1) "The Unwritten" by W.S. Merwin.
Merwin's poem invites us inside his pencil where the words, he tells us, are hiding unseen, dark in the dark. Yes, even something so small and ordinary as a pencil can be the subject of a poem.
2) "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams.
So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens. One sentence. 14 words (16 when compound nouns "wheelbarrow" and "rainwater" are by Williams' hand halved in two). This is the poem I like to use to talk about form: 8 lines. 4 stanzas. Here again, a poem about an ordinary thing: a red wheelbarrow, and how so much depends (in a poem) on nouns and images as things that hold both power and water, as things, in other words, that a poem can lean on, be hung upon, which is why as poets we depend on such things and such poems as "The Red Wheelbarrow." It's how poetry rolls.
3) "The Moon" by Frank Stanford.
A poem that invites us to see the moon as more than what it appears to be. Moon as horse, as rooster, as stone. A poem that asks us to find out what we think and to realize, after thinking, what it is that we know about one of the most universal and mysterious objects in our sky.
4) "The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee" by N. Scott Momaday.
Like the moon, we are more than what we appear to be. We are more than just a boy, or girl, man or woman. We are the things we see and the things we praise and the things we stand in good relation to, the things we are connected to. If you could be more than who you are, what would you want to be? A poem written in conversation with this poem can offer up the answer.
5) "Lying in a Hammock on William Duffy's Farm Pine Island Minnesota" by James Wright.
Pay attention. Make use of the things around you. Keep your head on a swivel. When you chill in your backyard what do you see? Those things are your things. Claim them as your own. To know who you are and your place in the world is the way not to waste your life.
6) "M. Degas Teaches Art & Science at Durfee Intermediate School, Detroit 1942" by Philip Levine.
Another poem that proves that even a simple diagonal line drawn on the blackboard can be enough to build a poem around. Proof too that the student who seems least engaged in the conversation is sometimes the one who makes poetry out of a moment that feels, in all its banality, as if it could go on and last forever. This is a poem for those window-starers in the classroom who might not see themselves as poets and yet Levine's speaker finds in this teachable moment the power of revelation that can only come through reverie and daydream.
7) "Words" by Anne Sexton.
Be careful of words, Sexton tells us. Even the miraculous ones. For words can be tricky and fickle lovers. Words that both kiss and leave us with their bruises, words that are seen as holy and beautiful but also fragile and not always of this world. I have so much I want to say, the speaker here tells us. And yet: sometimes words fail us. And yet, and yet, and yet. In the end, this poem wants us to know, there are words and sometimes that is enough. And sometimes not.
8) "Welcome Morning" by Anne Sexton.
There is joy in all of this, this poem says. The sacred and the holy are everywhere around us and in everything we see. Here again, a poem that teaches us to look around and find the miraculous in the things that we see and to see that everything around us, even the ordinary, can be charged with divine possibilities.
9) "My People" by Langston Hughes.
To see beauty in the dark that is the night. To see and to sing and to celebrate this song of myself and my people, with our faces black like the night. To see beauty, too, when we look into the mirror. Beauty as a thing around us. This poem is a simple reminder of such necessary things.
10) "Between Walls" by William Carlos Williams.
Because beauty can also be found in the ashes, in things otherwise broken, charred, cast aside, in places—alleys, halls, corridors, locked rooms—where others refuse, or don't bother to look.