As a poetry lover, poet, freelance poetry editor, and competition judge, I’m often asked about my favorite poets, which puts me in a spin as I admire and enjoy the poems of so many. Then it occurred to me to focus on favorites whose work I’ve reviewed, mainly because their publishers sent review copies of recent books per my request! Unfortunately, others did not, or I just haven’t gotten around to asking. Nevertheless, I can almost guarantee you that studying the works of these highly acclaimed poets will increase your pleasure in reading poems – and improve your poetry writing too:
Poems of Jorie Graham flow through a stream of conscientiousness with beauty and fresh, often startling, imagery and statements that cause us to think, imagine, and reconsider what we thought we knew. As you read her poetry, let each experience wash over you, whether you understand everything that’s going on or not! I rarely do! Yet the poems are so exquisite, I keep returning to her work where each reading rewards me with something new or insightful.
I could say the same about the poetry of Charles Wright – another Pulitzer poet whose work includes allusions to experiences I don’t have or places unfamiliar to me, despite the fact that we were both born in Tennessee and have lived in California and Virginia. Again, like Graham, Wright’s poetry is lush with exquisite phrases and imagery, and each has a spiritual quest going that I share. I also like how both poets play with line lengths – an experiment worth studying.
Wallace Stevens wrote a jar onto a hill in Tennessee and shared my love for my home state of Florida, but he’s more apt to envision a world under construction by poets and poetry. His award-winning work offers fresh imagery and musicality to notice and study, but I especially enjoyed responding to some of his poems with poems and experimenting with titles after reading the interesting and often lengthy ones he created.
Czeslaw Milosz mentored many poets and spotlighted Polish poets in particular, but his poetry enlarges our world view with references and insights born of war, exile, and the loss of loved ones. Somehow this struggle evoked hope, perhaps based on his attachment to the church and his sense that things are not to be dissected but contemplated and appreciated for what they are. Although God remains in mystery, Milosz remained open to the search as do most of the poets on this list.
Wendell Berry most assuredly seeks the spiritual side of things, and yet his poetry is accessible, down-to-earth, and wise with insight based on experience and ardent observation. I say “ardent” because of his passion for life and his obvious love for God and creation and “observation” because his poetry calls us to pay attention, appreciate, and interact with all that’s around us.
The poems of Pattiann Rogers, however, would win the prize for interaction. Her work embraces almost every aspect of life and life sciences – from the make-up of the cosmos to the break-down of garbage! On a deeper level, the precise details and possibilities demonstrated in her poems cause us to pause and enter into such diversities as the suffering of God and the vulnerability of a turtle.
The poems of Gary Snyder also make us aware of nature and natural surroundings but, in addition, call attention to social and human inadequacies. While I certainly wouldn’t call Snyder a romantic poet, his insights on relationships clarify what’s honest, loving, and true in a Zen-like way, but I especially appreciate his astounding brevity. Poets who struggle with wordiness will find his poems excellent examples of saying a lot while being concise and, often, amusing.
Amusement definitely distinguishes the poems of Billy Collins. What’s especially funny is that this highly cerebral poet connects with a huge reading audience because of his comedic timing, unexpected twists, and good calls. i.e., He calls it like it is, but we did not think about it that way until he said so with accuracy and good humor.
As you delve into the work of these favored poets, notice how they sound uniquely like themselves yet find ways to be fresh, insightful, observant, concise, and wise. Therefore, we would be wise to read, study, and enjoy their poems – their exquisite, prize-winning poems filled with musicality, imagery, and the quests of their lives.
©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, writer and reviewer, has 3 books of poems in print: Living in the Nature Poem published by Hiraeth Press and Beach Songs & Wood Chimes (for children) and Outside Eden, published by Kelsay Books. Mary also chairs the poetry division of the annual writing competition sponsored by Writers-Editors.com and provides reasons why each title stood out over other entries.