Kwame Alexander’s 6 must-read books about the art of poetry

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Writer and poet Kwame Alexander is the showrunner for “The Crossover,” the Emmy-winning TV series based on his children’s book of the same name. He is also the editor of “This Is the Honey,” a new anthology of contemporary Black poetry.

‘100 Selected Poems’ by E.E. Cummings (1954)

This classic collection by one of our most radically creative poets contains some of the wittiest, most profound poems I’ve ever read. Read it for its playfulness, passion, and technical prowess. Cummings knows the rules very well, and he breaks them, resulting in unique visual wordplay that is unexpected, yet delightful. Buy it here

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‘The Way a Door Closes’ by Hope Anita Smith (2003)

This novella-in-verse tells of a young man’s struggle to accept the father who walked out on the family. Smith’s portrait of hurt, healing, and strength is reason enough to read this, but her real accomplishment is doing it in fewer than 60 pages. It’s considered children’s literature, but I can testify that it is unputdownable. Buy it here.

‘Above Ground’ by Clint Smith (2023)

If you have kids, or want kids, read this poetry book. It’s an ode to the complexities of being a father in a society that miscalculates masculinity. Its poems also speak of romantic love in a way that, as Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” Buy it here

‘Bicycles: Love Poems’ by Nikki Giovanni (2010)

Nikki Giovanni is a legend. Her poetry is ethereal, illuminating, and revolutionary, and there is nothing more revolutionary than love. This instant classic — a bold, romantic, erotic testament to the power of love and the longing of loss — will take your heart on a surprising journey that you’ll never forget. Buy it here.

‘I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times’ by Taylor Byas (2023)

Built in sonnets, sestinas, and free verse, this collection will remind you of home and show you a new way of looking at it. Inspired by the musical The Wiz, Byas’ first full-length poetry collection celebrates the coming of age of a young Black woman from the South Side of Chicago. Buy it here

‘Have a Beautiful, Terrible Day!’ by Kate Bowler (2024)

This is a poetry-ish book. It’s a devotional. Short, witty, honest reflections to help you get through each day. Read it because Bowler is a sage. A funny one who preaches this to us: “May all your days be lovely — and when they aren’t, have a beautiful, terrible day!” Buy it here.