‘Because I could not stop for death,’ Dickinson’s best-known poem, is a depiction of one speaker’s journey into the afterlife with personified “Death” leading the way.
This is an incredibly important American poem and is often cited as one of the best American poems of all time.
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
‘In Memory of the Utah Stars’ captures the manner in which memories can provide us with both pleasure and pain.
The poem is very concerned with America, specifically the state of Utah but it speaks to the nation more broadly due to its focus on one of America's most beloved sports.
‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’ by Emily Dickinson is a popular poem. In it, she depicts a very unusual idea of life after death.
Among poems written by American poets, this is one of the best.
‘The Dancing’ by Gerald Stern is an emotionally complex poem that wrestles with feelings of joy and bittersweetness inspired by a fond memory.
As the second generation child to immigrant parents, born and raised in Pittsburgh, Sterns perspective is an important and enlightening one.
Amanda Gorman’s poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ is a moving depiction of the United States as it was on the cusp of President Biden’s inauguration in 2021.
This is an important American poem that is firmly situated within American history. It was read at a presidential inauguration and gained a worldwide fame that few other inaugural poems have.
‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ by Emily Dickinson is a poem about hope. It is depicted through the famous metaphor of a bird.
While not the most important American poem of all time, it is a highly influential and inspirational piece.
‘She Had Some Horses’ by Joy Harjo illustrates the plurality of differences among people.
Harjo's poem is crucial to understanding not just the experiences and narratives of Indigenous groups. It also presents paradoxical themes of plurality and similarity, presenting the horses as distinctly different but then calling them the same. In a way, the poem is indicative of America's ever touted "melting-pot" moniker, revealing the discordant xenophobia that exists right along side myths and values of unity out of variety.
‘Song of the Chattahoochee’ is a 19th century American poem that takes the perspective of the Chattahoochee river as it flows from northern Georgia to the sea.
'Song of the Chattahoochee' creates a vignette of the American south and its natural landscape, chronicling some of the native plants, trees, and stones in the area. In addition, it takes a tour of the Reconstruction-era mountains via the Chattahoochee river. While these features make the poem unmistakably American, there are other, much more popular, poems about the Southern USA.
‘America For Me’ by Henry Van Dyke is a passionate, patriotic poem about America. It celebrates how different the United States is from Europe.
This is an incredibly patriotic poem written by an American poet. It celebrates the United States and how different the country is from those the speaker experienced in Europe.
‘Star-Fix’ by Marilyn Nelson is a poem that lionizes the noble role of the navigator onboard an aircraft.
Nelson's poem is an important piece of American poetry, as it presents a Black individual as this idealized figure of history.
‘The Powwow at the End of the World’ by Sherman Alexie is a stunning poem that reveals the apocalyptic price of an indigenous person’s forgiveness.
As an indigenous writer Sherman Alexie's poem is one of national importance. It provides a long oppressed discourse by those colonized in America and attacks the very heart of the issue of beginning to offer reparations to the generations harmed.
‘Tell the truth but tell it slant’ by Emily Dickinson is one of Dickinson’s best-loved poems. It explores an unknown “truth” that readers must interpret in their own way.
This is a great poem by a famous American author.
‘The heart asks pleasure first’ by Emily Dickinson depicts the needs of the heart. They are highly changeable and include pleasure and excuse from pain.
A well-loved American poem but not the best of all time.
‘The Rose That Grew From Concrete’ is a moving celebration of personal resolve against the backdrop of oppressive forces.
Like his music, Shakur's poem is primarily concerned with American culture and society.
‘Gathering Leaves’ is a profound poem that delves into the themes of man versus nature, productivity, and change.
Regarded as one of America's finest ever poets, Frost's poem is set in New Hampshire, where he owned a property.
In “Take me anywhere, anywhere;” by Hilda Doolittle, the poet-speaker addresses a lover, expressing the way in which she takes refuge in their affection.
While Hilda Doolittle is an American poet, this poem is not very America-specific. It is a product of American modernism but lacks references to American culture and regions. Additionally, Doolittle was a bit more of an internationally recognized poet than a specifically American one, spending much of her life abroad.
‘Why did you come’ by Hilda Doolittle is a free-verse poem about love, self-criticism, aging, and the human inability to control judgments and desires.
Hilda Doolittle is an iconic American poet, although this poem is not one of her most influential. Doolittle was raised in Pennsylvania, though she spent most of her career abroad and predominantly wrote on Classical themes. However, her work as a whole was influential to the modernist literary movement in America and further popularized free verse poetry in the US.
‘A Bird, came down the Walk’ by Emily Dickinson is a beautiful nature poem. It focuses on the actions of a bird going about its everyday life.
This is a great American poem that's often cited as one of the poet's best.
‘A Muse of Water’ by Carolyn Kizer is a unique poem that places women as a force of nature, like water, that men attempt to control, redirect, and oppress.
'A Muse of Water' is not the best representation of American poetry, but it is a good example of American feminism in the 1960s and the move towards environmentalism in the USA. However, other American poets of the era, such as William Carlos Williams, are better representations of what was most popular in America during the 1960s.
‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ by Emily Dickinson reflects the poet’s emotions. It reveals her disdain for publicity and her preference for privacy.
This is a stunning poem and one that is often cited as among the poet's best.
‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’ by Emily Dickinson is a complex, metaphorical poem. The poet depicts a woman who is under a man’s control and sleeps like a load gun.
This is a wonderful American poem that is commonly considered to be one of the poet's best.
‘Poem About My Rights’ by June Jordan is a one-stanza poem revealing a speaker’s thoughts on misogyny, sexism, and racism from their experience. It is celebrated for accurately portraying the struggles of women and men of color in a patriarchial and predominantly white society.
The poem is written by an American and primarily about the American society.
‘The Portrait’ by Stanley Kunitz is a sad poem about the speaker’s ill-fated attempt to learn more about their deceased father.
This poem was written by an American author, but it does contain themes and a narrative that are universally relatable.
‘To My Brother’ by Lorna Dee Cervantes captures the intense bittersweetness of remembering a childhood checkered by both strife and happiness.
Cervantes' poem presents an importantly unifying and revelatory vision of life for Americans of color and those who struggle against economic inequality.
‘The Machinist, Teaching His Daughter to Play the Piano’ by B.H. Fairchild is a free verse poem about how the creative process can connect a father and daughter.
‘The Machinist, Teaching His Daughter to Play the Piano’ cleverly incorporates the concept of industry in the American midwest, centering focus on a lathe operator who must work with machinery to provide for his daughter. Accordingly, it implies ideas of the American dream, as the father wishes for a better life for his daughter.
‘Latin & Soul’ by Victor Hernández Cruz conveys the sublimely affecting power of music on a group of dancers.
A beautifully creative poem by a writer who bridges Latino and American identities, sharing the bliss that comes with listening to such inspiring and passionate music.
‘To a Dead Friend’ by Langston Hughes is a depressing poem about the ways death can permanently alter one’s ability to see or feel joy.
An important American poem from one of its greatest poets. Hughes' poetry remains timelessly prescient both because he captured the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance but also because he could invoke so skillfully the universal nature of human emotion.
‘Permanently’ by Kenneth Koch is a poem that compares the speaker’s love to the part of speech they view as the most essential.
Koch's poem is memorable for its uniquely humorous but no less sincere expression of love for both a person and the adjectives used to express it.
‘I have never seen “Volcanoes”’ by Emily Dickinson is a clever, complex poem that compares humans and their emotions to a volcano’s eruptive power.
While Dickinson was born in and lived her whole life in America, this poem is more concerned with faraway lands where volcanoes are more common, although there are volcanoes in America too.
‘Each and All’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson depicts nature as interconnected and dependent on all other living and non-living things. The poet uses a few clever examples to demonstrate why he sees the world this way.
A lovely poem by an American author but not one of the best American poems of all time.