Poems from the Contemporary Period (1939-present)

90 North by Randall Jarrell

’90 North’ by Randall Jarrell is concerned with dreams, aging, and the truth of success. The poet’s speaker realizes that success means nothing and that after achieving everything he wanted, his life is worthless. 

90 North by Randall Jarrell Visual Representation

Touch Me by Stanley Kunitz

‘Touch Me’ by Stanley Kunitz is a moving poem about aging, the loss of identity, and desire. It explores what keeps people, and creatures of all varieties, going as they enter the final “season” of their life. 

Touch Me by Stanley Kunitz Visual Representation

The Lyric in a Time of War by Eloise Klein Healy

‘The Lyric in a Time of War’ by Eloise Klein Healy is a poem about war, writing, and artistic cconnection throughout time. The poem is dedicated to how writing can create a connection between two people over time and space. 

The Lyric in a Time of War by Eloise Klein Healy Visual Representation

A Child is Something Else Again by Yehuda Amichai

‘A Child is Something Else Again’ by Yehuda Amichai is a poem about parenthood and childhood. A child represents a great deal, the speaker says, and provides a parent with the will to live. 

A Child is Something Else Again by Yehuda Amichai Visual Representation

Only a Dad by Edgar Albert Guest

‘Only a Dad’ by Edgar Albert Guest is dedicated to the poet’s father. The poem describes the man’s willingness to self-sacrifice and do whatever he can to make his children happy. 

Only a Dad by Edgar Albert Guest Visual Representation

The Yachts by William Carlos Williams

‘The Yachts’ by William Carlos Williams depicts the winners, or yacht-owners, in the capitalist system and the losers, or the poor, who are drowning in the waters around the boats. 

The Yachts Poem Visual Representation

Who in One Lifetime by Muriel Rukeyser

‘Who in One Lifetime’ by Muriel Rukeyser is a poem about resistance in the face of war and suffering. The speaker asserts that a woman referred to only as “she” is standing strong despite what she’s seen. 

Who in One Lifetime by Muriel Rukeyser Visual Representation

Peter Quince at the Clavier by Wallace Stevens

‘Peter Quince at the Clavier’ by Wallace Stevens is a musical depiction of the story of Susanna and the Elders from the Book of Daniel. It describes the “feeling” of “music” and the nature of beauty.

Peter Quince at the Clavier by Wallace Stevens Visual Representation

Abuelito Who by Sandra Cisneros

‘Abuelito Who’ by Sandra Cisneros is a powerful poem about the importance of family. The poem conveys the ways that illness and change within the family dynamic can have on a child.

Abuelito Who by Sandra Cisneros Visual Representation

Howl by Allen Ginsberg

‘Howl’ is Allen Ginsberg’s best-known poem and is commonly considered his greatest work. It is an indictment of modern society and a celebration of anyone living outside it.

Howl by Allen Ginsberg Visual Representation

A Brave and Startling Truth by Maya Angelou

‘A Brave and Startling Truth’ by Maya Angelou is a commonly quoted poem about humanity’s future. The poet alludes to the “truth” that humanity will arrive at when “we” realize we are the one true wonder of the world. 

A Brave and Startling Truth by Maya Angelou Visual Representation

Persimmons by Li-Young Lee

‘Persimmons’ by Li-Young Lee is a beautiful poem that describes the poet’s interest in language. It explores how a persimmon comes to symbolize both his family connections and his feelings of alienation from his peers. 

Persimmons by Li-Young Lee Visual Representation

How to Like it by Stephen Dobyns

‘How to Like It’ by Stephen Dobyns was written in order to explore a man’s struggle to accept change as he ages. The poem uses humor and very relatable emotions in order to appeal to readers. 

How to Like It by Stephen Dobyns Visual Representation

Singapore by Mary Oliver

‘Singapore’ by Mary Oliver is a highly relatable poem that speaks about life’s struggles and the beauty of mundane and graceful work. It is set in an airport bathroom in Singapore. 

Singapore by Mary Oliver Visual Representation

Nightmare Begins Responsibility by Michael S. Harper

‘Nightmare Begins Responsibility’ by Michael S. Harper is an unforgettable poem in which the speaker describes the loss of a child. While struggling to trust the doctors caring for his newborn son, the speaker watches on helplessly. 

Grandfather by Michael S. Harper

‘Grandfather’ by Michael S. Harper describes the treatment Harper’s grandfather endured and alludes to racism within the United States more generally. 

Grandfather by Michael S. Harper Visual Representation

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver by Edna St. Vincent Millay

‘The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay depicts the lengths mothers will go to in order to protect their children. The speaker recalls watching his mother sacrifice herself for him when he was a young boy, weaving an enormous pile of clothing with a harp. 

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver by Edna St. Vincent Millay Visual Representation

The Language of the Brag by Sharon Olds

‘The Language of the Brag’ by Sharon Olds is an unforgettable poem about the strength and exceptionality of women’s bodies. It is set against the backdrop of giving birth. 

The Language of the Brag by Sharon Olds Visual Representation

Credo by Robinson Jeffers

‘Credo’ by Robinson Jeffers is a powerful poem that asserts the poet’s beliefs about humanity’s connection to the natural world and explores how they contrast with the main tenants of Transcendentalism.

Credo by Robinson Jeffer Visual Representation

Mr. Nobody by Anonymous

‘Mr. Nobody’ by Anonymous is a clever children’s poem that shifts the blame for all mischief and messes over to an unknown entity– Mr. Nobody. 

Mr. Nobody by Anonymous Visual Representation

The Legend by Garrett Hongo

‘The Legend’ by Garrett Hongo speaks on themes of alienation and the struggle of immigrants within the United States. It focuses on the symbolic death of an older, Asian man in Chicago.

The Legend by Garrett Hongo Visual Representation

The Bear by Galway Kinnell 

‘The Bear’ by Galway Kinnell is an unforgettable poem that details the physical struggle between a hunter and a bear he’s pursuing as well as the hunter’s spiritual transformation.

The Bear by Galway Kinnell Visual Representation

Here by R.S. Thomas

‘Here’ by R.S. Thomas is delivered from the perspective of a man who, while looking back on his life, finds himself self regretting acts of violence he committed.

Here by R.S. Thomas Visual Representation

Snowfall in the Afternoon by Robert Bly

‘Snowfall in the Afternoon’ by Robert Bly is an interesting and multilayered poem. It uses natural imagery to describe a particular view of the world. 

Snowfall in the Afternoon by Robert Bly Visual Representation

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