laureate. 

The works within explore themes ranging from history, the natural world, and even the interconnectedness of daily experiences and the mundane. 

For instance, one of the standout poems, ‘The Strand at Lough Beg’, explores Heaney’s feelings towards his cousin who lost his life during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

Another, named ‘Mycenae Lookout’, tells a modern interpretation of Agamemnon’s return from the Trojan War, exploring themes of betrayal and the nature of history. 

2. These are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS, Deborah Alma and Doctor Katie Amiel

Even though These are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS was edited by Deborah Alma and Doctor Katie Amiel, the collection is comprised of more than 100 poems written mainly by NHS staff. 

Indeed, you can read about poems from many walks of life within the healthcare profession, such as a student nurse at the start of his career or a heart surgeon at the pinnacle of theirs. Overall, the collection aims to give you a unique insight into the experiences of those who work in hospitals and GP surgeries across the country. 

You may find the poems in this collection especially poignant following the hard work of doctors and nurses during the pandemic. 

Better yet, all proceeds from the collection will go to NHS Charities Together, which supports more than 140 official NHS charities and raises money for hospitals, ambulance services, and community mental health services across the UK.

3. The Bees, Carol Ann Duffy 

Carol Ann Duffy – an acclaimed poet who was the first woman to be appointed poet laureate – has been capturing readers’ imaginations for almost four decades. 

In 2011, she released The Bees, her first collection as poet laureate, and it contains a series of elegantly crafted poems that celebrate love, the beauty of the natural world, and the complexity of relationships.

Some of the works included in her poignant collection deal with war, the death of Duffy’s mother, and even a lament about David Beckham’s Achilles heel. 

4. Seeing Stars, Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage is the current poet laureate, but he wasn’t always a master wordsmith. Indeed, he was originally a prohibition officer in Greater Manchester, but has since had an impact on the world of poetry with the release of Zoom! in 1989 and Kid in 1992. 

In 2010, Armitage released Seeing Stars, his 14th collection and the first to be entirely comprised of prose poems, which the Guardian called a “wildly inventive mix of satire, fantasy, comedy, and horror”. 

Upon reading his collection, you’ll soon realise why it’s been described as such a range of genres. 

In fact, some of the poems include a story about a young James Cameron discovering that his family and friends are actors working for the government, a balloon salesman who inadvertently sells his soul, and a man who puts more weight on when he eats less. 

Overall, the collection exemplifies Armitage’s ability to expand his poetic expression through creativity. 

5. Poor, Caleb Femi

Caleb Femi is somewhat of a multidisciplinary artist, taking photographs, making films, and producing poetry. He is clearly good at what he does, as he was named London’s first young poet laureate in 2016. 

Poor was his debut poetry collection, and has since been named a “tour de force that chronicles the trials, tribulations, dreams, and joys of young black boys growing up in 21st century Peckham”. 

In his collection, he makes astute observations about growing up on a north Peckham estate, using concrete as a running theme to represent marginalised communities.

Femi relates perfectly to his own experiences, which adds a sense of passion and realism to his often bleak, yet touching, poems. 

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