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Finding Poetry at the Boston Public Library

Help finding poetry and poetry publications at the Boston Public Library, as well as information about poetry websites and local poetry venues.

Poetry at the Library

Searching the Catalog

The BPL catalog can be searched using several different fields.

  • The Keyword field allows for a broad search and will return the most results. It will find your terms virtually anywhere in a title's record and will weight your results based on where and how frequently your terms occur.
  • The Title and Author fields can be used if you have a specific book or writer in mind. Note that different editions of Classical works may translate Greek and Latin titles in different ways. In many cases, the Uniform Title field in the Full Record tab of a given title will allow you to find all editions of a work even if their titles have been translated differently. 
  • The Subject field searches Library of Congress Subject Headings. Please see the next tab for more information about searching by subject.

In addition, the  Advanced Search can be used to search multiple fields simultaneously, exclude terms from a field, and search additional fields not available in basic search, such as PublisherSeries, and Identifier (e.g. ISBN/UPC).

Searching the catalog using the Subject field in the search interface will search the Library of Congress Subject Headingswhich are used to classify and describe the content of library materials.Subject headings are standardized descriptions created by the Library of Congress that group together items that are about the same subjects. Searching using subject headings in addition to your keyword searches makes your overall search more powerful and comprehensive. Using subject headings will lead you to material you probably wouldn't find using just keywords.

Subject headings for literature are not necessarily intuitive and can seem complicated. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Although there are exceptions, using a person's name in the Subject field will find items about a person rather than by them. To find works by an author, use the Author field for searching. 
  • When you open a library item record, you should see a list of subject headings on the right. Use those subject headings to find other potentially useful subject headings. For example, from the list below, you would click on "Thomas, Edward, 1878-1917" or "Frost, Robert, 1874-1963" for more items about Thomas or Frost. Click on "Poets, English--20th Century--Biography" for more biographical works about Thomas and other 20th Century English poets.
  • Subject headings are nested, so any subheadings separated by the double dashes (--) can be removed to launch a broader search and retrieve more results. For example, from the sample list, remove the "Biography" to widen your search. Or, change "20th Century" to "21st Century" to find information about contemporary English poets. 
  • Subject headings may be subdivided by geographic area, genre, chronological period, or some other subtopic. For example, in the subject heading Frost, Robert, 1874-1963 — Criticism and Interpretation, if you remove the Criticism and Interpretation you will increase the number of hits and find more material about Robert Frost. 
  • Just because you don't find a specific book about Robert Frost when you click on "Frost, Robert, 1874-1963", for example, doesn't mean we don't have it--it just means the record doesn't have that specific subject heading for some reason. Subject headings are just one of the tools you can use to do a search. Always try different search strategies and terms. 

If you are interested in browsing subject headings, which can be extremely useful, use the library's alternate catalog. This function is not available in the main catalog. 

You can limit your search results by LocationFormat, AudienceTitles You Can Borrow and Take Home, Language, Topic, etc. by using the clickable headings and dropdown menus on the left side of the search results page.

In addition, the Advanced Search can be used to set up limiting factors prior to conducting your search.

To locate copies of a title in a list of search results, click the in some locations or Availability details link under the call number. This will open a window listing the library's copies of a given edition of a work, and will provide you with the four critical pieces of information you need to locate a copy:

  • The Location tells you which library locations hold copies of a book.
  • The Collection tells you the general area where a copy is shelved at its location.
  • The Call Number tells you where to find a copy on the shelves of the collection.
  • The Status tells you whether a given copy should be on the shelf. 

The Map of the Central Library is useful for locating collections at the Central Library. Please note that items in the Nonfiction collection with call numbers beginning with H through HJ are located in the Kirstein Business Library and Innovation Center on the Lower Level of the Johnson building. Items whose collection is listed as Nonfiction - New Shelf are located in the New & Novel area on the first floor of the Johnson building. 

Books with the location BPL-Delivery Desk are held in closed shelves at the Central Library. Most of these books are for in-library use only, but many can be checked out and taken home, especially if they have been published recently. Delivery Desk books whose collection information does not include the phrase In-Library Use Only can be requested and checked out for the standard loan period just like other circulating books.

If you're at the Central library, these books can be obtained by filling out a request form at the Delivery Desk, located in the northwest corridor on the second floor of the McKim Building. Be sure to bring the title, author, call number, and your library card. If the book can be taken home, staff will check the book out to you upon retrieval.

BPL Electronic Resources

In this database, find poetry-related subjects by entering your search terms. Results will show relevant chapters and whole books. For example, a search for "Chaucer" in the search box yields 88 chapters and two books. This allows for you to find information in sources you might otherwise not consider.

Some of the poetry-related eBooks you have access to from this database:

  • Poetry, by Bernard O'Donoghue (2019)
  • Chinese Literature, by Sabina Knight (2012)
  • Shakespeare's Sonnets and Poems, by Jonathan F.S. Post (2017)
  • The Beats, by David Sterritt (2013)
  • Literary Theory (2nd edition), by Jonathan Culler (2011)
  • The Hebrew Bible as Literature, by Tod Linafelt (2016)
  • Madness, by Andrew Scull (2011)
  • Modern Latin American Literature, by Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria (2012)
  • The Hellenistic Age, by Peter Thonemann (2018)
  • The Blues, by Elijah Wald (2010)

There are several ways to explore our collection of online journals and access articles:

  • The main Electronic Resources page groups databases by subject.
  • If you're looking for a specific journal, you can check our holdings by searching for e-Journals by title. This page can be accessed from the electronic resources drop-down menu on the BPL website.
  • The e-Journals by title page also includes a menu where journals can be browsed by subject. Click on the Languages & Literatures section to see some useful literature-specific subheadings, such as "American Literature," and the literature of various regions and languages.

These, and other, important poetry journals are included in the library's databases:

  • "New Yorker" 
  • "Poetry Magazine" 
  • "American Poetry Review"
  • "Southern Review"
  • "New England Review"
  • "Harvard Review"
  • "Virginia Quarterly Review"
  • "Ploughshares"
  • "Agni"
  • "Harpers"
Some of the most useful databases for various aspects of poetry research are detailed below.

What are reference books? Reference books are encyclopedias, dictionaries, directories, and more. They are sources of information for quick but authoritative overviews of a subject, or for specific facts (such as the population of a country or the names of the Great Lakes). 

There are many print reference and ereference books in the Boston Public Library. Two comprehensive digital sources are Credo Reference and Gale Virtual Reference Library. These databases are compilations of many separate reference books that have been digitized. Both databases can be searched by specific subject, such as "poetry of the rennaisance," which will find articles from different books on that subject. Also, both Gale Virtual Reference and Credo Reference also list the books they use, so you can look through one particular ebook, such as the Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought and the Princeton Handbook of World Poetries.

In addition to brief but comprehensive information on many different subjects, reference books add other helpful features, such as lists of further resources, links to related book entries, and citations in various formats. 

Paul Lawrence DunbarCredo Reference

A few of the poetry and literature eBooks in this collection are:

  • The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2013)
  • The Homer Encyclopedia (Blackwell, 2011)

Encyclopedia of African-American Writing (Grey House Publishing, 2018)

  • Encyclopedia of American Poetry: the Twentieth Century (Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2001)
  • Encyclopedia of American Studies (Johns Hopkins Press, 2018)
  • Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature (Facts on File, 2014)
  • Princeton Handbook of World Poetries (Princeton University Press, 2016)
  • Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English (Routledge, 2005)
  • Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  • Encyclopedia of Latin American and Caribbean Literature, 1900-2003 (Routledge, 2004)
  • Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography (Macmillan's Publishers 2005)
  • Biographical Dictionary of Artists (Andromeda, 1995)

Paul Lawrence Dunbar (New York Public Library public domain image collection)

Gale Virtual Reference Library

To find entries on specific subjects, such as "Phyllis Wheatly" or "World War 1 poetry", type the search terms into the Basic Search box. 

Getting directly to eBooks in this database is easy. From the home page, click on "Literature" and see a list of the eBooks. Click on any one of them for complete access to the entries, table of contents, index, and list of illustrations. By clicking on the drop-down menu from the top search box, you can select "Publication" to restrict your search to that eBook only.

A few of the relevant eBooks in this collection are:

  • The Literature of War (St. James Press, 2012)
  • A Dictionary of Literary Symbols (Cambridge University Press, 1999)
  • Feminism in Literature: A Gale Critical Companion (Gale, 2005)
  • Poetry for Students, (Gale, 2019)
  • American History Through Literature (Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006)
  • Children's Literature Review (Gale, 2007)
  • Concise Major 21st Century Writers (Gale, 2006)
  • Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature (Gale, 2007)
  • Reference Guide to World Literature (Gale, 2003)

Overdrive, Kanopy, and Hoopla

OverDrive, Kanopy, and Hoopla provide access to most of the BPL's ebooks, videos, and downloadable and streaming audiobooks. Hoopla in particular has more than 7,000 books of and about poetry, and OverDrive features hundreds of poetry eAudio and eBooks. Kanopy streams documentaries and other films about poets and poetry. 

Below are links to these collections. For more information about these services and instructions for their access and use, please see the E-books, AudioBooks, Digital Magazines, and Streaming Media guide.

Selected Internet Resources

An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland

Sleigh, Bernard, Sidgwick & Jackson, and Vincent Brooks, Day & Son. An anciente mappe of Fairyland1917 

From the Norman B. Leventhal Map Collection in the Boston Public Library

The Poet Laureate of the United States is selected annually by the Librarian of Congress, and each must present a reading and a lecture within that period. Poet Laureates often use their office to create national programs to encourage and promote poetry and literature, such as Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry, Gwendolyn Brooks' lunchtime poetry readings, Kay Ryan's Poetry for the Mind's Joy,  and Natasha Trethewey's Where Poetry Lives

This program was started through the gift by Archer M. Huntington, who endowed a position of "Poetry of the English language in the Library of Congress" in 1936. Poet Laureates are paid out of that endowment. For many years, the position was called a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, and the first appointed Consultant was Joseph Auslander, who served from 1937-1941. The title was changed in 1986, when it became Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.

Read more about the history of the position and the poets who were appointed at the Library of Congress Website. Brief biographies of each Poet Laureate/Consultant are at

Below are the current and most recent Poet Laureate Consultants in Poetry.