As a poet who’s self-publishing, it’s incredibly important to stay up to date with the market of your genre whether that be: fellow contemporary poets, book sales and figures, reader’s interests etc. Today I began thinking about the best-selling poetry books of all time and honestly, I couldn’t guess what it was. It was easy to find out either!

With a quick, two-second Google search you can find out the top 100 best-selling books of all time – the first being Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, followed by Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Potter etc etc etc. With poetry, it took a little more digging.

I have to admit, it was a little painful to find out the figures. Compared to The Da Vinci Code’s staggering 5+ million sales; the top performing contemporary poetry collection had sales of just 90,000. I wasn’t expecting millions of sales, I know these are two completely different species of writing but I didn’t expect such a gap, I suppose.

I thought it might be interesting to share the top 10 best-selling poetry books in a blog. So without further ado, on with the most successful contemporary poetry book in the UK.


1. Staying Alive by Neil Astley

90999 sales as of 2016

Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times is “an international anthology of 500 life-affirming poems fired by belief in the human and the spiritual at a time when much in the world feels unreal, inhuman and hollow. These are poems of great personal force connecting our aspirations with our humanity, helping us stay alive to the world and stay true to ourselves.”

Read more here.

2. The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

67590 sales as of 2016

“A unique collection of poems from the Poet Laureate, filled with her characteristic wit, is a feminist classic and a modern take on age-old mythology.”

Read more here.

3. Beowulf: The New Translation by Gerald Davis

51694 sales as of 2016.

“The events depicted in this story take place during the late fifth to early sixth century. However, there is great dispute among scholars as to when the manuscript itself was actually transcribed. Tolkien believed it was written about the eighth century, while other serious experts assert it was written as late as the early eleventh century.
BEOWULF is a rousing adventure story, filled with intrepid heroes, monsters and fire-breathing dragons, which can be read for the sheer enjoyment of the tale.”

Read more here.

4. Collected Poems by Philip Larkin

40696 sales as of 2016.

“Since its publication in 1988, Philip Larkin’s Collected Poems has become essential reading on any poetry bookshelf. This new edition returns to Larkin’s own deliberate ordering of his poems, presenting, in their original sequence, his four published books: The North Ship, The Less Deceived, The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows. It also includes an appendix of poems that Larkin published in other places, from his juvenilia to his final years – some of which might have appeared in a late book, if he had lived. Preserving everything that he published in his lifetime, this new Collected Poems returns the reader to the book Larkin might have intended.”

Read more here.

5. The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin

42579 sales as of 2016.

“Behind this modest description lies a poet who made greatness look, in Milton’s prescription, ‘simple, sensuous and passionate’. This collection, first published in 1967, contains many of his best-loved poems, including The Whitsun Weddings, An Arundel Tomb, Days, Mr Bleaney and MCMXIV.”

Read more here.

6. Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes

31227 sales as of 2016.

“Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters are addressed, with just two exceptions, to Sylvia Plath, the American poet to whom he was married. They were written over a period of more than twenty-five years, the first a few years after her suicide in 1963, and represent Ted Hughes’s only account of his relationship with Plath and of the psychological drama that led both to the writing of her greatest poems and to her death. The book became an instant bestseller on its publication in 1998 and won the Forward Prize for Poetry in the same year. “

Read more here.

7. If I Don’t Know by Wendy Cope

30776 sales as of 2016.

“Wendy Cope’s most recent collection, her first since Serious Concerns in 1992, extends her concern with the comedy of the examined life (‘the way we have been, the way we sometimes are’), and imagines those adjustments to the ordinary which would fulfil our futures, or allow us to realize the golden age of five minutes ago, or weigh the ‘out there’ of the present moment, where what is in sight is also out of reach. These are poems of well-tempered yearning, conditional idylls which sing in praise of lying fallow, the creativity of daydream, the yeast of boredom, the truths of intermediacy. Wendy Cope’s formal tact is alertly present – in triplets, rondeaux, villanelles, squibs, epigrams – small forms whose power to disarm goes hand in hand with her characteristically tart ripostes to the way things (usually) are. This collection extends the variety of her occasions.”

Read more here.

8. Being Alive by Neil Astley

27292 sales as of 2016.

Being Alive is the sequel to Neil Astley’s Staying Alive, which became Britain’s most popular poetry book because it gave readers hundreds of thoughtful and passionate poems about living in the modern world. Now he has assembled this equally lively companion anthology for all those readers who’ve wanted more poems that touch the heart, stir the mind and fire the spirit. Being Alive is about being human: about love and loss, fear and longing, hurt and wonder.”

Read more here.

9. New Selected Poems 1966-1987 by Seamus Heaney

22775 sales as of 2016.

“This volume contains a selection of work from each of Seamus Heaney’s published books of poetry up to and including the Whitbread prize-winning collection, The Haw Lantern (1987).”

Read more here.

10. Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath

16054 sales as of 2016.

“This comprehensive volume contains all Sylvia Plath’s mature poetry written from 1956 up to her death in 1963. The poems are drawn from the only collection Plath published while alive, The Colossus, as well as from posthumous collections Ariel, Crossing the Water and Winter Trees.”

Read more here.

Love, T. (2016) Poetry Sales, Available at: (Accessed: 28th February 2017).

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