Posted by: Glenda Bailey-Mershon | March 7, 2009

My Poetry Shelf

I’m sure that every poet has a list of books she returns to again and again for inspiration and examples. Below is mine. What are yours?

1. Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman) The genius of it still staggers me; the universality and sheer immensity of its ideas dazzle me over and over.
2. Blood Run (Alison Hedge Coke) So dense, deep, and rich I don’t fully yet comprehend it. She writes as the land–astounding!
3. Howl (Allen Ginsberg) What can I say? He caught me with this when I was seventeen. It is my book of patriotism and manners.
4. Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir (Lucille Clifton) She thrills me and makes me laugh and ache.
5. Does Your House Have Lions? (Sonia Sanchez) Power, sheer power!
6. New and Selected Poems Volumes one and Two (Mary Oliver) What can Mary Oliver not do? She is a great teacher.
7. Shell Shaker (LeAnne Howe) Brilliant, inventive language and line breaks.
8. Fishing for Myth: Poems by Heid E. Erdrich (Heid Edrich) A melding of Native American and European tropes into something completely unique and redeeming.
9. Above the River: The Complete Poems (James Wright and Donald Hall) Two professors of the art.
10. Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (Lucille Clifton) She writes things no one else can.
11. Loosestrife (Stephen Dunn) My second book of patriotism and quests. Lovely language.
12. No More Masks (Anthology, Florence Howe, ed.) I couldn’t live without this book. I come back to it at least once a month for examples and company.
13. A Formal Feeling Comes (Anthology, Annie Finch, ed.) Ditto. When I want to do forms my way, I start here to gin up.
14.  Collected Poems (Jane Kenyon) The way she quietly gathers power in a poem awes me.
15. A Few Figs from Thistles (Edna St. Vincent Millay) What can I say? She did everything first and still instructs.
16. Alive Together (Lisel Mueller)  Such immense humanity at work here.
17. The Gift of Tongues (Copper canyon Anthology, Sam Hamill, Ed.) The best poets are here in a ready tome.
18. The Roads of the Roma: A Pen Anthology of Gypsy Writers (Siobhan Hancock and Siobhan Dowd) Not all poetry, but it’s the only collection of Roma poets! Indispensable to my tradition.
19. Robert Frost: Selected Poems (Robert Frost) I read him to learn.
20. Elizabeth Bishop: The Complete Poems (Elizabeth Bishop) I haven’t wrapped my mind yet around all she accomplished, in an era, when “the boys” were taking no prisoners, she shone through.

I’d really like to see your list, or to hear what you have to say about this one.


  1. Wonderful list — just add Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel” poems (yes, they’re anygry — like I am when I read a NYT headline about the rising thefts of boy babies in China because the girls aren’t worth anything).

  2. I’d love to add Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel” to your poetry collection!

  3. You’re right, Nancy, Sylvia belongs on anyone’s list. She isn’t my favorite–I think maybe it’s a country-urban thing–– but her power and inventiveness are inescapable.

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