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Finding Poetry Online at the Boston Public Library

"It’s not easy to define poetry." Bob Dylan, 2009 Interview 

Poetry eBooks and eAudiobooks @ the Library Now

"Poetry, I feel, is a tyrannical discipline. You’ve got to go so far so fast in such a small space; you’ve got to burn away all the peripherals."  Sylvia Plath, radio interview, 1962

BPL Online Database Resources

What are reference books? Reference books are encyclopedias, dictionaries, directories, and other similar kinds of books. They are sources of information for short but authoritative overviews of a subject, or for specific facts (such as the population of a country or the names of the Great Lakes), rather than books you read from cover to cover. 

There are many print reference and electronic reference 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 keyword or subject, such as "poetry of the renaissance," which will result in articles from different books on that subject. Alternatively, both Gale Virtual Reference and Credo Reference list the books they use, so you can page through one particular ebook, such as the Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought or the Princeton Handbook of World Poetries, just as you would with a print book.

Reference books add other helpful features such as lists of further resources, links to related book entries, and citations in various formats. 

Photograph of Paul Dunbar as a young man.

Credo Reference

A few of the relevant 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)

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.

Overdrive and Hoopla

The majority of BPL's downloadable and streaming eBooks and eAudiobooks are accessed through OverDrive and Hoopla.. Both of these databases has poetry collections, as well as books about writing and understanding poetry and literature. PressReader is another source for literary magazines. 

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

Boston Public Library Poetry and Literature Online Resources

"The moment of change is the only poem." Adrienne Rich, "Images for Godard" from The Will To Change (1970)

"Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure and truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason." 

Samuel Johnson, A Study of Milton’s Paradise Lost

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 Poets.org.

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

"I wrote some of the worst poetry west from the Mississippi River, but I wrote. And I finally sometimes got it right."   Maya Angelou, from The Very Best of Maya Angelou, by Frank Johnson