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Many students are introduced to poetry by way of an anthology, a carefully curated collection of poems that reflects the literary canon, the taste of the editor, or perhaps the lessons the teacher wants to cover that term. There’s clearly power in choosing which poems are included and which are not, but perhaps empowering students to make their own anthologies is just the point. To help students understand this, literary scholar Ed Simon considers the commonplace book, an early precursor to the anthology form, which is by definition more idiosyncratic than an authoritative anthology. As Simon says,

Free the editor from the burden of omnipotence and the reader is also freed, to no longer take opinions as conclusions, evaluations as commandments, or appraisals as conclusive. And, in turn, the student and reader can, in the greatest tradition of Renaissance humanism, respond with their own positions.

In his opinion, instead of making their own anthologies, students should make their own commonplace books.

How to Make Your Own Commonplace Book

Simons is drawing from a terrific essay, “The Problem of Anthologies, or Making the Dead Wince,” by American and African American literary scholar Kenneth Warren, who discourages professors from “putting massive [poetry] anthologies on their syllabi.” Instead, Warren suggests that instructors have their students “collect, reorder, or add texts (including their own creative work) to a three-ring binder, alongside commentary explaining the reasoning behind their choices.” This context is critical to historicizing and diversifying the literary canon.

Warren’s essay appears in the June 1993 edition of American Literature, which includes several essays about anthologies that might encourage fruitful discussion among students about curation and the literary canon.

Poems for Students to Include in a Commonplace Book

In order to make a poetry anthology, students need access to poems. Here, we share several collections of poetry that JSTOR Daily has published over the years. Start there, or just have students search for poems and poetry or “poetry anthologies” in JSTOR.

12 Poems by Asian American and Pacific Islander Poets

Poems by Asian American and Pacific Islander poets, including Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Marilyn Chin, Atsuro Riley, Kazim Ali and more.
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Six Cat Poems That Aren’t That Owl and Pussycat One

There's nothing practical about these felines. Meow.
From the cover of Credences, July 1975

14 Poems from Little Magazines

Poems by Alice Notley, Fred Moten, C. D. Wright, Jean Valentine, Michael Burkard, and more.
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Ten Poems by Audre Lorde

The esteemed poet is author of Sister Outsider, one title on the Schomburg Black Liberation Reading List. Read free related content on JSTOR.
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Poems by 10 Contemporary Black Poets

Poems by Black poets, including Morgan Parker, Hanif Abdurraqib, Simone White, Terrance Hayes, and more.
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Eight Poems of Gratitude

Let us pause now and give thanks.
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17 Poems by Emily Dickinson

A selection of her poems by one of America's greatest poets.
Collage of contemporary poets

10 Ekphrastic Poems

Broadly defined, an ekphrastic poem describes another work of art. Here are some by Ocean Vuong, Aziza Barnes, Robert Hayden, Frank O’Hara, Danez Smith, and more.
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Ten Poems about Travel

Poetry about all kinds of travel—from grand adventures to family vacations—by Elizabeth Bishop, Rita Dove, and more.
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10 Poems by African-American Poets

Poems by African-American poets, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Kwame Dawes, Rita Dove, Langston Hughes, Tyehimba Jess, Kevin Young, and more.
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Ten Breathtaking Nature Poems

In honor of National Poetry Month, we’ve gathered some of the best nature poems from JSTOR. Including Mary Oliver, Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas, and others.
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Ten Favorite Love Poems

Love poems by Pablo Neruda, Joyce Carol Oates, Kenneth Koch, Willie Perdomo, Robert Penn Warren, Edith Wharton, and more.
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Ten Poems By Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932, and became in her short life one of the most influential poets of the era.
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Seven Favorite Flower Poems

Our editors pick flower poems from Poetry magazine, American Poetry Review, and the Kenyon Review.
The cover of issue 4 of Adventures in Poetry

Adventures in Poetry

Published in the East Village from 1968 to 1975, Adventures in Poetry features poems by New York School poets Anne Waldman, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Allen Ginsberg, Bernadette Mayer, and more.
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Poetry from Independent Voices

Reveal Digital's open access "Independent Voices" collection includes many digitized literary magazines. Those interested in poetry should take note.
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Writing Poetry in Prison as an Act of Resistance

A writer recounts her uncle's experiences writing poetry in prison and advocating for Indigenous rights. His death and his typewriter are intertwined.
Edward Thomas

Poetry from the Trenches of WWI

Tragically killed in action during the Battle of Arras in 1917, Edward Thomas was on the verge of a breakthrough.
Maggie Nelson

MacArthur Genius Fellow Maggie Nelson Writes Poetry, Too. Here’s Some Of It.

She can pack a room with her prose, but Maggie Nelson's got a poet's ear.

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American Literature, Vol. 65, No. 2 (June 1993), pp. 338–342
Duke University Press