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13 poems that just might get under your skin (and change your life)

liz lamoreux


I love poetry. Poets save me with their truth-telling, getting-right-to-it, you-are-not-alone ways. And lately, I've begun to feel like we need them more than ever before.

Here are 13 poems that just might change your life. At the very least, they will get under your skin and make you think. And if you're new to poetry, they just might make you fall in love with it.

1. "The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry: My mother sends out emails to a group of us a few times a week. They are dispatches to support the resistance, filled with information and encouragement. I sent her this poem after she sent the last one. It's one we all need. (And you can hear Mr. Berry read it when you click through. The best.)

2. "Enough" by David Whyte: This poem is short, and really it's at the heart of what I hope you most know to be true. If you're new to David Whyte, start with River Flow, which is a collection of his poems from his first five volumes of poetry. I also highly recommend his audio CDs of poetry and non-fiction. 

3. "Forgetfulness" by Billy Collins: When you click through, you can also hear him read it. Go ahead and do that right now.

This is the part where I tell you (and tell me), please make sure all the poets you read aren't white men. So let's dig deeper into the world of poetry, shall we?

4. "won't you celebrate with me" by Lucille Clifton: Love her words here on "where ideas come from" and the importance of attention.  

5. "Kindness" by Naomi Shihab Nye: This poem feels like one of the most important things we can read right now. 

6. "French Chocolates" by Ellen Bass: This poem gets right to the truth of what it feels like when you are going through the shit of life and people keep saying platitudes and you keep wondering if you're invisible. I freaking love this poem.

8. "Persimmons" by Li-Young Lee. Read this one aloud. And then read it aloud again tomorrow. And then the day after. Read it until you can feel the dance of the language and the heartache and the beauty twirling together.

9. "Let America Be America Again" by Langston Hughes: This poem. This poem. This poem. Please read the whole thing. Out loud. And then sit in the quiet, thinking, listening, learning.

10. "I Am Offering This Poem" by Jimmy Santiago Baca: I read this poem through a few times but it wasn't until I head the poet read it himself that I felt it in my bones. Listen to him read it here.

11. "The Powwow at the End of the Earth" by Sherman Alexie: This poem is like a sermon. Pay attention.

12. "Apollo" by Elizabeth Alexander: For a poem to really capture me, there has to be a sense of place - meaning I have to be able to get my footing as a reader. Maybe the reality is that I just need this sense of place to "get" the poem and it has nothing to do with the poet. This poem immediately gives a sense of place while shoving me into a part of the story I'd never have thought of if the poet hadn't written this.

13. "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver: If you know me well, you are probably wondering how I got all the way to 13 before mentioning Mary Oliver. I imagine I'll do a 13 Things post just about her. Until then, read this one. And even better, listen to Mary read it when you click through. This is one of her most famous poems, and I put it on this list because even if you know it, it is one to read again and again as it sinks into your bones. Also, the collection of poems in Red Bird always bring me home when I'm off center.

What poems have pushed you and gotten under your skin? Please share in the comments.

And if you feel a poem inside you start to brew, to dance, to speak aloud, start writing, dear one. Start writing right now.