Book-length Poems for the Poetically Skeptic

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Book-length Poems for the Poetically Skeptic

Recommendations for Readers Who Crave a Story

For those who don’t read poetry, a major hang-up can be the fact that many collections lack a plot. Readers who want a story may shy away from the genre, for fear of being bored or distracted by abstract verse. Fortunately, the book-length poem offers a solution where readers can escape into an exciting tale all while enjoying the sparse but potent language of poetry. The below books have the potential to convert even the most devout lovers of novels and memoir.
 
The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, The Big Smoke vividly evokes the career of Jack Johnson, the first African American boxing world champion. The collection follows Johnson (and his brutally honest Shadow) as he navigates success, love and identity in racially charged America. While this is a fictional rendering, elements of history and life in the Jim Crow era add a nonfiction tone.
 
Junk by Tommy Pico
Released in May 2018, this is queer poet Pico’s third collection written from the perspective of the witty American Indian persona of Teebs. Teebs takes on the many meanings of junk through familiar, frantic poems rife with pop culture references and political commentary. This is an excellent choice for readers who enjoy YA books.
 
The California Poem by Eleni Sikelianos
This sweeping love letter to California mixes history, ethics, nature and memory in an imaginative text that covers the state’s physical and cultural evolution, as well as the author’s homesickness for it. Sikelianos’ writing will remind readers of fellow Californian Janet Fitch, who wrote White Oleander. For the artistically inclined, the book incorporates found text, photos, postcards and other multimedia in its pages.
 
Omeros by Derek Walcott
In this loose interpretation of The Iliad by Homer, Walcott sets his epic poem in his native Saint Lucia, with jaunts to cities around the world, including a voyage on a slave ship from Africa. The story follows fictional characters, such as the fisherman Achille and Hector, as well as Walcott himself, who weaves in events from his own life. Divided into chapters and written in approachable verse, this book will appeal to classics lovers and fans of books like Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.
 
I Love a Broad Margin to My Life by Maxine Hong Kingston
Kingston composes her memoir in free verse, a tribute to Walt Whitman, one of her most important influences. In I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, Kingston elegantly discusses aging, life as a Chinese-American and her career as a writer, activist and educator. Full of wisdom and humor, this book also reads as a poignant tearjerker when Kingston lists those who have passed before her and her inspiration for living.