Let’s be honest, sometimes the only thing that makes you feel better is a good cry. There’s nothing wrong with that—that’s what sad poetry is for! Poetry is full of deep, complex emotions that are too big to be put plainly into words. Often regarded as a window into the soul, poetry is known for bringing readers catharsis.
So if you’re ready to confront your emotions head on, why not start with these sad poetry books? From the sensual, yearning queer poetry of Richard Siken, to the guileless accounts of a natural disaster from Patricia Smith, this list has everything you need to get those tears flowing.
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Siken’s poetry hits gut-deep, with mesmerizing lines that spin imagery full of despair, longing, and a need that is, at times, feral. His words grasp the universal pain of longing, but tackle it with a unique and unabashed queer perspective. With dark, stirring lines like, “You know how to ride a dirt bike, and you know how to do long division, and you know that a boy who likes boys is a dead boy, unless he keeps his mouth shut, which is what you didn't do, because you are weak and hollow and it doesn't matter anymore,” Crush is a haunting essential.
The End of the Alphabet
This Claudia Rankine collection from 1998 is a harrowing and urgent look at alienation and pain. Her collection walks the curving path between loss and recovery, calling on feminine literary voices like Jane Eyre and Lady MacBeth. The End of the Alphabet takes an invasively intimate dive into the aftershocks of tragedy, and includes such striking and challenging lines as, “Rip the mind out. Go ahead.”
Her collection Citizen: An American Lyric is another great read, taking a powerful look at the rising racial tensions in America.
This book was published in 2016, shortly after Ritvo died of cancer at the age of 25. His collection explores the inevitability of death, and the violent loneliness and fierce yearning that comes with sickness. Ritvo’s work encompasses the bittersweet beauty of life, and displays a humble reverence for one’s fleeting time on earth. He aims right for the heart with bone-shakingly honest lines like, “I wish you would let me know how difficult it is to love me. Then I would know you love me beneath all that difficulty.”
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Live or Die
This Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection chronicles a fictionalized version of Sexton’s journey through mental illness. She writes with a raw and provocative darkness, unflinchingly putting suicidal musings onto the page. Chilling and bare, she pens, “Death’s a sad bone; bruised, you’d say, and yet she waits for me, year after year, to so delicately undo an old wound.” However, her work pushes readers towards hope and progress, capping the collection off with a plea to live, heal, and hope.
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Centered around the immeasurable tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, this collection of poems assumes the voices of those immersed in the fateful natural disaster. Smith takes on the form of apathetic politicians, the lost and dying, the angry and surviving, and the inimitable hurricane itself. Smith’s poem about the thirty-four elderly patients in a nursing home who drowned after being left to the ravages of the tropical storm will move any reader to tears. She stuns and devastates, with powerful and scathing lines like, “The cowboy grins through the terrible din, and in the Ninth, a choking woman wails, ‘Looks like this country done left us for dead.’”
Howling at the Moon
“I just don't feel like me anymore, & it's not fair to answer the phone when the person they're looking for is no longer in this body, when the girl they all used to love looks more wolf than girl now.” Darshana Suresh writes with a thought provoking openness, which breaks down unspeakable hurts into little truths laid bare. This poetry collection toes the blurry line between hurting and healing, unafraid to make readers squirm with its frank approach to depression and anxiety. Heartfelt and gripping, Suresh’s work faces the ugly emotions we run from head on.
I Am Not Your Final Girl
This collection of Holland’s poetry operates through an interesting lens, taking on the perspective of the “final girls” of horror films to address the trauma, violence, and sexism thrust upon women in today’s society. Her poems take fictionalized horror worlds and make them strike a very real chord with readers, summoning the exhaustion, devastation, and rage women feel towards the patriarchy. Like a rallying call, Holland writes, “She is so tired of waiting—aren’t you?—for the world to become good and tolerable and kind.” She evolves a slog of violence into a fight for empowerment—a song of survival.
This poetry collection by Trista Mateer comes complete with illustrations from Lauren Zaknoun, depicting depression, anxiety, and the coping mechanisms which accompany them. Mateer approaches mental illness with honesty and a lack of romanticism, giving readers a clear view into the exhaustion, terror, and hopelessness that walks hand in hand with depression. With heartbreaking and relatable lines like, “All she knows is that she’s tired of letting the things she doesn’t forgive herself for pile up like leaves in the autumn,” Mateer delivers a stunning a quick read in Small Ghost.