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The Essential Rumi by Jalal al-Din Rumi
Here's my confession of today--a day that just happens to be the first of National Poetry Month: I don't read enough verse, I barely know cantos and I'm woefully unfamiliar with sonnets. In other words, I'm a poetry slacker--which is pretty terrible given that there was once a time when I studied in a program that required knowledge of a lot of Latin American poetry. (But that was many decades ago) So I've been rifling through my personal book shelves, as well as the electronic ones here, to come up with a list of five poets I have read and think should be the basis of everybody's (read: my) personal poetry project going forward.
Rumi: A guy I know is so interested in the 13th century Islamic poet known as Rumi that he went off to study Persian so he could read him in the original language. Some say Rumi is the most read poet in America, today; he's universally lauded as a great spiritualist. As with most international writers, there's much debate over the quality of myriad translations, but most seem to agree that The Essential Rumi is true to the spirit of the work.
Pablo Neruda. A holdover favorite from my college days, Neruda is thought by some today to be too romantic, too flowery, a little too "obvious." I don't care what they say: I defy anybody who has ever been in love or longed to be "“ which would be, oh, I don't know, maybe 110% of the world's population --to get through 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair without an emotional reaction.
William Carlos Williams. This New Jersey doctor/poet is often taught to non-poetry readers because he writes in such simple language and about such mundane things as the plums in the refrigerator. (A number of my acquaintance, whether poetry deprived or no, point to This is Just to Say as one of their favorite works) I'd say start with Selected Poems and work your way up to the book-length Paterson, about (of all places) Paterson, New Jersey, the next town over from where Williams lived much of his life.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Victorian Elizabeth Barrett Browning Is the poet whom most high-schoolers would likely consider among the most quotable. ("How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height.") What they (and I) don't really realize is how much she wrote, and how broad her range. She started writing at 12, (an epic poem) and by the end of her life she had written more about political issues of the day than ways to love.
Shel Silverstein. Hard to know, if we have to pick one book, whether to choose The Giving Tree or Where the Sidewalk Ends. While we tend to think of him as a children's poet, Silverstein actually wrote for adults for years before he was persuaded by an editor to write for kids. (Some of his early children's poems appeared in Playboy. So there.) Some people presumably will laugh at his inclusion in a list of "real" poets, but it's fair to say that Silverstein has touched as many readers as anyone: it has been reported that he has sold over 20 million books.