43 Short Poems to Sneak More Poetry Into Your Life

The first negative review I ever got was for a poem I published in my college lit mag. Titled “In a Booth at the Waffle House,” it was a throwback to Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” and it was about Waffle House chocolate pie, and I was seriously proud of it. Two lines and a title. That’s not easy to do! And while I have lots of love for long poems, there is a special place for the tight economy of short poems. Short poems get us where we’re going quickly, and because there’s no room for meandering, every word weighs a ton. And a short poem puts us in touch with poetry—a shot, a quick snack, an amuse bouche to amp up our poetic reading lives. So for your enjoyment, here’s a list of great short poems.

short poems | Book Riot

But wait! What makes a short poem short? For my purposes here, there are super short poems (fewer than 10 lines) and short-ish poems (10–15 lines). And because poetry exists beyond the page nowadays, taking on visual or spoken word or both, I have a few examples of those for you to enjoy as well. Obviously, this is not a complete list of all the great poems—let alone all the great short poems—but it’s a fine place for us to start. (And don’t worry. My Waffle House poem isn’t one of them.)

Super short poems (fewer than 10 lines)

Margaret Atwood “You Fit Into Me”

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

Ezra Pound “In a Station of the Metro”

Anais Nin “Risk”

And then the day came,

when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to blossom.

Edna St. Vincent Millay “First Fig”

Emily Dickinson “It’s All I Have to Bring Today”

Henry David Thoreau “My life has been the poem I would have writ”

My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it.

William Carlos Williams “Red Wheelbarrow”

Stephen Crane “I Stood Upon a High Place”

Maya Angelou “Awakening in New York”

Curtains forcing their will
against the wind,
children sleep,
exchanging dreams with
seraphim. The city
drags itself awake on
subway straps; and
I, an alarm, awake as a
rumor of war
lie stretching into dawn
unasked and unheeded.

Sylvia Plath “Metaphors”

Robert Frost “The Rose Family”

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose –
But were always a rose.

Anne Sexton “The Black Art”

Joy Harjo “Invisible Fish”

Rita Dove “Happenstance”

Lucille Clifton “My Mama moved among the days”

Short-ish poems (10-15 lines)

Danez Smith “The 17 Year-Old & the Gay Bar”

this gin-heavy heaven, blessed ground to think gay & mean we. /
bless the fake id & the bouncer who knew /
this need to be needed, to belong, to know how /
a man taste full on vodka & free of sin. i know not which god to pray to. /
i look to christ, i look to every mouth on the dance floor, i order /
a whiskey coke, name it the blood of my new savior. he is just. /
he begs me to dance, to marvel men with the /
                                                                                   dash /
of hips i brought, he deems my mouth in some stranger’s mouth necessary. /
bless that man’s mouth, the song we sway sloppy to, the beat, the bridge, the length /
of his hand on my thigh & back & i know not which country i am of. /
i want to live on his tongue, build a home of gospel & gayety /
i want to raise a city behind his teeth for all boys of choirs & closets to refuge in. /
i want my new god to look at the mecca i built him & call it damn good /
or maybe i’m just tipsy & free for the first time, willing to worship anything i can taste. /

Jeanine Gailey “Okay, Ophelia”

Natasha Tretheway “Housekeeping”

We mourn the broken things, chair legs
wrenched from their seats, chipped plates,
the threadbare clothes. We work the magic
of glue, drive the nails, mend the holes.
We save what we can, melt small pieces
of soap, gather fallen pecans, keep neck bones
for soup. Beating rugs against the house,
we watch dust, lit like stars, spreading
across the yard. Late afternoon, we draw
the blinds to cool the rooms, drive the bugs
out. My mother irons, singing, lost in reverie.
I mark the pages of a mail-order catalog,
listen for passing cars. All day we watch
for the mail, some news from a distant place.

Naomi Shihab Nye “300 Goats”

Billy Collins “Introduction to Poetry”

Jacqueline Woodson “Church”

On Sundays, the preacher gives everyone a chance
to repent their sins. Miss Edna makes me go
to church. She wears a bright hat
I wear my suit. Babies dress in lace.
Girls my age, some pretty, some not so
pretty. Old ladies and men nodding.
Miss Edna every now and then throwing her hand
in the air. Saying Yes, Lord and Preach!
I sneak a pen from my back pocket,
bend down low like I dropped something.
The chorus marches up behind the preacher
clapping and humming and getting ready to sing.
I write the word HOPE on my hand.

Mary Oliver “Sleeping in the Forest”

Karina Borowicz “September Tomatoes”

The whiskey stink of rot has settled
in the garden, and a burst of fruit flies rises
when I touch the dying tomato plants.
Still, the claws of tiny yellow blossoms
flail in the air as I pull the vines up by the roots
and toss them in the compost.
It feels cruel. Something in me isn’t ready
to let go of summer so easily. To destroy
what I’ve carefully cultivated all these months.
Those pale flowers might still have time to fruit.
My great-grandmother sang with the girls of her village
as they pulled the flax. Songs so old
and so tied to the season that the very sound
seemed to turn the weather.

William Shakespeare “Sonnet 116:  Let me not to the marriage of true minds”

Chen Chen “Self-Portrait as So Much Potential”

Dreaming of one day being as fearless as a mango.
As friendly as a tomato. Merciless to chin & shirtfront.
Realizing I hate the word “sip.”
But that’s all I do.
I drink. So slowly.
& say I’m tasting it. When I’m just bad at taking in liquid.
I’m no mango or tomato. I’m a rusty yawn in a rumored year. I’m an arctic attic.
Come able & ampersand in the slippery polar clutter.
I am not the heterosexual neat freak my mother raised me to be.
I am a gay sipper, & my mother has placed what’s left of her hope on my brothers.
She wants them to gulp up the world, spit out solid degrees, responsible grandchildren ready to gobble.
They will be better than mangoes, my brothers.
Though I have trouble imagining what that could be.
Flying mangoes, perhaps. Flying mango-tomato hybrids. Beautiful sons.

Jacqueline Woodson “on paper”

Pablo Neruda “One Hundred Love Sonnets:  XVII”

Maggie Smith “Good Bones”

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Francisco Aragón “Lunch Break”

Robert Frost “Dust of Snow”

Ross Gay “A Small Needful Fact”

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Natasha Tretheway “Miscegenation”

Lia Purpura “Resolution”

There’s the thing I shouldn’t do

and yet, and now I have
the rest of the day to
make up for, not
undo, that can’t be done
but next time,
think more calmly,
breathe, say here’s a new
morning, morning,

(though why would that
work, it isn’t even
hidden, hear it in there,
more, more,

Lucille Clifton “blessing the boats”

Nikki Giovanni “BLK History Month”

If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
to root
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too

Adrienne Rich “A Mark of Resistance”

Langston Hughes “Harlem”

Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things”

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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maybe just read the poems to me? okay.

Lee Mokobe 

T. Miller 

Hollie McNish

Want more short poems and poetry? Check out “58 Beautiful Love Poems” or our full poetry archives

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