For poets, reading is both business and pleasure. You can hide out in Squaw Valley workshopping your verses all you want, or enter every writing contest you stumble across online. But the most enjoyable way to become a better poet? Reading more poetry.
It’s simple enough to find inspiration online, scrolling through poets.org, literary journals, or even Instagram in search of your daily hit of verse. Sometimes, though, you want the coherence of a complete collection — a whole body of work to sink your teeth into. Luckily for those of us who like our verse in book-length form, there’s plenty of that on Kindle Unlimited.
The Amazon platform is better known for housing genre fiction, but there’s poetry aplenty in its virtual stacks — from canonical staples penned by MFA royalty to the newest chapbooks from the Insta-savvy set. Whether your tastes tend towards Hart Crane or Rupi Kaur, you’ll find something there to satisfy your reading needs. If you’d like to get started, here are five brilliant books of poetry on Kindle Unlimited right now.
1. Dream Work, by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver passed away last January, after a storied poetic career that spanned nearly six decades and saw her showered with laurels: the Pulitzer, the Guggenheim, even the National Book Award. In 2007, The New York Times hailed her — then 71 years old — as the nation’s best-selling poet. Her ability to heap up both accolades and sales records demonstrated Oliver’s unusual, cross-cutting appeal, not unlike a latter-day Emily Dickinson. Her fans include both the Puiltzer committee and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goopies, and her work is as likely to be analyzed in workshop as it is Pinned to someone’s inspo board.
Dream Work, published in 1986, shows this gifted interpreter of the natural world at her romantic and visionary best. In 45 poems, Oliver meditates on the movements of water, of wings, and of other wildlife. But the collection is also darker and more overtly human than much of her earlier work — it shows her turning her sharp poetic gaze to painful memories and contemporary tragedies alike. The resulting collection wounds as much as it heals, but the heartbreak is clarifying and crystalline. The New Yorker proclaimed it the best book in Oliver’s stunning oeuvre.
2. Preparing My Daughter for Rain, by Key Ballah
This up-and-coming Canadian poet boasts 12.7 thousand followers on Instagram, where her feed is an artful patchwork quilt — interspersing short poems on white squares with dreamy filtered photo of her family. This poetry collection, originally self-published in 2014, feels like a natural extension of that curatorial project: part artwork, part family album.
Preparing My Daughter for Rain uses memorable verse — written in readable mouthfuls of everyday language — to impart lessons on love and healing. Ballah addresses the collection to both her own daughter and all of daughterkind. Her work represents poetry in the age of Instagram at its finest: unpretentious, honest to the marrow, and deeply invested in a politics of self-care. Ballah shows an epigrammatic gift for metaphor that eludes many of her fellow Instapoets, but her work is ultimately less about language than its effect. The breathless praise on her product page proves the potential of her preferred form, a hybrid genre that marries free verse to self-help.
3. White Apples and the Taste of Stone, by Donald Hall
This 226-piece collection gives us a revered poet’s greatest hits. Published in 2007, White Apples and the Taste of Stone celebrated the late Donald Hall’s tenure as the Poet Laureate of the United States — he had earned the honor the year before.
The collection’s title hints at Hall’s reputation as a sort of countryside bard, preoccupied with the dream of an Edenic American past: his oeuvre’s engaging surface and its fathomless core recall Robert Frost. Hall’s deceptively simple, unvarnished verses pair workaday language with precise imagery that sometimes veers into the surreal. But this folksy pose is deftly and consciously cultivated, the product of sustained study and craft — in addition to being a working poet, he was an accomplished critic and editor, having studied at Oxford, taught at Stanford, and edited The Paris Review.
4. Magic with Skin On, by Morgan Nikola-Wren
Morgan Nikola-Wren won the Pangaea Poetry Slam in 2016, with a suite of haunting, magic-infused pieces rooted in the experience of living in a female body. Her debut book enchants in the same vein, presenting stardusted poems of scars and skin, tongues and teeth. Unsurprisingly for a writer accustomed to reciting her own work, Nikola-Wren favors language full of luxuriant syllables — musical diction that demands to be sung in the throat.
Magic with Skin On is arguably more verse-novel than poetry collection: though animated by feeling rather than plot, it follows a single narrative thread. Over the course of seven “acts” — each opens with an intricate, detail-dense poem that reads like flash fiction — Nikola-Wren tracks the fraught relationship between an artist and her abusive muse. But despite this structural playfulness (in both senses of the term) the result feels far more confessional than staged, cutting with emotional honesty.
5. Native Guard, by Natasha Tretheway
Natasha Tretheway’s complex, deeply learned work shines with social consciousness, historical awareness, and a strong sense of place. A former Poet Laureate to both the United States and her home state of Mississippi, she also became the first African-American writer to win the prestigious Cave Canem Foundation Poetry Prize for her debut collection. Daughter of an illegal marriage between a black American woman and a white Canadian man, Tretheway has long used poetry to explore the history of race in the United States. In doing so, she often deploys highly innovative forms: 2002’s Bellocq’s Ophelia, for instance, presented an epistolary novella in verse form.
Native Guard, which netted her a Pulitzer in 2006, offers the reader morel experimentation: the collection’s centerpiece poem marries verse with historical fiction, as Tretheway imagines the Civil War experiences of a freedman serving in the Louisiana Native Guards, an all-black soldering unit. The edition available on Kindle Unlimited includes enhanced audio, making it a literary podcast within a book — download it to hear Tretheway reading her own work and discussing the experiences that informed it.
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Lucia Tang is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. Reedsy also provides tools to help authors write and format their books, as well as free learning courses and webinars to help them learn more about writing and publishing. In Lucia’s spare time, she enjoys drinking coffee, reading poetry, and planning her historical fantasy novel.