4 Poetry Collections Every Lesbian Should Read

If you appreciate poetry, here are four noteworthy collections that should absolutely be on your bookshelf. This list includes Mary Oliver’s  Evidence; Audre Lorde’s The Black Unicorn; Marilyn Hacker’s Desesperanto, and British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s Rapture.

Evidence by Mary Oliver (Beacon)

Mary Oliver’s new collection of poetry, Evidence, includes forty-six poems that show why this prolific writer is so beloved and respected.

Evidence is Oliver’s nineteenth book of poetry and though the poems pick up on her familiar themes of nature, spirituality, love and humanity, she continues to offer a fresh perspective and to encourage readers to “behold/ the reliability and the finery and the teachings/ of this gritty earth gift.”

Oliver may be an optimist, but she is not a blind optimist.

She recognizes the beauty in the world alongside humanity’s inability to maintain or care for it. She understands the heart’s music (“My heart, that used to pump along so pleasantly”), but also knows that there are times when a “wild man” can take over the orchestra and wreak havoc.

Evidence begins with an epigraph by Kierkegaard, “We create ourselves by our choices,” and, indeed, many of the poems in the collection focus on the choice of perception — how we chose to see and absorb, love and disregard, the world and those around us.

In the poem, “Li Po and the Moon,” Oliver examines this struggle on several different levels:

There is the story of the old Chinese poet:
at night in his boat he went drinking and dreaming
and singing

then drowned as he reached for the moon’s reflection.
Well, probably each of us, at some time, has been
as desperate.

Not the moon, though.

Many of the poems in Evidence also focus on the moments or transitions in life where our perspective begins to change. In “Halleluiah,” Oliver explains that “Everyone should be born into this world happy/ and loving everything./ But in truth it rarely works that way.” She admits that she has spent her life “clamoring” for happiness, and then the poem poses several questions to the reader:

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?

Oliver is known for her depictions of animals and her ability to use them to reflect larger question of spirituality. In “Almost a Conversation,” she imagines talking to an otter and examines their slow process of learning how to trust and understand each other through body language:

He has no words, still what he tells about his life
is clear.
He does not own a computer.
He imagines the river will last forever.
He does not envy the dry house I live in.
He does not wonder who or what it is that I worship.
He wonders, morning after morning, that the river
is so cold and fresh and alive, and still
I don’t jump in.

Evidence is a beautiful book filled with poems that force the reader to slow down, reflect, and, yes, even see the world through a more generous and appreciative lens.