10 Thought-Provoking Poetry Collections

When someone mentions poetry, the first thing that pops into your head may well be an old, white man in the 1800s with a quill in his hand, hunched over a candle. But the art form is still very much alive, and there are plenty of talented contemporary poets who use it to tackle controversial issues like racism and feminism in deeply moving ways. The ten collections on this list will take you out of your comfort zone and make you pause and think about the world around you. When you click links from this website, we may receive advertising revenue to support our research. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

10 Thought-Provoking Poetry Collections

Title Author More by the Author
1. Don't Call Us Dead Danez Smith Black Movie
2. Crave Radiance Elizabeth Alexander American Sublime
3. Last Sext Melissa Broder The Pisces
4. When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities Chen Chen N/A
5. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce Morgan Parker Other People's Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night
6. Electric Arches Eve L. Ewing Ghosts in the Schoolyard
7. I Hope My Voice Doesn't Skip Alicia Cook Stuff I've Been Feeling Lately
8. Night Sky with Exit Wounds Ocean Vuong Burnings
9. Dear Jenny, We Are All Find Jenny Zhang Sour Heart
10. Calling a Wolf a Wolf Kaveh Akbar Portrait of the Alcoholic

Five Famous Poets From History

The writers on this list follow in a long tradition of using language to create moving works of art. Here are a few poets who came before them, and shaped the medium into what it is today.

  1. William Shakespeare
  2. Emily Dickinson
  3. Maya Angelou
  4. Langston Hughes
  5. Pablo Neruda

Poetry Organizations

If you want to support the next generation of poets, consider looking into these non-profit groups that help build community and teach kids and teens how to raise their voices and make an impact.

What Makes a Poem a Poem?

In Depth

There are some thoughts that are too abstract to be properly conveyed through prose. But with the unique rhythm and loose structure of poetry, these concepts can come across and deeply affect the hearts and minds of readers around the world. In no particular order, here are ten poetry collections that will make you think about everything from racism and feminism to the mixture of happiness and pain that defines what it is to be human.

At the #1 spot is "Don't Call Us Dead," by award-winning poet Danez Smith. The poems in this collection explore oppression, violence, pain, and resistance. The author tackles the controversial subject of racism in his opening poem titled "Summer, Somewhere." It focuses on rebirth for young black men who have been victims of police killings. This is an inspiring read that weaves societal sickness with personal hope.

Coming in at #2 is "Crave Radiance" by poet, essayist, and playwright Elizabeth Alexander. In this book, she offers two primary themes: the trauma suffered by African-American people and the lessons that can be learned from it. Most of the poems have been published elsewhere, but the closing sequence is a selection of new ones. Included in this volume is "Praise Song," a piece that the author read during President Obama's inauguration in 2009.

Most of the poems have been published elsewhere, but the closing sequence is a selection of new ones.

Next, at #3 is "Last Sext." Authored by American writer Melissa Broder, these poems convey a reflection of our mortality. They explore ideas about desire, fear, and existential darkness. Most of the sequences are written in the second person, encouraging the abandonment of oneself. Coursing through the book, readers will also find numerous visceral references to blood, vomit, and sickness. Broder's writing captures a complex perspective that many young women embrace.

At the #4 spot is "When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities." This is a collection by Chen Chen, a poet who was born in China and grew up in Massachusetts. He received the 2016 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and his work has been featured in the 2017 National Book Awards Longlist. In the pages of this volume, he writes about Chinese-American experiences that revolve around family, friendship, and young love.

At #5, "There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce" is an exquisite piece of work by Morgan Parker. Here, she profoundly expresses the experiences of a contemporary black woman through societal narratives. She mentions some of the most influential women in history, including Nikki Giovanni, Queen Latifah, and Michelle Obama. With cultural references and classic poetry, the author manages to create masterpieces about sex, desire, and feminism.

Here, she profoundly expresses the experiences of a contemporary black woman through societal narratives.

Coming in at #6 is "Electric Arches" by Eve L. Ewing, an artist, writer, educator, and scholar from Chicago. The author uses a variety of mediums and forms in this remarkable debut, including prose poetry, mixed media collage, and lyrics. Throughout the collection, she explores the growing pains of womanhood. She shares her inner experiences, including racism, her upbringing, and the material conditions that changed her life.

Taking the #7 spot is "I Hope My Voice Doesn't Skip." Divided into two parts, this is Alicia Cook's second collection of prose, poetry, and songs. She begins the book with a trigger warning for loss, grief, love, murder, crime, and addiction. This volume is masterfully structured to be reminiscent of a record album, with the first and second sections titled EP and LP, respectively.

At #8, "Night Sky with Exit Wounds" is a 70-page emotional masterpiece by Ocean Vuong. This book is a channel for the author's vivid thoughts about a life in which violence and harmony collide. Most of the poems in this collection explore the sorrows and joys of human existence. The second poem, "Telemachus," is about the author's father who is described tragically in lyrical format.

Most of the poems in this collection explore the sorrows and joys of human existence.

Next, at #9 is "Dear Jenny, We Are All Find" by writer and prolific essayist Jenny Zhang. Partly a provocation of Orientalism, which permeates both literature and our society, this collection contains poems that express the narrator's personal struggles and anguish. In a section titled "Motherlands," the author presents thoughts about a painful past, most of which are relevant to her Chinese heritage.

Finally, at #10 is "Calling a Wolf a Wolf." Written by Kaveh Akbar, an Iranian-American poet and scholar, this book features 100 pages of meditations on life. Readers of this collection, religious or not, will be presented with uplifting statements that cultivate faith in times of intense fear. Overall, this is an ideal read for someone who believes in redemption, despite the pain, loss, and violence that comes before it.