The best poetry books of all time

Whether you’re looking for the best poetry collections from much-loved classic poets or fresh and vital new poetic voices, these are just some of the best poetry books of all time to celebrate World Poetry Day.

26/07/2021
8 minutes to read

As we ride this turbulent wave through a second year of a global pandemic, there’s no better time to find solace in poetry books. Perhaps you’re hoping to rekindle your fires by drinking in the bold, bright new voices of contemporary wordsmiths like Jackie Kay and Layli Long Soldier, or want to find comfort in the reliable well-worn lines of classic poets like John Keats and Walt Whitman? Here, we’ve curated our edit of the best new poetry books of 2021, we look back at the best poetry books of 2020, and bring together some old favourites in our best poetry anthologies and best classic poetry books. There’s even something for the little ones too, with our best poetry collections for children.

The best new poetry books of 2021

The Wild Fox of Yemen

by Threa Almontaser

Book cover for 9781529078459

Winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, The Wild Fox of Yemen is one of the most original and bold debuts in recent years. This powerful collection is both a love letter to the country and people of Yemen, a portrait of young Muslim womanhood in New York after 9/11, and an extraordinarily composed examination of what it means to carry in the body the echoes of what came before.

Hotel Raphael

by Rachael Boast

Book cover for 9781529037531

Hotel Raphael is Rachael Boast’s fourth poetry collection.

Charting a journey through heat, drought and pain, it describes not only the reality of chronic illness, but living with it at a time of global crisis. Hotel Raphael sees Boast compose an extraordinary travelling song, one that shows us how to bear our pain without trying to erase its source.

The Stone Age

by Jen Hadfield

Book cover for 9781529037340

This new collection from the youngest woman poet to be awarded the T. S. Eliot Prize is a compelling depiction of the sublime potency and delicate subtlety of the natural environment, and more specifically her Shetland home. Her lines imbue a sense of careful power in the world she observes. From plant-life to the living rhythm of the rocks, hills and bogs that make up her landscape, Hadfield elevates the experience of the personal encounter, providing a timely meditation on the simple appreciation of the world as it is presented to us; nothing more and nothing less.

Read on to discover even more inspiring female poets. 


Hiddensee

by Annie Freud

Book cover for 9781529037685

This upcoming collection from T. S. Eliot Prize-shortlisted Annie Freud is rich and multi-textured. Taking inspiration and aspiration from French-language Swiss poet Jacques Tornay, whom Freud identifies as a spiritual brother, the collection offers a refreshing, intriguing, and multi-linguistic approach. Freud’s work encourages exploration and confrontation of difficult truths, ranging between topics of illness and desire, crossing barriers of taboo and language and arriving at a wholly new way of thinking and expressing.

Wedding Readings and Poems

by Becky Brown

Book cover for 9781529052596

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library, this newly curated anthology of romantic, funny, traditional and alternative wedding poems and readings for weddings is the perfect gift for newlyweds and wedding guests. 

Featuring classic poems from poets such as  John Keats, William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, readings from best-loved classic books, and less-traditional extracts about the different facets of marriage, there's something perfect for every type of wedding, and couple, in this beautiful collectable clothbound collection.

The best poetry books of 2020

Cannibal

by Safiya Sinclair

Book cover for 9781529030235

The poems in Safiya Sinclair’s debut collection bloom with an intense lyricism and fertile imagery that evoke the poet’s Jamaican childhood as they explore race, history, womanhood and exile. Colliding with and confronting The Tempest and postcolonial identity, Safiya shocks and delights her readers with her willingness to disorient and provoke.

My Darling from the Lions

by Rachel Long

Book cover for 9781529045161

Founder of Octavia Poetry Collective for Womxn of Colour, Rachel Long’s much-anticipated first collection is an exciting showcase of her unique lyrical voice, tempered with dry wit and an unwavering political pulse. Long’s storytelling shines in this collection, as she explores ideas ranging from race and family to sexual and body politics. This collection is intimate and warm, her honesty disarming, and her poetic agility a joy to journey through.

The Problem of the Many

by Timothy Donnelly

Book cover for 9781529041262

Timothy Donnelly’s poetry is sprawling, panoramic and unflinching in its delivery of philosophical insights on our modern age. The title of the collection, The Problem of the Many, is a reference to a metaphysical conundrum that questions whether there are boundaries to ordinary objects, for example: there are many ways that a cloud can be made from many different water droplets. In Donnelly’s collection, he applies this same thinking to the practice of exploring identity, boundaries and belonging. The poet’s work is gilded by his protean way with images and concepts; by stitching together a dense tapestry of facts he provides a fascinating and all-consuming new perspective on the human condition.

How to Grow Your Own Poem

by Kate Clanchy

Book cover for 9781529024692

In How to Grow Your Own Poem, award-winning poet Kate Clanchy eases budding poets through the process of bringing their poetic attempts to life. Whether you are an absolute beginner or have dabbled in poetry before, Clanchy’s accessible and digestible guide provides a friendly companion to tackling your blank notebook page and staring down the much-reviled blinking cursor in your empty Word document. Prepare to unlock the poems that have been germinating inside you.


The best poetry collections

Collected Poems

by Carol Ann Duffy

Book cover for 9781447231752

Former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy is a stalwart of the English school curriculum and for good reason - her work is gently probing, often playful, rich with lyricism, and appeals to readers of all ages. Collected Poems, which includes all of the poems from her nine acclaimed poetry volumes, showcases the poet’s extraordinary range. It provides the perfect introduction to new readers, and a celebratory coming-together of her work for those who have enjoyed Duffy’s poetry for decades.

Selected Poems

by John Glenday

Book cover for 9781529037715

Scottish poet John Glenday largely writes short lyrics in English; his works are known for their precision and economy, but often shot through with a burbling surreal humour. He is a poet who grounds his work in fine observation and attention to both the natural and social world. This collection explores the elemental themes that are characteristic of his poetry, as well as bridging the distance between the familiar and unknown.


Best modern poetry books

Alexa, what is there to know about love?

by Brian Bilston

Book cover for 9781529059588
Read extract

Alexa, what is there to know about Love? is a wonderful collection of poems about love in all its forms, covering everything from romantic love to familial love, to long-distance love, and even love on the internet.

Read extract

Read our interview with Brian Bilston, the unofficial Poet Laureate of Twitter. 


The Fire of Joy

by Clive James

Book cover for 9781529042085

This highly personal anthology is a collection of Clive James’s favourite poems, poems which he hoped would inspire the reader to discover and learn, and perhaps even speak poetry aloud. Each poem is accompanied by a commentary from Clive which conveys both his enthusiasm and the benefit of his knowledge. Completed just before his death, his urgent wish was to share with a new generation the poetry that he had loved.

Discover some of Clive James's favourite poems to read aloud.


Grimoire

by Robin Robertson

Book cover for 9781529051117

A grimoire is a manual for invoking spirits. Here, Robin Robertson and his brother Tim Robertson – whose accompanying images are as striking as cave-paintings – raise strange new forms which speak not only of the potency of our myths and superstitions, but how they were used to balance and explain the world and its predicaments. Haunting and elemental, Grimoire has the same charged beauty as the Scottish landscape – a beauty that can switch, with a mere change in the weather, to hostility and terror.

Find out more about the Scottish mythology that inspired Robin Robertson's Grimoire.


Bantam

by Jackie Kay

Book cover for 9781509863174

This fearless collection, Jackie Kay’s first as Scottish Makar – the National Poet for Scotland – explores themes of loss and renewal across three generations: the poet’s own, her father’s, and his father’s. Jackie Kay’s poetry is deft and agile, resisting hyperbole or laboured exaggeration. Her work is threaded through with an unequivocal politics of compassion, aiming her pen directly at inequality but never spilling over into heavy-handed polemic. 

The Readiness

by Alan Gillis

Book cover for 9781529037661

Belfast-born poet Alan Gilis in his Picador debut strikes out with a reassuring confidence crackling with dry wit. This collection explores themes that feel incredibly timely: the unsettled self, the disruptions and dislocations of society, the resilient beauty of nature in the face of human destruction and the overbearing presence of the digital realm. The Readiness is an inquiry into connection and disconnection, delving into the heart of the myths and confusions of modernity and finding truths to be shared within. 

Whereas

by Layli Long Soldier

Book cover for 9781529012804

Layli Long Soldier is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Her first poetry collection, Whereas, is a winner of multiple awards and offers a profound poetic engagement with public and political language. She orchestrates a lyrical response to the legislation, policies and apologies from the government of the United States with regards to the indigenous people of America. She explores these texts and provides a new way of thinking about their purpose and meaning through an array of poems from long narratives to short resolutions. This collection beautifully exposes language’s deception and the predicaments of belonging.

England

by Kate Clanchy

Book cover for 9781509886609

What began as a small school poetry club blossomed into this unique anthology, which brings together poems written by budding young poets from Oxford Spires Academy. Kate Clanchy’s England showcases an England enriched and owned by all who live here. Far from the screaming tabloid headlines, the poems collected speak about the experience of migration and belonging with delicate nuance, complexity, and powerful artistry.  

Discover more about some of the poets featured in England


The Luckiest Guy Alive

by John Cooper Clarke

Book cover for 9781509896066

The Luckiest Guy Alive is the first new book of poetry from Dr John Cooper Clarke for several decades – and a brilliant, scabrous, hilarious collection from one of our most beloved and influential writers and performers.

Cooper Clarke’s status as the ‘Emperor of Punk Poetry’ is certainly confirmed here, but so is his reputation as a brilliant versifier, a poet of vicious wit and a razor-sharp social satirist. Effortlessly immediate and contemporary, full of hard-won wisdom and expert blindsidings, The Luckiest Guy Alive shows one of the most compelling poets of the age on truly exceptional form.

Watch John Cooper Clarke perform 'I Wrote the Songs' from The Luckiest Guy Alive.


Running Upon the Wires

by Kae Tempest

Book cover for 9781509830022

Running Upon The Wires is Kate Tempest’s first book of free-standing poetry since the acclaimed Hold Your Own. In a beautifully varied series of formal poems, spoken songs, fragments, vignettes and ballads, Tempest charts the heartbreak at the end of one relationship and the joy at the beginning of a new love; but also tells us what happens in between, when the heart is pulled both ways at once. Running Upon The Wires is a heartbreaking, moving and joyous book about love, in its endings and in its beginnings.

Watch Kae Tempest perform Running Upon the Wires


Insomnia

by John Kinsella

Book cover for 9781529009767

The Australian poet John Kinsella’s vivid and urgent new collection addresses the crisis of being that currently afflicts us: Kinsella addresses a situation where the creations of the human imagination, the very means by which we extend our empathies into the world – art, music and philosophy – suddenly find themselves in a world that not only denies their importance, but can sometimes seem to have no use for them at all. In an attempt to find a still point from which we might reconfigure our perspective and address the paradoxes of our contemporary experience, Kinsella has written poems of self-accusation and angry protest, meditations on the nature of loss and trauma, and full-throated celebrations of the natural world.

Watch John Kinsella read 'The Bulldozer Poem' from Insomnia, and find out more about the collection. 


Best classic poetry books

Selected Poems

by John Keats

Book cover for 9781509887170

John Keats famously died at the tender young age of twenty-five, allegedly after having caught tuberculosis while caring for his sick brother Tom. He achieved much in his tragically short life; after abandoning his burgeoning career as an apothecary, he dedicated his remaining years to harnessing the poetic muse, and produced memorable works such as Ode on a Grecian Urn, and Ode to a Nightingale. This delightful clothbound, pocket-sized collection brings together a range of his odes and ballads, including poems published both during his lifetime and posthumously.

Read on for our edit of our favourite John Keats poems.


Poems of Thomas Hardy

by Thomas Hardy

Book cover for 9781509826803

In 1896 Thomas Hardy, author of novels considered fictional masterpieces such as Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d'Urbervilles, announced that he would no longer write novels, much to the dismay of his readers. He went on to write eight volumes of poetry; the best verse from each volume is brought together in this collection. Hardy’s poetry explores themes of grief, war, rural life and nature, and is often characterised by an earthy frankness and sincere reverence for being. This collection is a well-curated primer for those new to Hardy and those returning to his solid verse.

Discover our edit of our favourite Thomas Hardy poems. 


Leaves of Grass

by Walt Whitman

Book cover for 9781509887187

Walt Whitman’s poetry is sensitive, compelling and turbo-charged. The locomotives for his poetry are vast topics such as the state of the nation (his nation – the US) and the human condition. Whitman took inspiration from his travels through the American frontier, and challenged the form and thrust of modern poetry, laying the path for those who would follow in his footsteps and flesh out the American poetic canon such as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg. This collection, Leaves of Grass, was first published in 1855, and Whitman revised and expanded it throughout his lifetime.

Read a selection of Walt Whitman's best poems here. 


Selected Poems

by William Wordsworth

Book cover for 9781529011890

Selected Poems is a collection of Wordsworth’s most acclaimed and influential works, from his best known poem, ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’, to an extract from his magnum opus The Prelude. A pioneering Romantic poet, Wiliam Wordsworth addressed the natural world and human emotion, and revolutionized poetry.

Discover some of the best-loved William Wordsworth poems. 


Songs of Innocence and of Experience

by William Blake

Book cover for 9781529025859

Including many of Blake’s best-loved poems, such as ‘The Tiger’, ‘The Lamb’ and ‘The Chimney Sweeper’, this beautiful edition of Songs of Innocence and Experience contains stunning reproductions of the illustrations that Blake etched himself to accompany the poems.

Read on to discover a selection of the poems and illustrations from William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience.


Best poetry books for children

SLAM! You're Gonna Wanna Hear This

by Nikita Gill

Book cover for 9781529028300

This anthology is a joyful celebration of the groundbreaking performance poets who are making a splash in the world of spoken word. From well-known artists such as Raymond Antrobus and Sophia Thakur to up-and-coming poets, this is the perfect introduction to the world of modern poetry. 

Read Nikita Gill on the power of performance poetry. 


A Poem for Every Day of the Year

by Allie Esiri

Book cover for 9781509860548

Allie Esiri has complied this wonderful anthology of 366 poems, one to share on every day of the year. Reflections by classic poets sit cheek-by-jowl with the ruminations of new voices, providing an eclectic and inspiring mix of poems exploring the shifting seasons, cultural holidays and more. The collection includes something for everyone. Spanning comedic ditties and gentle meditations, Esiri’s book is perfectly curated for young poetry-lovers. A Poem for Every Night of the Year is a charming companion collection. 

Poems to Save the World With

by Chris Riddell

Book cover for 9781529040111

Bringing together an eclectic mix of new poets and old favourites, Chris Riddell’s Poems to Save the World With includes new drum beats to inspire resistance, and familiar rhythms to soothe frayed nerves in a time of turmoil. This beautifully illustrated collection is bursting with inspiration and dedications to building a better world.