10 poetry collections for people who think they don't do poetry

For anyone who thinks poetry can only be either esoteric or clichéd, here are 10 collections that will change your mind. 

1. Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds

 A stunningly poignant sequence of poems that tells the story of a divorce, embracing strands of love, sex, sorrow, memory, and new freedom.

2. Throat by Ellen van Neerven

The explosive second poetry collection from award-winning Mununjali Yugambeh writer Ellen van Neerven. Exploring love, language and land, van Neerven flexes their muscles and shines a light on Australia’s unreconciled past and precarious present with humour and heart. Unsparing in its interrogation of colonial impulse, this book is fiercely loyal to voicing our truth and telling the stories that make us who we are.

3. Citizen by Claudia Rankine

In this moving, critical and fiercely intelligent collection of prose poems, Claudia Rankine examines the experience of race and racism in Western society through sharp vignettes of everyday discrimination and prejudice, and longer meditations on the violence - whether linguistic or physical - which has impacted the lives of Serena Williams, Zinedine Zidane, Mark Duggan and others.

4. Dropbear by Evelyn Araluen

This fierce debut confronts the tropes and iconography of an unreconciled nation with biting satire and lyrical fury. Dropbear interrogates the complexities of colonial and personal history with an alternately playful, tender and mournful intertextual voice, deftly navigating the responsibilities that gather from sovereign country, the spectres of memory and the debris of settler-coloniality. This innovative mix of poetry and essay offers an eloquent witness to the entangled present, an uncompromising provocation of history, and an embattled but redemptive hope for a decolonial future.

5. I Said the Sea Was Folded by Erik Jensen

A fragmentary account of life and its complexities, I said the sea was folded charts the first three years of Erik Jensen’s relationship with his partner, Evelyn Ida Morris. These are love poems, written against the difficulty of understanding another person. They are startling in their simplicity and their frankness.

6. Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

Steeped in war and cultural upheaval and wielding a fresh new language, Vuong writes about the most profound subjects - love and loss, conflict, grief, memory and desire - and attends to them all with lines that feel newly-minted, graceful in their cadences, passionate and hungry in their tender, close attention: '.the chief of police/facedown in a pool of Coca-Cola./A palm-sized photo of his father soaking/beside his left ear.' This is an unusual, important book: both gentle and visceral, vulnerable and assured, and its blend of humanity and power make it one of the best first collections of poetry to come out of America in years.

Saunders' debut poetry collection is a pleasure to lose yourself in. Kirli has a keen eye for observation, humour and big themes that surround Love/Connection/Loss in an engaging style, complemented by evocative and poignant imagery. It talks to identity, culture, community and the role of Earth as healer. Kindred has the ability to grab hold of the personal in the universal and reflect this back to the reader.

8. Carrying the World by Maxine Beneba Clarke

A haunting visit to the International Museum of Slavery, in Liverpool England. A feisty young black girl pushing back against authority. The joy and despair of single parenthood. A love-hate relationship with words. Maxine Beneba Clarke is one of Australia's most innovative and celebrated poets. This collection brings the best of a decade-long international poetry career to the page.

9. The Lost Arabs by Omar Sakr

Visceral and energetic, Omar Sakr’s poetry confronts notions of identity and belonging head-on. Braiding together sexuality and divinity, conflict and redemption, The Lost Arabs is a seething, urgent collection from a distinctive new voice.

10. What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer

Through poems that are as unforgettably beautiful as they are accessible, Kate Baer proves herself to truly be an exemplary voice in modern poetry. Her words make women feel seen in their own bodies, in their own marriages, and in their own lives. Her poems are those you share with your mother, your daughter, your sister, and your friends.

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