"Spring and All," William Carlos Williams
This seminal William Carlos Williams book opens the list only in part because Adam Driver's character in Paterson (also named Paterson) reads Williams's "This Is Just to Say" to his wife in their kitchen. The poems in Spring and All are compact, each creating in just a few words a single image that readers will find themselves dwelling on long after they've finished this quick, 100-page book. Why is something as mundane a red wheelbarrow so enigmatic?
"The Red Wheelbarrow"
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
chickens. —William Carlos Williams
"Spring and All," William Carlos Williams, $8, amazon.com.
"Lunch Poems," Frank O'Hara
O'Hara was funny and at turns just a little perverse and incredibly tender. His Lunch Poems read as if scratched off in a hurry, like he said, "OK, I've got an hour. I can either stand in line for a chopped salad that I'll then eat alone at my desk, or I can write a few lines about a famous actor I like who collapsed in public." Luckily for us, he chose the latter.
"Lunch Poems," Frank O'Hara, $11, citylights.com.
"Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee," Megan Boyle
If you've ever become anxious just from the social interaction involved in ordering a sandwich at a bodega, this is the book for you. If you've ever holed up in your apartment for several days, and then stressed about not communicating with anyone, this is the book for you. If you've ever wanted to see the words "Billy Zane" appear in a poem, this is the book for you. Boyle captures the isolation and thrill of a life in which most friendships are forged online and one's identity is informed directly by Tumblr consumption.
"tonight i ate a lot of fried foods / there are helicopters outside / i wonder if my coworker knows i googled him and read his blog." —Megan Boyle
"Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee," Megan Boyle, $12, amazon.com.
"Howl and Other Poems," Allen Ginsberg
In a time when so many poets are trying to keep their work politically and socially engaged, it's good to look back at what might be the 20th century's most socially engaged poem, "Howl." The lines are epic in length, and each section will leave you breathless and dizzy. This is the poem that popularized Beat culture and established Ginsberg as one of the premier political poets in the U.S.
"Howl and Other Poems," Allen Ginsberg, $6, citylights.com.
"Of Lamb," Matthea Harvey
This gorgeous collaboration with illustrator Amy Jean Porter was created after Harvey happened upon a biography of essayist Charles Lamb. She discovered that the names "Mary" and "Lamb" appeared on every page, and she began an erasure of the biography from which emerged a narrative that is surreal, funny, and often dark.
"Of Lamb," Matthea Harvey, $22, mcsweeneys.net.
"The Dream Songs," John Berryman
Throughout Berryman's "Dream Songs" series appears a hapless character named Henry, whom Berryman seems to have created as an extension of himself. "Henry does resemble me, and I resemble Henry; but on the other hand I am not Henry. You know, I pay income tax; Henry pays no income tax," Berryman once said in an interview. If you've ever felt just overwhelmingly bored, then Berryman's reflections on boredom—which makes up one of his most famous poems, "Dream Song 14"—will have you realizing just how profound an experience that can be.
"Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so." —John Berryman
"The Dream Songs," John Berryman, $19, macmillan.com.
"The Book of Feral Flora, Amanda Ackerman
What if plants could talk? What if they could dictate poetry to a scientist and a poet? For this collection, Ackerman first wrote a series of poems, then recorded herself reading the poems, and sent the recordings to a programmer. The programmer then played the recordings for various plants, using sensors to monitor the plants' electrical currents and their response to the frequencies of the recording. The numbers from these measurements were then assigned words from Ackerman's original poems, allowing the plants to essentially rewrite the poems.
"The Book of Feral Flora, Amanda Ackerman," $17, lesfigues.com.