This page recommends a few poems we have tested in various groups for individual and group consumption. Under each tab you will find one title with a brief description why to read it, a link to the full text, and a link to find more content of interest, including discussion questions and talking points, the author’s background and other works, and more in related guides created by the Books We Read team.
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Rita Dove’s surreal images capture a familiar mood of bewilderment and anticipation, bringing you back to that teenage moment of lingering on the threshold of becoming someone new.
The second poem in a trilogy, Rita Dove’s Adolescence-II narrates a strange late-night encounter between the narrator and three mysterious “seal men” who seem to know something she doesn’t. Dove’s surreal images capture the confusion and anticipation of adolescence, the sense of a change about to happen or perhaps happening already. Anyone who remembers puberty (and even those who think they’ve successfully forgotten it!) can relate to that teenage feeling of being on the threshold of a strange new world, in a strange new body.
Li-Young Lee evokes a coming-of-age between two cultures through the three of the most intimate aspects of cultural identity––food, family, and language.
Persimmon, in Li-Young Lee’s poem, is both a food and a word: an English word for a Chinese food, a product of two cultures much like the speaker of the poem. The poem tracks a coming-of-age tale through an associative logic, bringing together the feeling of foreignness in an elementary school classroom, connecting with a first love, and caring for an aging parent through the motif of the persimmon.
Natalie Díaz’s poem will resonate with anyone who has worried about losing a loved one to drug addiction.
Natalie Díaz’s pantoum uses repeating lines to tell a miniature story about a hallucinating son and a distraught mother. The two characters inhabit different worlds while they share the same sense of mounting desperation over their failure to connect. As Díaz depicts the scene, the son’s delusion that the Devil is after him transforms from a drug-induced psychosis to a frighteningly apt metaphor for the way his addicted state appears to his family.
Natasha Trethewey evokes the dreamlike world of childhood memory in a handful of repeating lines and stark, devastating images.
Natasha Trethewey uses the pantoum, a poetic form made up of alternating pairs of repeating lines, to describe a childhood memory of near-archetypal resonance: a father silhouetted in the doorway, turning to leave. The poem’s dreamlike atmosphere captures the feeling of separation so powerfully involved in the bedtime rituals of young children, while the imagery of light and dark alludes to the mixed-race Trethewey’s complicated relationship with her white father, poet Eric Trethewey.
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