Poetry Recommendations from Around Ohio

As part of our celebration of National Poetry Month, we reached out to writers, library workers, and educators around the state to see what poetry books they recommend:

West: a translation by Paisley Rekdal (Copper Canyon Press, 2023)

“A dazzling yet intimate exploration of the construction of the transcontinental railroad, from the point of view of its unseen and unheard workers, particularly Chinese migrants. Each poem is paired with a mini-essay at the back of the collection, exploring the contexts and considerations around the poem, in a way that opens us up to that which is hidden is all production and labor.”

Philip Metres, author of Fugitive/Refuge (Copper Canyon Press, 2024) and numerous other books.

Long Exposure by Julia Anna Morrison (Moon City Press, 2023)

“Brief, gestural lyric meditations on grief, identity, displacement, and motherhood.”

Creature by Michael Dumanis (Four Way Books, 2023)

“Formally seductive poems that explore, through rich and wild imagery, questions of place and belonging, self and other, history and alienation.”

Jennifer Moore, author of The Veronica Maneuver (The University of Akron Press, 2015) and Director of the School for the Humanities and Global Cultures at Ohio Northern University.

The Asking: New and Selected Poems by Jane Hirshfield (Knopf, 2023)

“I have read some, but not enough, of Jane Hirshfield’s poems over the years. During a recent bout of insomnia, the Instagram algorithm fed me her poem ‘A Cedary Fragrance,’ which I loved very much. I bought this book immediately and have been smitten ever since. In a world that outdoes itself daily in offering reasons for despair, her wise, compassionate, funny, contemplative poems are a hand in the darkness and proof that, for me at least, the best poems find you when you need them most.”

– Patrick Culliton, author of Sam’s Teeth (Subito Press, 2017) and the Marketing & Public Relations Manager at Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library.

A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry edited by Czeslaw Milosz (Harcourt Brace & Co., 1996)

“It is a treasure of a book to have on one’s bookshelf.  Milosz has personally selected poems from all over the world and from various periods of time, ancient to contemporary. He introduces each poem with a preface describing his own thoughts about the work. This feature is an added bonus for the reader.”

– Madeleine Crouse, member of the Greater Cincinnati Writers’ League.

Tender Headed by Olatunde Osinaike (Akashic Books, 2023)

“This book fluctuates between the pleasant surprise of past songs folded into these gorgeous, and the breathtaking honesty with which it looks in the mirror. Osinaike gives us a deep excavation into masculinity and manhood, and isn’t afraid to talk about the way it both helps and hurts.”

Taylor Byas, author of I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times (Soft Skull Press, 2023), winner of the 2023 Maya Angelou Book Award.

Sancta by Andrew Grace (Ahsahta Press, 2012 & Foundlings Press 2021)

“It’s a hauntingly beautiful collection of prose poems. Each poem is only 70 words in length. The imagery in this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read, and the poems are so precise and musical. There are too many lines to quote, but I love: ‘I woke to the sound of a bruise spreading.’ and ‘The sounds of garbage trucks climax in the villas.’ This book is a riot of language.”

Oblivion Banjo: The Poetry of Charles Wright by Charles Wright (FSG, 2019)

“I chose this book because I am still reading it and returning to it a few times a week. Wright’s poems are also so full of musicality and strangeness. ‘The cloud-ragged, cloud-scutted sky’ and ‘the rain has stopped falling asleep on it crystal stems.’ The poems are sprawling yet have such a concentrated way of looking at the world, and a kind of wonder about it all that makes the language joyful to discover.”  

Noah Falck, author of Exclusions (Tupelo Press, 2020),  Education Director at Just Buffalo Literary Center, and curator of the Silo City Reading Series.

Negro Mountain by C. S. Giscombe (University of Chicago Press, 2023)

“I recently loved my pressmate C.S. Giscombe’s Negro Mountain—it’ s about what it means to pursue history, or to be pursued by it, in a place, and it’s thrillingly innovative, haunting, and gorgeous.”

Lindsay Turner, author of The Upstate (The University of Chicago Press, 2023), and translator of numerous works of literature.

April by Sara Nicholson (The Song Cave, 2023)

“These are startlingly imagistic and lyrically inquisitive poems about the dailiness of life as well engaging with many disparate artistic interlocutors, such as a crown of sonnets about an Iris Murdoch novel, and a stunning longer, philosophic-essayistic poem, ‘Lives of the Saints.'”

Charles Kell, author of Ishmael Mask (Autumn House Press, 2023) and Cage of Lit Glass (Autumn House Press, 2019), and editor of The Ocean State Review.

Death Prefers the Minor Keys by Sean Thomas Dougherty (BOA Editions, 2023)

“Before you read Sean Thomas Dougherty’s Death Prefers the Minor Keys, sit down. Sit down with your coffee by a window, on this kind of day, thick with drizzle and struggling light. Feel your heartbox open to the stories, the unemployed neighbor about to lose his house, the brain-injured man who doesn’t know when to sleep, the wife with her wisdom and scores of scripts. Always at ground level, Dougherty’s poems celebrate human-sized triumphs. I swear I felt a hand in mine, the hand of someone I don’t know, someone who is almost me.”

Karen Schubert, author of The Compost Reader (Accents Publishing, LLC, 2020) and Dear Youngstown (NightBallet Press, 2019), and founding director of Lit Youngstown.

Urbanshee by Siaara Freeman (Button Poetry, 2022)

“Siaara Freeman’s poetry does that thing Emily Dickinson called taking the top of your head off in the stories of her childhood, neighborhood, and father’s murder. Her words pound and flood and you forget to breathe. Don’t miss the chance to hear her read locally as the current Heights Poet Laureate.”

– Laurie Kincer, The William N. Skirball Writers’ Center at Cuyahoga County Public Library.

With Deer (Black Ocean, 2009) and Dark Matter (Black Ocean, 2013) by Aase Berg, translated by Johannes Göransson

“This Swedish poet has never written a poem that didn’t surprise and push me. There are brilliant poets that I can figure out exactly what they’re doing, and explain to you why it’s good or I like it. I can’t explain Berg. I just know it’s some of the most exciting poetry I’ve ever read and it needs to be read by more people.”

Darren C. Demaree, author of, most recently, in defense of the goat that continues to wander towards the certain doom of the cliff (April Gloaming Publishing, 2024), and the Customer Services Manager at the Barnett Branch of Columbus Metropolitan Library.

Hell, I Love Everybody: The Essential James Tate by James Tate (Ecco, 2023)

“James Tate is one of those rabbit hole writers where once you start in on his body of work, there’s no stopping. But also, it’s kind of hard to know where to start. Named for the final line of the minorly viral poem “Goodtime Jesus,” Hell, I Love Everybody is a fine entry point to the inimitable and yet oft-imitated poet.”  

– Mike, The Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library

The Devil’s Workshop by Xavier Cavazos (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2023)

“Cavazos’ work is as rich in content as it is in experimentation. The Devil’s Workshop is a careful yet harrowing excavation of the self and the world that created it. A poetic ride at every turn.”

Stephanie Ginese, author of Unto Dogs (Grieveland, 2022) and recipient of the Cleveland Arts Prize.

Yearling by Lo Kwa Mei-en (Alice James Books, 2015)

“Defiant and uncategorizable, Lo Kwa Mei-en’s Yearling, with its teeming species, battles, and passions, reads like an illuminated manuscript: mysterious, visceral, awe-full. Hers are some of the most enviable poems I have ever read, and both Yearling and The Bees Make Money in the Lion (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2016) herald Lo Kwa as the new standard bearer for innovative structure, terrifying acknowledgment, ecstatic statement, and, I daresay, beauty.”

The Cloud Path by Melissa Kwasny (Milkweed Editions, 2024)

“Expletives and hallelujahs rose from heart to mouth in equal measure as I read these lush, wise poems that grieve both a dead mother and a dying mother-earth. A meditation on aging in a fragile global moment, Kwasny’s The Cloud Path is essential reading for anyone who cares about our planet and its inhabitants, for those enduring loss, for those who value the creaturely as well as the eternal. And for writers, well, this book is a transcendent how-to, a guide and a treasure to read alongside contemporary literary naturalists such as Terri Tempest Williams, Camille Dungy, and Kerri ni Dochartaigh.”

Kathy Fagan, author of Bad Hobby (Milkweed Editions, 2022), and Ohio State University professor.