Diary of a Poet

Reasons to Get Stranded: Poetry to Read on a Desert Island

Let’s say, just for the fun of it, that you were left alone on some tropical island with an unknown amount of time ahead of you. Luckily, having anticipated just this emergency, you had the foresight to pack twenty books that would consume the hours while you await rescue. 

Were this to happen to me, I’d want my tried-and-true books, ones I make new discoveries in no matter how many times I’ve read them. With a few exceptions, most of the books on this list are over twenty years old, some far older; i.e., The Faber Book of Modern Poetry, published in 1936. Browsing through my copy, I found “Swans” by Lawrence Durrell. Here’s the first stanza:


Fraudulent perhaps in that they gave

No sense of muscle but a swollen languor

Though moved by webs; yet idly, idly

As soap-bubbles drift from a clay-pipe

They mowed the lake in tapestry.

This list includes individual poetry collections and anthologies.

  • 50 Contemporary Poets—The Creative Process, ed. Alberta T. Turner
  • A Book of Women Poets From Antiquity to Now, eds. Aliki Barnstorm & Willis Barnstorm
  • American Sonnets For My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes
  • Ariel by Sylvia Plath
  • Carnival Evening by Linda Pastan
  • Even in Quiet Places by William Stafford
  • Mercurochrome by Wanda Coleman
  • Opened Ground by Seamus Heaney
  • Patterson by William Carlos Williams
  • Sonnets by Shakespeare
  • Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds
  • The Collected Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop
  • The Complete Poems by Anna Akhmatova, ed. Roberta Reeder
  • The Country Without a Post Office by Shahid Ali Agha
  • The Duino Elegies by Rainier Maria Rilke
  • The Faber Book of Modern Poetry, ed. Michael Roberts
  • The Geography of Home—California’s Poetry of Place, eds. Christopher Buckley & Gary Young
  • The Wild Iris by Louise Glück 
  • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
  • With Eyes at the Backs of Our Heads by Denise Levertov

If you were stranded on a desert island, which books of poetry would you want with you?

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