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12 gifts of poetry for everyone on your list

Your foodie friend, your dad, that person you’re not quite dating, your new neighbor, your work wife — you may have had a lot of shopping to do this December, and we hope you’re done.

But if you’ve made your list, checked it twice and found that you’re still short a few gifts, the PBS NewsHour Arts desk has a different kind of gift guide. This holiday season, we asked poets and literary editors to share how we might give others a timeless present — one that never shrinks, breaks or runs out of battery life.

“At a time when language is often used only as a blunt tool, poetry reminds us that language can also be used for nuance, mystery, and even radical hope,” poet Ada Limón told the NewsHour.

Check out Limón’s pick and more in the list below.

“Leaves of Grass: The ‘Death-Bed’ Edition” by Walt Whitman

In this final version of Walt Whitman’s lifelong project, Whitman cautions, “Resist much, obey little” for “Once fully enslaved, no nation, sate, city of this earth, ever afterward resumes its liberty.”

We need to remember that now — it’s a gift to be reminded. But we must also, this holiday season, remember Whitman’s countless incitements toward open-heartedness, which, finally, is love: “Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?/ And why should I not speak to you?” Lines like that, and the book that contains them, are a gift anyone can use.

— Craig Morgan Teicher, author of “We Begin in Gladness”

“Bright Dead Things” by Ada Limón

It’s a gorgeous collection filled with wisdom and heart and moments that took my breath away.

— Caroline Nitz, Senior Publicity Manager, Graywolf Press

“New Poets of Native Nations” edited by Heid E. Erdrich

I adore this new poetry anthology. It feels like a transformational and important collection and it would make a great gift for any word lover.

— Ada Limón, National Book Award finalist and author of “Bright Dead Things”

“Wild Is the Wind” by Carl Phillips

For the folks on your gift list that might not pick a poetry collection off the shelf for themselves, Carl Phillips is a wonderful way to start. I’ve received this collection as a gift, given it as a gift, read it aloud to people I love and thought about single lines from it for days and days. “Wild Is the Wind” weaves the philosophical with the intensely personal, asking questions about memory, loss and desire; it’s the perfect book to bring some stillness and reflection to the end of the year.

— Corinne Segal, senior editor, Literary Hub: The Best of the Literary Internet

“The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton” 1965-2010 by Lucille Clifton, edited by Kevin Young and Michael Glaser

I can imagine no greater gift than this sizable collection of Lucille Clifton’s spirit-affirming poems of witness and celebration.

— Diane Seuss, Pulitzer Prize-winner and author of “Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl”

“The Essential Emily Dickinson” by Emily Dickinson, selected and introduced by Joyce Carol Oates

It’s an incredibly perfect selection of poems by Emily Dickinson with an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates that steadies the reader for the (chronologically arranged) astonishing word ride ahead. Accessible for young readers and non-readers of poetry, and stuffed with so many of Dickinson’s hits that even seasoned poetry readers will enjoy having these gems collected in a compact volume. Playful, smart, and easy to devour.

— Kristen Tracy, author of “Half-Hazard”

“How to Pull Apart the Earth” by Karla Cordero, “Tell Me How it Ends” by Valeria Luiselli and “Brother Bullet” by Casandra López

This trio of works including borderland Indigenous/Califas poets is must-reading to understand current and systematic oppressive events [against indigenous peoples] and their impact on family. These books by women authors, succinct and compelling, take the reader to new levels of understanding and call for us to consider and to stand for unity now and prepare for the new year coming.

— Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, author of “Burn”

“The Zoo of the New” edited by Nick Laird and Don Paterson and “In the Shape of a Human Body I am Visiting the Earth: Poems from Far and Wide” edited by Ilya Kaminsky, Jesse Nathan and Dominic Luxford

These anthologies help entice poetry skeptics and are designed to raise, heighten and deepen the questions we may have. They’ve become eloquent examples of the why-how-what of poetry.

— Catherine Barnett, James Laughlin Award-winner and author of “Human Hours”

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

I love this poem because there’s the conflict between stopping to enjoy our beautiful surroundings, to be in the present, beholding the beauty of life — yes even in winter there is beauty to behold — versus the long list of responsibilities we have to attend to, which seems even longer and more urgent and pressing in the holiday season. It’s the perfect gift for someone new to poetry, for children or for big Frost fans because you can stay in those snowy woods over and over.

— Heather Jacobsen, author of “City Turned to Inland Lake”

Below, read one of Emily Dickinson’s poem about the snow.


It sifts from leaden sieves

BY EMILY DICKINSON

It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, —
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.

It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil

On stump and stack and stem, —
The summer’s empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.

It ruffles wrists of posts,
As ankles of a queen, —
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.

This poem is in the public domain.

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