The main thing that draws me to a book is the quality of the prose. My favorite books are underlined and starred, so I can turn back to the best sentences. I crave lines that make you put down your book and pause, your mind bombarded with possibility. And no one is better at this than poets. So, in honor of National Poetry Month, I’ve selected some of my favorite poets... writing stuff other than poetry! Whether you’ve always wanted to get into poetry, or have always been intimidated by it, try out these novels, memoirs, and essay collections. Like what you’ve read? Chances are you’ll fall in love with their poetry collections too!
Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng – Some books are made for book lovers. Mayumi, a small-town librarian, loves the transcendent quality of books, and Tseng’s story of the narrator’s affair with a younger patron encapsulates this quality. Upon reading her prose, I’m transported to her secluded island and rich interior life. Beauty and pain are remarkably intertwined in this novel in a way only a poet could do!
What to read next: Red Flower, White Flower
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong – The imagery in this book has remained stuck in my head like a really good song. Written as a letter from son to immigrant mother, this book showcases how love destroys, heals, connects, and isolates us. Vuong’s writing is as personal as it is beautiful. Prepare to have passages hit you like a dry sob.
What to read next: Night Sky With Exit Wounds
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – If you were forced to read this book in high school, you owe it Sylvia to give it another try. This novel perfectly depicts the confusion of young adulthood and the entrapments of the mind. I was 16 years old when I first read this, and I still feel like I’m stuck in front of the fig tree with Esther, wondering when the last fruit will drop.
What to read next: Ariel
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood – A loud-mouthed, gun-carrying Catholic priest father, a midwestern coupon-cutting, platitude-bearing mother, and their daughter, the poet. Moving back into her parents’ rectory as an adult, Lockwood paints a riotous portrait of her family. These characters become as dear to you as the cast of your favorite sitcom. Her writing is playful and provocative. This memoir packs a punch, while keeping you laughing throughout.
What to read next: Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals
The Crying Book by Heather Christle – I’ve always championed that the quickest way to get to know someone is asking, When is the last time you cried? What starts out as an idea of mapping all the places Christle has cried, turns into a sweeping history of tears. The genre of this book is impossible to define, but that’s what makes it so absorbing. You’ll gently drift from philosophy to art to personal anecdote. This book washes over you.
What to read next: The Trees The Trees
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib – Hanif is a rock star poet. Don’t think poets can be rock stars? Read They Can’t Kill Us. Abdurraqib has an unparalleled ability of contextualizing recent history, primarily through music. Sure, all millenials banged their heads to My Chemical Romance in the 00’s, but this book will have you relistening to the “Black Parade” and analyzing it as an anthem of societal grieving. I’m still taken aback by the insight in these essays.
What to read next: A Fortune for Your Disaster