Nov 29 2020

Holiday Poetry Book Recommendations 2020

Published by at 10:44 am under Books,Poetry,Poetry Chaikhana Misc.

It has been a challenging year for most of us, I know. As we approach the winter holidays, our normal celebratory feeling is muted. We are more cautious about big family gatherings. Economic times are uncertain for many. And the new year remains unknown. But we can choose to use this as a time of spiritual opportunity. So much that we have taken for granted — in the world around us and within ourselves — has been losing its rigid certainty. When things return to a formless and changing state, that is when the greatest potential is available to us. This is a time for dreaming as new patterns form and take shape. And what better time to dream than in the deep of winter? Let us cultivate new visions for who we are and who we are becoming. Let us rediscover our native voices.

I strongly believe that poetry is one of the most powerful, resonant tools for the spirit to reach out into the world. Words and images, rhythms and silences, these expand our awareness, they shift our focus, they open our hearts — and we, in turn, inevitably affect the world around us.

So consider treating yourself to some enlightening moments of poetry this winter. Offer it as a transformative and healing gift to your family and friends. Watch as it works its magic within you and the world around you.

“Poetry has an immediate effect on the mind. The simple act of reading poetry alters thought patterns and the shuttle of the breath. Poetry induces trance. Its words are chant. Its rhythms are drumbeats. Its images become the icons of the inner eye. Poetry is more than a description of the sacred experience; it carries the experience itself.”

Here is a a holiday sampler to consider as gifts for you and your loved ones:

Poetry Chaikhana Publications

Of course, we have to start with the Poetry Chaikhana’s books!

To satisfy that longing (or awaken it)…

The Longing in Between

Sacred Poetry from Around the World
A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology

Edited with Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

In many ways this is my most personal publication, combining favorite soul-inspiring poems from the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions, accompanied by the thoughts, meditations, commentary, and occasional tangents that have been central to the Poetry Chaikhana poem emails for years. Selections from Rumi, Whitman, Kabir, Machado, Issa, Teresa of Avila, Dickinson, Blake, Yunus Emre, John of the Cross, Lalla, and many others.

These are poems of seeking and awakening… and the longing in between.

The Longing in Between is a work of sheer beauty. Ivan M. Granger has done a great service, not only by bringing [these poems] to public attention, but by opening their deeper meaning with his own rare poetic and mystic sensibility.”

author of the best-selling Ten Poems to Change Your Life series


This Dance of Bliss, Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World, A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology, Ivan M. Granger

This Dance of Bliss

Ecstatic Poetry From Around the World

A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology

Edited with Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This Dance of Bliss is an inspiring collection of poems and wisdom stories from the world’s great sacred traditions. Rumi, St. John of the Cross, Lalla, Goethe, Hildegard von Bingen, Dogen, Khayyam, and many others gather together within these pages to sing their ecstatic songs.

Ivan M. Granger accompanies each poem with his own reflections and meditative commentaries, inviting us to explore the insights and private raptures of these mystics, seers, and saints-until we too are swept up in this dance of bliss!

This book is a treasure, a feast, an oasis. Ivan M. Granger’s profound gift for selecting the kind of poetry that lights up the cave of the heart and melts the boundaries between the soul and the Divine is fully met by his lucid reflections on the soul-transfiguring power of each piece in this magnificent collection.

author of God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity & Islam


Haiku Enlightenment, Gabriel Rosenstock

Haiku Enlightenment
New Expanded Edition

by Gabriel Rosenstock



or ask at your local independent book store

Haiku Enlightenment is a delightful, often playful look at haiku as both a poetic craft and a pathway of awakening – for poets, seekers and creative rebels.

Gabriel Rosenstock has given us a rich collection of insights, distilled from a lifetime dedicated to the art and practice of poetry, on stepping into inspired moments. Using a generous selection of contemporary and classical haiku, he explores ideas of creativity and perception, encouraging us to calm the restless mind, notice what is overlooked, explore the world around us, and fully encounter each glowing moment.

From such moments, haiku – and enlightenment – emerge.

Haiku happens in this world of daily miracles and is a perfect prism through which Nature herself enlightens us.
– Gabriel Rosenstock, from Haiku Enlightenment


the moon    
has found it for me    
a mountain path    

    Michael McClintock   

    the body of the Buddha
    accepts it–
    winter rain


Gathering Silence

Sayings by Ivan M. Granger
Collages by Rashani Réa

All of mysticism comes down to this:
to recognize
what is already
and always here.

Gathering Silence is a collection of meditative sayings and bits of poetry, accompanied throughout by stunning full-color artwork by internationally-known collage artist, Rashani Réa. This is beautiful book, filled with color, creative thoughts, and meditative moments. Perfect for an altar or meditation space, by your bed or on a coffee table. A wonderful gift for family, friends, and fellow seekers!


Marrow of the Flame
Poems of the Spiritual Journey
by Dorothy Walters

Introduction by Andrew Harvey

Dorothy Walters explores the spiritual journey through its ecstasies, struggles, and vistas. Each step is observed with the keen insight and clear voice of a modern woman who is both a skilled poet and genuine mystic.


This year I thought I would change things up a bit with a more personal list. Rather than giving you a list of general gift suggestions, I thought why not create a list of the sacred poetry books that have meant the most to me at key points in my life.

I had a pleasant afternoon going through my bookshelves, pulling books I’ve loved, remembering key moments in my journeys of spiritual and poetic exploration, until I was surrounded by stacks of cherished books. I thought, this is it! This will be my holiday recommended book list this year. It was only when I then went back and checked my holiday book lists from the previous few years that I realized I have been recommending many of these personally beloved books all along. So here they are (again): my list of books recommended for the holidays, books that have opened doorways in my mind and heart, awakening a deep love of poetry as a way to express the ineffable. I hope these books will mean something special to you and your loved ones these holidays…

A Sampling of Sufi Wisdom…

Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom
By Andrew Harvey and Eryk Hanut

Something about Andrew Harvey’s selections and translations always strike a pure note. This book is a delightful collection of poetry and Sufi wisdom stories. Rumi, Kabir, al-Hallaj, Shabistari, Ansari… This is one I return to again and again.

Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir
Renditions by Vraje Abramian

I read this book early in my exploration of Sufi poetry — and I was hooked! Abu Said Abil-Kheir’s poetry ranges from the ecstatic and celestial, to struggles with abandonment. His poetry has an immediacy and even a sort of devoutly wry petulance. This book remains a personal favorite of mine.

For the wise woman…

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women
Edited by Jane Hirshfield

This is the first anthology I got years ago that made me say, Wow! Includes Sappho, Rabia, Yeshe Tsogyel, Hildegard von Bingen, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Hadewijch of Antwerp, Lalla, Mirabai, Bibi Hayati, Marina Tsvetaeva. The best collection I’ve found of women’s voices in sacred poetry.

Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar
by Elizabeth U. Harding

Not really a poetry collection, but this was the book that first introduced me to the fierce and passionate poetry of the great Kali devotees, like Ramprasad and Kalamakanta. Elisabeth Harding has done a beautiful job of gathering together Kali lore and presenting it to a primarily Western audience, while remaining reverent toward Kali and traditions of Kali worship. She discusses the traditional symbolism of Kali and the shocking, violent images associated with Her. Kali emerges in the reader’s mind as the loving destroyer of illusion, ecstatic slayer of demonic qualities.

For illumination…

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry
Edited by Stephen Mitchell

This is a compact anthology, but a wonderful collection that includes Li Po, Wu-Men, Rumi, Kabir, Mirabai, Rilke… And the added bonus of Stephen Mitchell’s way with words. One of my personal favorites.

The Illuminated Rumi
Translations by Coleman Barks
Art by Michael Green

I keep recommending this year after year. It is a beautiful gift book with excerpts of Rumi’s poetry accompanied by amazing digital collage artwork that draws you deeply into each page. This book entrances on several levels. An excellent gift book.

For the Christian contemplative…

The Book of Mystical Chapters:
Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives
Translated and Introduced by John Anthony McGuckin

This is the book that, years ago, introduced me to the stunning poetry of Symeon the New Theologian, igniting my passion for his visionary poetry of light and transformation. You’ll also find poems and poetic renditions of writings from many other saints and mystics of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Still a favorite of mine.

Selected Poems of Thomas Merton
by Thomas Merton

I can’t recommend this collection highly enough. Merton, in addition to being a deep mystic, was a truly excellent contemporary poet. His poems feel entirely modern, yet touch on the eternal. While drawing on Catholic imagery, one can hear whispers of Eastern philosophy and insight in his words. Poems to reread and meditate deeply upon.

Hadewijch: The Complete Works
Translations by Mother Columba Hart

I was introduced to the divine love poetry of the Flemish mystic Hadewijch in the excellent anthology Women in Praise of the Sacred, edited by Jane Hirshfield. I knew I had encountered a something amazing, but the sampling in that book was frustratingly small. I finally found this book with the complete works of this mysterious Beguine spiritual figure — visions, letters, and a beautiful collection of sacred poetry. The love mysticism of her poetry rightly draws comparisons to the rich traditions of Sufi and Bhakti poetry.

For the Jewish mystic…

The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse
Edited and Translated by T. Carmi

The most complete collection I’ve found of sacred Hebrew poetry, including Judah ha Levi, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Samuel Hanagid, the early Hekhalot Hymns, and many more. My only complaint: the translations in this encyclopedic collection are not versified, even though the Hebrew originals were. I still love it simply because it pointed me in a dozen enlightening different directions.

The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition
Translated and Edited by Peter Cole

Finally we have a truly excellent collection of sacred Jewish poetry. While T. Carmi’s Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse is more comprehensive, Cole’s The Poetry of Kabbalah has more of a poet’s sense of language and even catches of few sparks from the mystic’s fire. This is poetry that startles and transports. The Poetry of Kabbalah has become my favorite source for Jewish mystical poetry in English.
While T. Carmi’s Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse is more comprehensive, Cole has more of a poet’s sense of language. Very highly recommended.

A moment of Zen…

The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace
Translations by Steven Heine

Although best known for his Zen discourses and his role establishing Zen practice in Japan, Dogen was an exceptional poet too. Quiet moments of insight expressed in a bare minimum of lines. One of my favorites.

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter
Edited by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

A good collection without being overwhelming. I especially like it’s selection of Japanese haiku: Basho, Buson, Issa, Masahide…

Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons
Translations by W. S. Merwin and Soiku Shigematsu

A friend introduced me to this collection, and I was entranced. Muso Soseki is known today for establishing rock gardening as meditative Zen practice, but his poetry — wonderful! And with translations by WS Merwin, you can’t ask for more!

(And don’t forget the Poetry Chaikhana’s publication of Gabriel Rosenstock’s, Haiku Enlightenment!)

Artist, Therapist, Shaman…

Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making
By John Fox

Not a book of poetry, but a book that belongs on every poetry lover’s bookshelf. This is a book about the transformational nature of poetry – reading it, speaking it, writing it. Poetry as therapy. Poetry as a pathway to self-exploration. Poetry to rediscover your true voice. I was surprised how much I liked this book.

Transcendent Hindu verses…

Speaking of Siva
Translated by A. K. Ramanujan

This book became an immediate favorite of mine ever since I picked up a copy of it a few years ago. Stunning poems from the Shiva bhakti tradition of India. Basava, Devara Dasimayya, Akka Mahadevi, Allama Prabhu. The commentary in the book, though a little academic, is genuinely insightful. Enthusiastically recommended!

For Love of the Dark One: Songs of Mirabai
Translations by Andrew Schelling

Andrew Schelling’s translations embody that tension between heartbreak and ecstasy that runs through all of Mirabai’s poetry. These poems can be read as love poems or as spiritual poems — but, of course, they are both. A lovely collection.

And for blessings…

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
by John O’Donohue

I keep being told by people how much they love this book of poetic blessings from the Irish philosopher, poet, and mystic, John O’Donohue. These poetically crafted blessings and meditations on the passages of life manage to elevate the spirit, warm the heart, and, on occasion, bring a tear to the eye.

For even more book recommendations, click here.

(Every year my list gets longer. Even so, I had to leave off so many amazing books.)

Let’s remember that, in the midst of winter’s dark, this is the time to renew the light — within ourselves and our world. Regardless of religion, may we recognize our shared brotherhood and sisterhood within the human family, all within the lap of the generous green earth that is our home.

I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday season — and that the new year offers you new life and new inspiration!


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