Poems to Read in an Existential Crisis and Other Unnecessarily Specific Recommendations

Even if poetry isn’t generally your reading of choice, there’s something pretty magical about finding the perfect poem to read at the perfect time. They can amplify your mood or change it, help you solve a problem or validate one, or even just reframe whatever’s currently spinning in your head.

But how do you know which poem will hit the spot at any given moment? Introducing fifteen unnecessarily specific scenarios that I found the answers for. (You’re on your own for the rest. Kidding, kind of. Need something specific? Meet me in the comments.) I've only shared poems I could find for free online. Enjoy!

Read This When You’ve Had a Long-Ass Day and Need to Mellow Out Before Bed

The Day is Done” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Then read from the treasured volume
      The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
      The beauty of thy voice.

Read This When You Want to Chuckle and Maybe Cry a Little Without Understanding Why

Litany” Billy Collins

Read This When You’re Trying to Convince Yourself It’s Okay to Skip Work and Binge Read

Rain” by Raymond Carver

Read This When You Want Your Heart Ripped Out and Dropped on the Floor

First Hour” by Sharon Olds

Read This When You’re in the Phase of Grief that Feels Like No One Else Gets It

Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden

Read This When You’ve Got it Bad

Sonnet XVII” by Pablo Neruda

Read This When You’re Feeling Emo in the Best Way

Inland” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that th​ey will sing to me.

Read This When You’re in an Existential Crisis and Want Out

Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

Read This When You’re in an Existential Crisis and Kind of Digging It, TBH

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

Read This When You Need Help Not Giving Up but Don’t Want to be Pandered To

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

Read This When You’re a Writer in Need of Inspiration

The Writer” by Richard Wilbur

Read This When You Want Something Ominous to Read Out Loud

The Bells” Edgar Allan Poe

I was not very human. I did not know there was anyone else.

Read This When You Want Something Silly to Read Out Loud (to Undo That Last One)

The Walrus and The Carpenter” by Lewis Carroll

Read This When You Have a Hankering to be Violated

(i.e.: When You Want to Read Your Friendly Neighborhood LitReactor Columnist)

Naked” by Annie Neugebauer

Read This When You Need Some Freaking Girl Power <3

Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou

There are infinite moods and situations in this life, but there are also way more great poems out there than most people realize. If you’re genuinely looking for the perfect poem for wherever you might be at the moment, feel free to share in the comments. I will do my best to help you find one—and other commenters are welcome to jump in as well.

Or create your own unnecessarily specific recommendations based on some of your favorite poems. Who knows the perfect poem to read to start a revolution? To lead one? To stop one? What’s the poem to read to inspire a classroom full of kids? To read when you’re feeling salty about your messed-up family? To suffer through a family reunion with said family? To celebrate that you’re, like, the only person in the world who doesn’t actually have a messed-up family? How about a poem to seduce your significant other? Hell, how about a poem to seduce a stranger?

When was the last time you stumbled on the perfect poem exactly when you needed it? Let’s share.

Annie Neugebauer

Column by Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer likes to make things as challenging as possible for herself by writing horror, poetry, literary, and speculative fiction—often blended together in ways ye olde publishing gods have strictly forbidden. She’s a two-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author with work appearing and forthcoming in more than a hundred publications, including magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Apex, and Black Static, as well as anthologies such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volumes 3 & 4 and #1 Amazon bestsellers Killing It Softly and Fire. She’s an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and in addition to LitReactor, a columnist for Writer Unboxed. She’s represented by Alec Shane of Writers House. She needs to make new friends because her current ones are tired of hearing about House of Leaves. You can visit her at AnnieNeugebauer.com for news, poems, organizational tools for writers, and more.

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Adam Dean's picture
Adam Dean from Savannah, GA is reading Poetry mainly right now May 9, 2019 - 6:43pm

Lately I’ve been feeling a great deal of distance between my own priorities, inclinations, and even personal ethos, and those of the society which surrounds us. What poems do you recommend for a feeling of alienation from society? Everything from “conventional wisdom” to advertising and marketing, to hyperconsumerism just seems empty and insulting to me on a quasi-spiritual level. Do you know of any poetry that expresses this kind of cultural aversion?