Doren Damico

Poets to Explore

How are we to learn the craft of wordsmithing?  Study poets.  Eat poetry for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Write.

ink runs

Here is an eclectic list of poets to explore.  This list was developed from the suggestions of several poet friends who shared their top three favorite poets, and resulted in the currently 41  poets featured.  I’ve curated photos, an excerpt, and website links to learn more about these poets and their writing.   May you be nurtured and inspired by their lives and works.

Featured Poets:  

Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Gloria Anzaldúa, Nikki Giovanni, Ntozake Shange, Margaret Atwood, H.D., Annie Dillard, Sarojini Naidu, Marina Tsvetaeva, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Sappho, Andrea Gibson, Mark Strand, Walt Whitman, Charles Baudelaire, W.B. Yeats, Linton Kwesi Johnson, John Trudell, Leonard Cohen, John Milton, Roger Waters, T.S. Elliot, Robert Frost, Shakespeare, Gary Snyder, Robert Hunter, Thich Nhat Hanh, John Keats, Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac, Shane Koyczan, Tupac Shakur, Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sergei Yesenin, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Alexander Pushkin

Sonia Sanchez

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“once i lived on pillars in a green house
boarded by lilacs that rocked voices into weeds.
i bled an owl’s blood
shredding the grass until i
rocked in a choir of worms.
obscene with hands, i wooed the world
with thumbs
                                        while yo-yos hummed.”

from ‘under a soprano sky’

Sonia Sanchez Website

Maya Angelou

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“We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth”

                                 from ‘A Brave and Startling Truth’

Maya Angelou on Poemhunter

Sylvia Plath

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“Take the general mumble,
blunt as the faceless gut
of an anonymous clam,
vernacular as the strut
of a slug or a small preamble
by snail under hump of home:

metamorphose the mollusk
of vague vocabulary
with the structural discipline:
stiffen the ordinary
malleable mask
to the granite grin of bone.”

                               from ‘Notes to a Neophyte’

Sylvia Plath on Poetry Foundation

Gloria Anzaldúa

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“I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing.
I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white.
I will have my serpent’s tongue
— my woman’s voice,
my sexual voice,
my poet’s voice.
   I will overcome the tradition of silence.”

from ‘How to Tame the Wild Tongue’

Gloria Anzaldua on Poetry Foundation

Nikki Giovanni

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“I wrote a good omelet…and ate
a hot poem… after loving you
Buttoned my car…and drove my
coat home…in the rain…
after loving you
I goed on red…and stopped on
green…floating somewhere in between…
being here and being there…
after loving you
I rolled my bed…turned down
my hair…slightly
confused but…I don’t care…
Laid out my teeth…and gargled my
gown…then I stood
…and laid me down…
To sleep…
after loving you”

‘I Wrote a Good Omelet’

Nikki Giovanni Website

Ntozake Shange

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“you were always inconsistent
doin somethin & then bein sorry
beatin my heart to death
talkin bout you sorry
well
i will not call
i’m not goin to be nice
i will raise my voice
& scream & holler
& break things & race the engine
& tell all yr secrets bout yrself to yr face
& i will list in detail everyone of my wonderful lovers
& their ways
i will play oliver lake
loud
& i wont be sorry for none of it”

from ‘Sorry’

Ntozake Shange on Poem Hunter

Margaret Atwood

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“I just sit where I’m put, composed
of stone and wishful thinking:
that the deity who kills for pleasure
will also heal,
that in the midst of your nightmare,
the final one, a kind lion
will come with bandages in her mouth
and the soft body of a woman,
and lick you clean of fever,
and pick your soul up gently by the nape of the neck
and caress you into darkness and paradise.”

from ‘Sekhmet, The Lion-Headed Goddess of War

Margaret Atwood Website

H. D.

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“if you make one false move,
I will slay you;
I hate and have no fear
you can not betray me,
you can not betray us,
not the Sun,
who is your Lord;

for you are abstract,
making no mistake,
slurring no word
in the rhythm you make,
the poem,
writ in the air.”

from ‘The Dancer’

H. D. on Poetry Foundation

Annie Dillard

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“…poetry has been able to function quite directly as human interpretation of the raw, loose universe. It is a mixture, if you will, of journalism and metaphysics, or of science and religion.”

from ‘Living Fiction’

Annie Dillard Website

Sarojini Naidu

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“Tarry a while, till I am satisfied
Of love and grief, of earth and altering sky;
Till all my human hungers are fulfilled,
O Death, I cannot die!”

from ‘The Poet to Death’

Sarojini Naidu on Poem Hunter

Marina Tsvetaeva

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“For my poems, written so early
That I didn’t even know I was a poet,
Hurled like drops from a fountain,
Like sparks from rockets,

That burst like tiny devils,
Into the sanctuary of sleep and incense,
For my poems about youth and death
— For my unread poems!

Scattered in dusty bookstores,
Where no one ever buys them!
For my poems, like precious wines,
A time will come.”

from ‘For My Poems, Written So Early

Marina Tsvetaeva on Poem Hunter

Brigit Pegeen Kelly

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“My father said I could not do it,
but all night I picked the peaches.
The orchard was still, the canals ran steadily.
I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden.
How many ladders to gather an orchard?
I had only one and a long patience with lit hands
and the looking of the stars which moved right through me
the way the water moved through the canals with a voice
that seemed to speak of this moonless gathering
and those who had gathered before me.”

from ‘The Leaving’

Briget Pegeen Kelly onPoetry Foundation

Sappho

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“O soft and dainty maiden, from afar
I watch you, as amidst the flowers you move,
And pluck them, singing.

More golden than all gold your tresses are:
Never was harp-note like your voice, my love,
Your voice sweet-ringing.”

‘To A Girl in a Garden’

Sappho at Poetry Foundation

Andrea Gibson

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“This is my heartbeat
Like yours, it is a hatchet
It can build a house, or tear one down
My mouth is a fire escape
The words coming out don’t care that they are naked
There is something burning in here
When it burns, I hold my own shell to my ear
Listen for the parade when I was seven
The man who played the bagpipes wore a skirt
He was from Scotland- I wanted to move there
Wanted my spine to be the spine of an unpublished book
My fate, the first and last page”

from ‘I Sing the Body Electric; Especially When My Power is Out’

Andrea Gibson Website

Mark Strand

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“Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.”

from ‘The Coming of Light’

Mark Strand from Poetry Foundation

Walt Whitman

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“The smoke of my own breath,
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.”
from ‘Song of Myself’

Walt Whitman Archive

Charles Baudelaire

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“Pascal’s abyss went with him at his side,
closer than blood—alas, activity,
dreams, words, desire: all holes! On every side,
spaces, the bat-wing of insanity!”
                                                                                                                                                          

from ‘The Abyss’
(Translation by R. J. Dent)

Hear an amazing musical rendition of the translation here!

Charles Baudelaire at Poetry Foundation

W.B. Yeats

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“i{He.} Never until this night have I been stirred.

The elaborate starlight throws a reflection
On the dark stream,
Till all the eddies gleam;
And thereupon there comes that scream
From terrified, invisible beast or bird:
Image of poignant recollection.”

from ‘An Image From a Past Life’

W. B. Yeats on Poets.org

Linton Kwesi Johnson

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“I was wondering if I could shape this passion
Just as I wanted in solid fire.
I was wondering if the strange combustion of my days
The tension of the world inside of me
And the strength of my heart were enough.
I was wondering if I could stand as tall,
While the tide of the sea rose and fell.
If the sky would recede as I went,
Or the earth would emerge as I came
To the door of the morning, locked against the sun.”

                                 from ‘Poems of Shape and Motion’

Listen to LKJ perform Poems of Shape and Motion

Check out Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Bio

John Trudell

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“Fools wait for a lucky day
but every day
Three things cannot be long hidden:
the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

                                                                                        from the John Trudell Archives

Official John Trudell Archives

Leonard Cohen

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“Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook,
like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
If I, if I have been unkind,
I hope that you can just let it go by.
If I, if I have been untrue
                                                   I hope you know it was never to you”                                                                                                                                                                          

from ‘Bird on a Wire’

Leonard Cohen Files

Leonard Cohen on Poem Hunter

John Milton

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“Fly, envious Time, till thou run out thy race,
Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,
Whose speed is but the heavy plummet’s pace;
And glut thyself with what thy womb devours,
Which is no more than what is false and vain,
And merely mortal dross;
So little is our loss,
So little is thy gain.”

                                                                                                                            from ‘On Time’

John Milton on Poetry Foundation

Roger Waters

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“Crystal clear brooks
When the time comes
And the last day dawns
And the air of the piper warms
The high crags of the old country
When the holy writ blows
Like burned paper away
And wise men concede
That there’s more than one way
More than one path
More than one book
More than one fisherman
More than one hook
When the cats have been skinned
And the fish have been hooked
When the masters of war
Are our masters no more
When old friends take their whiskey
Outside on the porch
We will have done well
If we’re able to say
As the sun settles down
On that final day
That we never gave in
That we did all we could
So the kids could go fishing
In crystal clear brooks”

‘Crystal Clear Brooks’
for the children of Gaza

Roger Waters Official Website
T.S. Elliot
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“As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved
in her laughter and being part of it, until her
teeth were only accidental stars with a talent
for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps,
inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally
in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by
the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter
with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading
a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty
green iron table, saying: “If the lady and
gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden,
if the lady and gentleman wish to take their
tea in the garden …” I decided that if the
shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of
the fragments of the afternoon might be collected,
and I concentrated my attention with careful
subtlety to this end.”

‘Hysteria’

T. S. Elliot Poets.org

Robert Frost
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“Sea waves are green and wet,
But up from where they die,
Rise others vaster yet,
And those are brown and dry.

They are the sea made land
To come at the fisher town,
And bury in solid sand
The men she could not drown.

She may know cove and cape,
But she does not know mankind
If by any change of shape,
She hopes to cut off mind.

Men left her a ship to sink:
They can leave her a hut as well;
And be but more free to think
For the one more cast-off shell.”

‘Sand Dunes’

Robert Frost on Poem Hunter

Shakespeare

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“My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
Th’ uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as mad men’s are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed.
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.”

‘Sonnet 147’

William Shakespeare

Gary Snyder
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“Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
placed solid, by hands
In coice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
straying planets,
These poems, people,
lost ponies with
Dragging saddles–
and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
four-dimensional
Game of Go.
ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.”

‘Riprap’

Gary Snyder at Poetry Foundation

Robert Hunter

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“Sometimes we live no
particular way but our own
Sometimes we visit your country
and live in your home
Sometimes we ride on your horses
Sometimes we walk alone
Sometimes the songs that we hear
are just songs of our own

Wake up to find out
that you are the eyes of the world
but the heart has its beaches
its homeland and thoughts of its own
Wake now, discover that you
are the song that the morning brings
but the heart has its seasons
its evenings and songs of its own”

from ‘Eyes of the World’

Robert Hunter on All Music

Thich Nhat Hanh

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“Compassion is a beautiful flower born of understanding.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

John Keats
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“O SOLITUDE! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,-
Nature’s observatory – whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.”

‘O Solitude, If I Must with Thee Dwell’

John Keats.com

Edgar Allen Poe

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“Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.”

from ‘A Dream Within a Dream’

Poe on Poetry Foundation

 Jack Kerouac

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“Tears is the break of my brow,
The moony tempestuous
Sitting downIn dark railyards
When to see my mother’s face
Recalling from the waking vision
I wept to understand
The trap mortality
And personal blood of earth
Which saw me in—Father father
Why hast thou forsaken me?
Mortality & unpleasure
Roam this city—
Unhappiness my middle name
I want to be saved,-
Sunk—can’t be
Won’t be
Never was made—
So retch!”

‘On Tears’

Jack Kerouac.com

Shane Koyczan

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“…but I want to tell them
that all of this shit
is just debris
leftover when we finally decide to smash all the things we thought
we used to be
and if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself
get a better mirror
look a little closer
stare a little longer
because there’s something inside you
that made you keep trying
despite everyone who told you to quit
you built a cast around your broken heart
and signed it yourself
you signed it
‘they were wrong'”

from ‘To This Day’

Shane Koyczan.com

Shane on Youtube

Tupac Shakur

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“excuse me but lady liberty needs glasses
and so does mrs justice by her side
both the broads r blind as bats
stumbling thru the system
justice bumbed into mutulu and
trippin on geronimo pratt
but stepped right over oliver
and his crooked partner ronnie

justice stubbed her big toe on mandela
and liberty was misquoted by the indians
slavery was a learning phase
forgotten with out a verdict
while justice is on a rampage
4 endangered surviving black males
i mean really if anyone really valued life
and cared about the masses
theyd take em both 2 pen optical
and get 2 pair of glasses”

‘Liberty Needs Glasses’

Tupac Shakur on Biography.com

Tupac Hologram Show 2012

Pablo Neruda

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“And it was at that time… Poetry came
to find me. Don’t know, don’t know from where,
it leapt, winter or the river.
Don’t know how or when
no, not words, not
voices, not silence,
but I was called from the street,
from the branches of the night,
suddenly, from the others,
in violent flames,
or coming back alone,
I, without a face,
it touched me.”

from ‘Poetry’

The Neruda Foundation

Neruda Translated to English

Rumi

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“the time has come
to break all my promises
tear apart all chains
and cast away all advice

disassemble the heavens
link by link
and break at once
all lovers’ ties
with the sword of death

put cotton inside
both my ears
and close them to
all words of wisdom

crash the door and
enter the chamber
where all sweet
things are hidden”

from ‘the time has come’

Jalal al-Din Rumi on Poets.org

Rainer Maria Rilke

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“My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.”

from ‘A Walk’

Rilke on Poetry Foundation

Sergei Yesenin

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“The tired day droops, slowly waning ,
The noisy waves are now tranquil.
The sun has set, the moon is sailing
Above the world, absorbed and still.

The valley listens to the babbles
Of peaceful river in the dale.
The forest, dark and bending, slumbers
To warbling of the nightingale.

The river, listening in and fondling,
Talks with the banks in quiet hush.
And up above resounds, a-rolling,
The merry rustle of the rush.”

‘The Tired Day Droops’

Yesenin on The Ink Brain

Vladimir Mayakovsky

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“Past one o’clock. You must have gone to bed.
The Milky Way streams silver through the night.
I’m in no hurry; with lightning telegrams
I have no cause to wake or trouble you.
And, as they say, the incident is closed.
Love’s boat has smashed against the daily grind.
Now you and I are quits. Why bother then
to balance mutual sorrows, pains, and hurts.
Behold what quiet settles on the world.
Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
In hours like these, one rises to address
The ages, history, and all creation.”

from ‘Past One O’Clock’ (Shorter Version)

Mayakovsky on Poets.org

Alexander Pushkin

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“In alien lands I keep the body
Of ancient native rites and things:
I gladly free a little birdie
At celebration of the spring.

I’m now free for consolation,
And thankful to almighty Lord:
At least, to one of his creations
I’ve given freedom in this world!”

‘A Little Bird’

 Pushkin Biography and Museum