Favourite Poets


Stu Bagby

September's "Favourite Poet" is the highly regarded New Zealand poet, Stu Bagby (and the only one of my favorites thus far that I've actually met!). He began writing poetry in his forties while working as a gravedigger on Auckland's North Shore. He's published two stand-alone volumes of poetry, So Goes the Dance (Steele Roberts, 2010) and As It Was In The Beginning (Steele Roberts, 2005), both of which are highly recommended for their clear, accessible style, their wry sense of humor and irony, and their depth and breadth of feeling. He's also edited a couple of anthologies, one of which is a strong candidate for 'all-time best title': A Good Handful: Great NZ Poems about Sex (Auckland University Press). 

See the main section of this blog for a sample of Stu's poetry!


Jack Gilbert

Jack Gilbert published only 4 books of poetry during his 50 years as a poet, perhaps because his poems were often intensely personal and introspective. He avoided the limelight and rarely gave readings or interviews; his writing is deceptively straightforward and sparse but like all great poets his work can be read on many different levels. One of my favorite poems is called Michiko Dead and is about the grief he dealt with after the death of his sculptor wife, Michiko Nogami. 

For biographical details and sample poems (including Michiko Dead) click here and here.

JULY 2014

Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield is often referred to as a Buddhist poet, not only because she studied Buddhism for many years but also because her writing is deceptively simple and straightforward, often hinging on quiet natural or domestic imagery and often leaving the reader with the impression some important existential matter is being addressed. Her observations are keen, simply and elegantly expressed. Her most recent book is Come, Thief published in 2011. My favourite is older and is titled Given Sugar, Given Salt.

For more information about her and to sample some of her poems, click here or here.

JUNE 2014

Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2004-2006. That honor by itself is no guarantee of good poetry but Kooser is one of the best at taking simple, quotidian moments and elevating them to a state of grace. His poems are not written for academic audiences; he is accessible and forthright in his language and imagery. His voice is a strongly American one and that of a midwesterner in particular but his poems can be enjoyed across geographies and cultures. Click here for biographical information (he worked for many years as an insurance salesman- how 'American' is that!) as well as to access some of his best poems, many of which you can hear him read.

MAY 2014

Thomas Lux

Thomas Lux is one of the most original poets around. His poems are full of bizarre, sometimes surreal images but they remain accessible, especially his more recent poems, the best of which you can find in his New and Selected Poems 1975-1995. Three of my favourites are Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy, To Help the Monkey Cross the River, and The People of the Other Village. Remember, Lux believes all poetry is about love or death so don't fret about 'what the poem is about.' You've got a 50/50 chance of knowing before you even start so just enjoy the language, the wonderfully ironic language, and the weird, often funny images. Click here for biographical info, poems, audio, etc. He reads his poems with lots of enthusiasm so check out some of the audio links.

APRIL 2014

Linda Pastan

Linda Pastan writes lyric poetry about 'the everyday', often in melancholic tones. She even has a poem (well worth reading or listening to) called Why Are Your Poems So Dark? She has published about a dozen or so book of poetry including Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems, 1968-1998 and her most recent Travelling Light (Norton, 2011). Despite the dark overtones, her poems are paradoxically uplifting, the way small, beautiful things often are.

For a biography of Linda Pastan and links to several of her poems (including audio files) click here.

MARCH 2014

Bob Orr

Bob Orr is the first New Zealand poet to make the list, but certainly not the last. He has been writing poems since the 60's although has only published a relatively small number of books- possibly because he has also been a working man, having been raised on a farm and worked on a tug-boat for many years. His poetry could be described as sparse but is often enriched with striking imagery as in Once I Felt the Summer Breeze which contains the best description of a watermelon that I've ever read! 

For some of his poetry, audio of him reading his poetry and some more biographical information, click here.


Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn is a prolific, Pulitzer-prize winning poet whose clear language and imagery chronicles the lives of the American middle-class as well as any writer. And there aren't too many poets around who went to college on a basketball scholarship and then worked in advertising before deciding to try his hand at poetry! Has published 15 or so collections, all of which are worthwhile reading.

Follow the link for Stephen Dunn's biography and poems. One of my favourites is called "Sweetness"- one of those "damn, I wish I wrote that" poems.



Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver has been writing accessible, thoughtful, provocative for many years now and has won numerous awards. Her poetry is deeply rooted in the natural world and her poetic stance is one of keen observer and interpreter of the world, deeply influenced by Eastern poetry and English Romantic poetry. American Primitive won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985 and she has published many books since then, including The House of Light, Why I Wake Early, and A Thousand Mornings. She currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

For more biographical information and a sampling of her poems, click here and here.


Tony Hoagland

One of my favorites, a poet I could read again and again. Witty and insightful, can make even the darkest and most 'serious' poems quirky and fun. Books include Donkey Gospel, Sweet Ruin, What Narcissism Means to Me, and Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty. Well worth reading, all of them.

Click here and here for more information and some sample poems, including some which he reads aloud. Hope you like his work as much as I do!


Billy Collins

Perhaps the American grand-daddy of great, accessible poetry. Books include Questions About Angels, The Art of Drowning, and Nine Horses.

Is witty, poignant, and a master of goofy images. His style, after many books, can be a bit repetitive, but definitely worthy of a read.

Click here for a link to some biographical information and several sample poems.

1 comment:

Beth Goldman said...

Really enjoy her poems. One of my favorites, used on an invitation to a memorial service:

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced with permission (click for permissions information).