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The Best Poetry Anthology - Tips to Help You Choose

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

There is a wide variety of anthology. Which one to choose?

There is a wide variety of anthology. Which one to choose?

The Poetry Anthology - Which One To Choose?

Choosing an anthology of poems can be an exciting prospect but there are so many different kinds of anthology out there, it's best to narrow down the choices. In this article you'll find useful information that will help you choose the right one.

There's a comprehensive list of anthologies suitable for those at school or college plus advice on what kind of anthology best suits your needs. I've included some children's anthology books too.

And you'll find a special section on Christmas poetry book anthologies.

There are many anthologies published each year - some broad based, some rather obscure and specialist, and others that are definitely taking a walk on the wild side.

But, reading different types of poetry can be a life changer. Opening up a new book of never seen before verse is a bit like starting a new journey - you're never quite sure what you'll find or where you'll end up.

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies / when a new planet swims into his ken;

That's what John Keats wrote on first looking into Chapman's Homer. Keats was very young when he penned those lines but summed up beautifully the idea of experiencing new and broader horizons by looking into new material in a book.

Anthologies can do this because they offer so much variety in such a relatively small space. They're perfect for dipping into and emerging refreshed. I find anthologies to be like resourceful friends, giving me all sorts of meaningful things to think about. They're not without their controversies either!

Politics and editorships aside, an anthology can be the perfect introduction to the world of poetry. And in an increasingly techno-driven society, nothing can quite equal opening the first page of a new book, and settling down to read fresh and inspiring material.

What Kind of Poetry Anthology Should I Choose?

Anthologies are usually compilations, that is, groups of poems representative of different authors, or genres, subjects or countries.

For example you may see anthologies all about animals that contain poems from many ages and cultures. You can find anthologies (sometimes called collections) of poems all written in the same year by poets known and unknown.

Some volumes are contemporary and international in flavour. It all depends on what you are looking for. Think carefully about the subject matter. Do you want an anthology of love poems, of short poems, of Russian poems?

Are you purchasing an anthology for a friend or loved one? They may have a special interest in say, flowers or art or landscapes.

An anthology of Nature poems may suit. This particular highlighted book has a nature poem for each day of the year and might be especially useful for teachers and educators.

What Kind of Poetry Anthology?

The Poetry of Birds - poems ancient and modern, from the Ovenbird to the Phoenix.

Poems on the Underground - shorter poems as seen on London's tube stations.

The Best American Poetry - an annual collection with guest editor choosing poems published during the year.

Scanning the Century - large ambitious volume covering sci-fi, the media,history,science,the future.

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The Rattle Bag - delightful eclectic range of poems chosen by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.

Wild Reckoning - eco poems, nature poems, poems to inspire and make you think about the planet.

Vanishing Points - innovative poems at the cutting edge of current poetical taste.

The Norton Anthology - giant thin papered collection of classical and modern poems from Caedmon to Lavinia Greenlaw. An excellent comprehensive anthology.

The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English verse - comprehensive overview of English poetry from anglo saxon times up to present day.

Trees Be Company - a rich and varied gathering of poems all about trees.

A World of Poetry - lively, thoughtful and entertaining volume of children's poems, both classical and modern, with illustrations.

Being Alive & Staying Alive - human poetry for the 21st century.

Earth Songs - a modern, sensitive collection of poems covering deep ecology, the natural world and spirituality.

Bestiary - a wonderful herd of animal poems of all ages, shapes and sizes.

Luckenbooth - small, neat, beautifully produced book of poems about Edinburgh.

Children's Poetry Anthologies

Here are some selected classic titles with publisher and age range.

The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems - Barefoot Books, ages 8+

I've Got a Poem For You - Poems to Perform - Oxford Uni Press, ages 8+

The Oxford Treasury of Classic Poems - Oxford Uni Press, ages 9+

The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury (Jack Prelutsky compiler) - Knopf, ages 6+

The Invisible Ladder - Henry Holt & Co, ages 8+

Sing A Song Of Popcorn - Scholastic Press, ages 3+

A Child's Anthology of Poetry - Ecco, ages 9+

A Variety of Poetry Anthologies

  • Attenborough, Liz, Editor. Poetry by Heart: A Child’s Book of Poems to Remember. Scholastic, 2001.
  • Berry, James, Editor. Around the World in Eighty Poems. Chronicle books, 2002.
  • Big, Bad and a Little Bit Scary: Poems that Bite Back! Illustrated by Wade Zahares. Viking, 2001.
  • Brewbaker, James, and Dawnelle Hyland, Editors. Poems by Adolescents and Adults: A Thematic Collection for Middle School and High School. NCTE, 2002.
  • Bowman, Catherine, Editor Word of Mouth: Poems featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. Vintage Books, 2003.
  • Collins, Billy, Editor 180 More: Poetry for Extraordinary Times. Random House, 2005.
  • Cullinan, Bernice E., Editor. A Jar of Tiny Stars: Poems by NCTE Award-Winning Poets. Boyds Mill Press and NCTE, 1996.
  • Folsom, Editor Visiting Walt: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Walt Whitman. University of Iowa Press, 2003.
  • Gillan, Maria Mazziotti and Jennifer Gillan, Editor. Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry. Penguin Books, 1994.
  • Gilyard, Keith, Editor. Spirit and Flame: An Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. SyracuseUniversity Press, 1997.
  • Handal, Nathalie, Editor. The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology. Interlink Publishing Group, Inc, 2001.
  • Hoberman, Mary Ann, Editor. My Song Is Beautiful: Poems and Pictures in Many Voices. Little, Brown and Co., 1994.
  • Hollyer, Belinda. The Kingfisher Book of Family Poems. Kingfisher, 2003.
  • Hopkins, Lee Bennett, Editor. Through Our Eyes: Poems and Pictures about Growing Up. Little, Brown and Company, 1992.
  • Hopkins, Lee Bennett, Editor. Lives: Poems about Famous Americans. HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.
  • Intrator, Sam M. and Megan Scribner, Eds. Teaching With Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach. Jossey-Bass, 2003.
  • Keilor, Garrison, Editor. Good Poems. Viking Press, 2002.
  • Kennedy, Caroline, Editor. A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children. Hyperion, 2005.
  • Kotch, Kenneth and Kate Farrell, Editors. Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People. Henry Holt and Company, 1985.
  • Larrick, Nancy, Editor. On City Streets. Bantam Books, 1969.
  • Lewis, Patrick. Countdown to Summer: 180 Poems for Every Day of the School Year. Little, Brown and Co., June 2009.
  • Murray, John, Editor. Poems to Live By in Uncertain Times. Beacon Press, 2001.
  • Nye, Naomi Shihab, Editor. This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World. Four Winds Press; NY, 1992.
  • Plotz, Helen, Editor. Imagination’s Other Place: Poems of Science and Mathematics. Thomas Y. Cromwell Company, 1995.
  • Rosenberg, Liz, Editor. The Invisible Ladder: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poems for Young Readers. (Grade 7 and up) Henry Holt and Co., 1996.
  • Vecchione, Patrice Redd, Editor. Truth and Lies: An Anthology of Poems. Henry Holt and Company, 2001.
  • Volavkova, Hana. …I never saw another butterfly…: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944. Schocken Books, 1978.
  • Yolen, Jane, Editor. Sky Scrape/City Scape: Poems of City Life. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 1996.
  • Yolen, Jane, Editor. Mother Earth, Father Sky: Poems of Our Planet. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 1996.

Favourite Poetry Anthology

If you know what kind of anthology you want the next step is to decide where to buy it from? But there's a bigger question to ask first - should you buy?


A visit to your local library (if you have one) can be a good way of previewing a book you're thinking of buying. If it's not on the shelf then most libraries will order it for you. This can take time, especially if it's a rare or in-demand book, so be prepared to wait up to several weeks. Book clubs and reading groups may have a stock of books available on loan to members.


New books can be purchased from a book store or online.

  • If you prefer the personal touch then shopping on the high street for an anthology would be best. You get to browse at your leisure, handle the product and, if needed, ask for advice. Again you may have to order the title if it's not to hand. A quick call or email to the store can determine whether they have your book or not.
  • Online shopping has advantages and disadvantages. If it's choice you're after then there's no comparison - you'll have thousands of titles on screen- it's simply a matter of narrowing things down! You may well see lower prices too. Disadvantages are obvious. You don't get to see your purchase beforehand and you may receive damaged goods if the book is handled roughly in transit.

The following book, one of my favourites, has poems from ancient times through to modern and I can wholeheartedly recommend it because it has poems not often seen in such anthologies. For example, it has many haiku from Japanese masters Issa and Basho. It has beautiful poems by Rilke, Robert Frost and D.H. Lawrence. This 230 page anthology is excellent value for money. It will not disappoint. Bestiary, an anthology of poems about animals.

Knowing The Value of A Poetry Anthology

You now know what subject you need but you're not sure about what type of book you'd like. Brand new or second hand? Modern or classic oldie? Here are some suggestions to help you make up your mind:

Condition - if you decide to buy a second hand poetry anthology online look for these words which are used by book traders to describe the condition of the book:

  • as new
  • fine
  • near fine
  • very good
  • unused
  • good
  • fair
  • poor
  • ex library
  • book club
  • binding
  • proofs
  • readable
  • chipped
  • foxed
  • stained
  • torn
  • creased
  • covers missing
  • pages missing

Hardback or Softback - a hardback book will last longer because it is more robust but may cost up to and over 100% more than the easier to handle softback. Hardbacks make beautiful gifts and could, at a push, be used as stand up decoration (not recommended!).

1st Edition - a 1st edition is the first printing of a particular book and is always worth a little more than subsequent printings.

Signed - an author's signature on the title page or elsewhere adds just that little bit of extra spice to a book, as well as increasing its value.

Inscribed - a signature with added personal Freddy ....happy birthday.

Association Copy - a book that has some association with the author/authors.

If the anthology is to be an investment for the long term it would make sense to go for a hardback, 1st edition, inscribed and with association!

Create Your Own Anthology

This is a fun and fascinating exercise to do. If like me you have lots of small volumes by individual poets and often noticed common ground between authors/subjects/cultures and thought - I'd love to put these poems side by side on the same page for comparison? Why not create a personal anthology?

For example, say 4 authors wrote poems about a glass of water (yes it's true) then why not put the individual poems together, add more as you discover them and expand the subject into a title of your choosing: Liquid Poetry - H2O - Poems About Water.

The sky's the limit.

You could make your own unique book using materials you have chosen, or even write the poems down in your own hand - it's not that difficult - and the result would be a truly one-off creation.

© 2012 Andrew Spacey

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