Top Ten Favorite Poems of All Time

10. “Central Park, Mother’s Day” by Rachel McKibbens

“My son comes to me, holding
thirteen severed tulip heads.
A present he’s made, just for me.”

I’ve always felt that violence only leads to more violence. This is especially relevant when raising children, and couldn’t be better-spoken then by McKibbens in this poem. I had the pleasure of seeing McKibbens perform at the University of Arkansas in Fayettville, and she is as merciless and charming as her poetry makes her out to be.

Full poem available here:

  1. “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson

“Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.”

This poem enforces the long-lived lesson that it’s not about what you have in your hand, but what you have in heart. This is one of the few short poems that Robinson is remembered for, but it is well remembered with great reason.

Full poem available here:

  1. “Four-Moon Planet” by Billy Collins

“But think of the two lovers on a beach,
his arm around her bare shoulder,
thrilled at how close they were feeling tonight
while he gazed at one moon and she another.”

I have often heard harsh criticism of Collins work. I have heard him called a “popular poet,” someone loved by those who know nothing about poetry. These harsh critiques often come from the mouths of those that might be called unpopular poets. This poem by Billy Collins is highly underrated and is a simple, realistic portrayal of love.

Full poem available here:

  1. “Like Lily Like Wilson” by Talor Mali

“I’m writing the poem that will change the world, and it’s Lilly Wilson at my office door.
Lily Wilson, the recovering like addict,
the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Taylor Mali was a teacher for nine years, and is now a tremendous advocate of the nobility of teaching. Experiencing his poetry makes me want to call up some of the most inspirational teachers that I had and tell them how grateful I am. This poem makes me want to put my mind to work, and go out and inspire somebody.

Full poem available here:

  1. “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before…”

Millay’s romantic, feminist poetry makes me feel proud to be a woman. Millay’s poetry is brought to life by the strong and sensuous women that she was. Her work is particularly relevant in the modern world with the spread of feminism. In this poem, Millay refuses to apologize for her sexuality, as she explains her nostalgia for lost lovers, whose names she cannot recall. Full poem available here:

  1. “Convenience Stores” by Buddy Wakefield

“She said (not knowin’ my real name),
‘I can tell, buddy, by the Mini Thins and the way ya drive–
we’re both taken with novelty.
We’ve both believed in mean gods.
We both spend our money on things that break too easily like…

I first heard this poem performed at a high school forensics tournament in 2008 by Mason Sams. This is one of the first pieces of performance poetry that I ever experienced, and it has stuck with me like bees to honey. This poem gave me a new found appreciation for truck drivers, convenience store workers, and everyone who is just trying to get by.

Full poem available here:

  1. “Taxidermy” by Sierra Demulder

“When chemotherapy pulled out
the last of your daughter’s hair, you started carrying
her baby teeth in your pocket.”

This poem brings me to tears every time I encounter it. This is a brutal tale written from the perspective of a mother who loses her daughter to cancer. It’ll tear your heart out, and remind you how to feel again.

Full poem available here:

  1. “Enough” by Andrea Gibson

“Now I’m no longer
looking at my days like they’re a cup
Calling them half empty or half full
when they’ve always been enough
They’ll always be enough
to fill me up
if I stop thinking so much
and start drinking them up”

Andrea Gibson always has the power to pick me up when I am down. Andrea Gibson is a modern performance artist who packs a punch. This poem is particularly motivational and is perfect for when you’re feeling down and out. Remember, “They’ll always be enough.”

Full poem available here:

  1. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

“And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet…”

In moments of impatience I often gently remind myself, “There will be time, there will be time.” This little mantra resurfaces in my mind as I am stopped for the train or seated at the DMV. This poem is a classic, and I can never seem to get enough of it.

Full poem available here:

1. “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath

“Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.”

This poem has a very special place in my heart. No matter how many times I read it, it never ceases to amaze me. This was originally published in Ariels and was written about a bouquet of tulips that Plath was given while she was recovering from an appendectomy. It is a unique analysis of the freedom of solitude and the ability to look through material possessions and see them for what they really are. After all, you can’t take it with you.

Full poem available here: Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.


2 thoughts on “Top Ten Favorite Poems of All Time”

  1. What a fantastic and eclectic list! Happy you found one of my favorites to include, and I thank you for the boost. I too love Collins, and like you feel he is much maligned by those who are, well, simply put, jealous. You also chose one of my favorite Elliot poems, and I do adore Andrea Gibson. “How It Ends” gets to me every time. And I also love the song by Devotchka on which the poem is based.

    You’ve left me some good juicy new ones to explore and look up too. Great meeting you!

    1. Thank you so much. I enjoyed browsing through your page, and I’m glad you enjoyed my list. I will have to check out the song by Devotchka. Andrea Gibson is one of my favorite writers all around.

      It is great meeting you also!

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