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The Best Poetry Books to Give as Gifts

Alma •
Mar 31st, 2023

Books are the most meaningful gifts. And poetry books can occupy a sacred place on the shelf when they are selected thoughtfully—even for readers who don’t think of themselves as poetry lovers. Like music, poetry has mystical qualities. It alerts us to our humanness and points to the mystery of being alive. Poetry is there as a balm in times of crisis, a soundtrack when we are falling in and falling out of love, and a looking glass to reveal the magic in the mundane. What better gift could you give?

We love the popular Instagram account @Alma for feeding us a daily dose of poetry to sweeten our day. We asked @Alma, a poet herself, what books she would recommend giving to a loved one and here's what she said.

For the nature enthusiast

The Carrying: Poems by Ada Limón

The current U.S. Poet Laureate writes about the natural world with a discerning eye. Don’t be surprised when the next time you’re outside after reading her, you find yourself staring in deep reverie at a budding tree.

“More than the fuchsia fennels breaking out / of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor's / almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving / their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate / sky of Spring rains, it's the greening of the trees that really gets to me.”

The only thing better than reading Limón is hearing her read… Hear for yourself in her recent reading of Forsythia.  

For the person who says poetry is not their thing

Some Things I Still Can’t Tell You: Poems by Misha Collins 

A surprisingly lovely debut collection from an unexpected author, Misha Collins—who currently plays Harvey Dent on The CW’s Gotham Knights—doles out honest observations and intimate revelations through uncomplicated, yet thoughtful verse. The love and longing poems are particularly tender: “When I was learning to act / and needed to cry for a scene / I would often imagine the unbearable emptiness / of a life without you.”

For the friend with no filter

Now We’re Getting Somewhere: Poems by Kim Addonizio

Sexy, edgy, feisty, direct; this collection tells it like it is — “I don’t think I’m going to grow from the grass you love / I’m just going to have one last blackout in a dirty pink lace dress / & be eaten by tiny ugly legless larvae” — and with all the confidence that’s fit to print. Obsession worthy, to put it lightly.

For the animal lover

Dog Songs: Poems by Mary Oliver

Famously dog-obsessed, Mary Oliver has a knack for conveying the wisdom of animals, and how they teach us to live, love and be loved.

“A dog can never tell you what she knows from the / smells of the world  but you know, watching her / that you know / almost nothing…”

For the buddy going through a rough patch 

The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On by Franny Choi

Written during the pandemic, this magical collection reckons with past, present and future apocalypses and the enduring spirit of humankind. Anyone can relate to how Choi wrestles with finding hope in what can seem like an apocalyptic time:

“Lord, I confess I want the clarity of catastrophe / but not the catastrophe. Like everyone else, / I want a storm I can dance in. / I want an excuse to change my life."

For the one person who really “gets you”

Mules of Love: Poems by Ellen Bass

A masterful joy ride through sex, love, grief, family and all the garbage and gifts that are bestowed on us. Smart without being intimidating, Bass is a certified word genius.

“In poems joy and sorrow are mates. / They lie down together, their hands / all over each other, fingers / swollen in mouths…”

For your love-crazy friend

Love Poems by Pablo Neruda

Warning: do not read if you don’t want to catch all the feels. This is love poetry perfection in a pink jacket. Give it to your lover, buy it for yourself, read it anytime you want to wrap yourself in words. Consider Neruda’s famous line, “I want / to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”

For the social activist 

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes edited by Arnold Rampersad

A treasure for anyone who has a deep appreciation for the biggest influences on 20th-century American culture. A leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance and one the most important activists, playwrights and poets of his time, Hughes’s words ring as true and clear as they did a hundred years ago.

“Hold fast to dreams / for if dreams die / life is a broken-winged bird / that cannot fly.”

For the friend who can find a laugh in nearly any situation

The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems by Billy Collins

What’s not to love about "America’s favorite poet"? Personable, witty, digestible poems that feel they were written with you in the room. He brings wit and wisdom to quirky observations of everyday life. Case in point: "If the British call z zed, / I wondered, / why not call b bed and d dead?”

For the one who has lost someone close to them

Alive at the End of The World by Saeed Jones

The thing about grief is that no one is exempt, yet, it’s so often an uncomfortable topic. Jones tackles this subject with vulnerability and humor. His graceful command of language and his ability to make music out of a turn of phrase is astounding. Jones writes, “When I’m back, I want a body like a slash of lightning. / If they heard me, I couldn’t hear their answers.”

Alma's forthcoming poetry collection is called Rope Bunny. Follow @alma on Instagram and @perpetuaalma on Twitter.

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