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What is good writing? 10 Best Twentieth Century Poems

Ladies and gentlemen, here it is: the 10 Must-Read Twentieth Century Poems!

Ladies and gentlemen, here it is: the 10 Must-Read Twentieth Century Poems!
Are you ready? In descending order, we have…

10. Queen Anne’s Lace – William Carlos Williams
This Modernist writer utilized vivid imagery expressed through deliberately casual, everyday American English. “Queen Anne’s Lace” is nowhere near as famous as his oft-anthologized “The Red Wheelbarrow,” but it is simultaneously delicate and erotic.

9. Bluebird – Charles Bukowski
The only poet to make this list twice, Bukowski was equally skilled in writing a book of fiction as he was in scribbling free-verse poetry. His works are sometimes vulgar, often hilarious, and always brutally honest. “Bluebird” showcases Bukowski’s toughness and vulnerability at the same time.

8. How to Write the Great American Indian Novel – Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie’s poetry demonstrates the ambivalent relationship between Native Americans and their country in a way that no other modern writer can. Here, Alexie pokes fun at stereotypes while mourning the loss of his people’s culture.

7. If You Forget Me – Pablo Neruda
Hailing from Chile, Pablo Neruda was one of the great love poets of the twentieth century. “If You Forget Me” hauntingly depicts love as it dies and is reborn.

6. The Starry Night – Anne Sexton
Though not as well-known as fellow confessional poet Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton wrote passionate, sorrowful verse. “The Starry Night,” inspired by van Gogh’s famous painting, exemplifies her style.

5. may i feel said he – e.e. cummings
This poem is a marvelous blend of guilt, excitement, and passion. It is not as wildly experimental as some of cummings’ other works, but it is definitely worth reading.

4. This Be the Verse – Philip Larkin
A short, disturbing poem which reveals a sad truth about life and family. (Just read the first line.)

3. Centrifuge – Dean Young
Dean Young is a contemporary poet who combines humor and surrealism to form truly original, entertaining verse. With its fluid pace and unique energy, “Centrifuge” is a perfect example of sheer creativity in motion.

2. So you want to be a writer? – Charles Bukowski
Writers wishing to learn how to write a book would be wise to take Bukowski’s advice: it is not about how one writes something, it is about why. Great works do not come from the writer who wants to create something, they come from the writer who needs to. Bukowski communicates this reality clearly and honestly.

1. Howl – Allen Ginsberg
An iconic Beat Generation poet, Ginsberg was a homosexual at a time when American society was uncomfortable with people who pushed the boundaries. “Howl” delineates the resulting alienation felt by America’s cultural outsiders during the 1950’s with long, flowing lines and a stream-of-consciousness style reminiscent of Ginsberg’s hero, Walt Whitman.

Inspired and ready to start writing a novel?

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By Bridget McNulty

Bridget McNulty is a published author, content strategist, writer, editor and speaker. She is the co-founder of two non-profits: Sweet Life Diabetes Community, South Africa's largest online diabetes community, and the Diabetes Alliance, a coalition of all the organisations working in diabetes in South Africa. She is also the co-founder of Now Novel: an online novel-writing course where she coaches aspiring writers to start - and finish! - their novels. Bridget believes in the power of storytelling to create meaningful change.

4 replies on “What is good writing? 10 Best Twentieth Century Poems”

The person who compiled this list knows absolutely noting about poetry. Not one of these poems deserves to be in a list of even the top hundred poems of the 20th century.

Hi CPMurdock – this is a very old post by a former intern and represents one person’s subjective opinion, so I’d take the choices with a grain of salt. I’d be interested to know what your picks would be to get humanity out of said trouble? Thanks for reading.

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