Read Harder: A Book of Nature Poems

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Jamie Orsini

Staff Writer

Jamie is a military spouse, mom to two littles, and an award-winning journalist. She's working on her first novel. You can reach her at jamiethebookie@gmail.com.

Jamie Orsini

Staff Writer

Jamie is a military spouse, mom to two littles, and an award-winning journalist. She's working on her first novel. You can reach her at jamiethebookie@gmail.com.

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2020 was a year.

A devastating pandemic ravaged the world, my nation experienced a contentious presidential election, and the death of George Floyd sparked worldwide protests and ignited a racial reckoning in America.

Like I said, 2020 was a year.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I found solace and love in my family, my children, and as always, in books.

While I normally favor character-driven fiction and cozy mysteries, I found myself turning to poetry for peace and inspiration.

I found that and more in several works of nature poetry. Read on to discover works that will ground, uplift, challenge, and inspire you for the Read Harder Challenge task asking you to read a book of nature poetry.

Devotions by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s celebrated career was defined by her reflections on nature and the human spirit. In Devotions, Oliver selected and arranged some of the best work of her career. If you’re looking to deepen your appreciation for the natural world around you, Devotions is a great place to start.

The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris

The Lost Words seamlessly combines poetry and art to highlight how technology is replacing nature in children’s lives. When the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was released, readers noticed that dozens of words relating to the natural world had been dropped in favor of newer, technology-based terms. Words like bramble, otter, and willow were replaced by blog and broadband. The Lost Words is a gorgeously illustrated love letter to those forgotten words.

Earth Keeper: Reflections on the American Land by N. Scott Momaday

This new collection of prose poetry recalls stories from Pulitzer Prize–winning writer N. Scott Momaday’s childhood and life. Momaday celebrates and shares his experiences as a member of the Kiowa tribe while also looking ahead to our responsibilities to the land on which we live.

Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry Edited by Camille T. Dungy

This anthology of nature poetry by Black artists is accompanied by editor Camille T. Dungy’s analysis and context for the collection. Dungy points out that historically, nature poetry is rooted in the Anglo-Saxon gaze with focuses on wilderness and rural life. She argues that it’s necessary to reframe the definition of nature. Black Nature is a comprehensive look at Black Americans’ contribution to nature poetry – and it’s stunning.

The Mountain Poems of Meng Hao-jan, Translated by David Hinton

Meng Haoran, or Meng Hao-jan, was an influential T’ang dynasty poet who wrote largely about the area in which he lived. His short, powerful poems firmly place readers in the Chinese mountains.

Turtle Island by Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1975 for Turtle Island. Many of the poems are political; most of them are rooted in the environment and the exploration of land. Turtle Island includes nearly 60 poems, as well as five prose essays and an introduction from Snyder that explains the book’s title.

A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year, Edited by Jane McMorland Hunter

If you’re new to poetry, A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year is a great place to start. Jane McMorland Hunter has organized a broad assortment of poetry, featuring artists like Robert Frost, Emily Brontë, Shakespeare, and Emily Dickinson. This collection has something for everyone.

Wild Embers book cover poetry books for teens

Wild Embers by Nikita Gill

Wild Embers isn’t rooted in the traditional landscapes of nature poetry; instead, it’s a reflection on the nature of spirit, existence, and femininity. It’s a fiery, inspiring collection for readers looking for empowering reading.

Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, Edited by Billy Collins and Illustrated by David Allen Sibley

This is a very niche collection – but it’s beautiful and whimsical and worth reading. Former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins has organized contemporary and classic poems about birds alongside David Allen Sibley’s vivid avian artworks. It’s elegant and charming, especially if you’re a fan of birds.

Looking for more poetry recommendations? Try these 11 Spoken Word Poems by Queer Poets or 5 Poetry Collections as History Lessons.