family photo album

6 Poems for Family

The term “family” has many different definitions. In fact, familial relationships are as varied and complex as the individuals who make them up. Poetry can be a great means for expressing the warmth, love, happiness, and safety that many feel with their families. At the same time, poetry can be a helpful tool in understanding and expressing familial frustration and trauma. To take a look at the many ways familial ties are expressed through poetry, we’ve selected six poems for family. 


A Way of Seeing” by Kwame Dawes

For many families, ancestry plays a central role in their story. “A Way of Seeing” from Kwame Dawes’ 1996 poetry collection Jacko Jacobus zeroes in on this concept. The award-winning poet, playwright, and producer was born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica. His poem describes how keepsakes as simple as socks can be passed down by generations to preserve the memory of the past. 


Three Words” by Li-Young Lee

Poet Li-Young Lee was born in Jakarta, Indonesia to Chinese parents. When Lee was just a toddler, he and his family moved to the United States to escape rising anti-Chinese sentiments. His poem “Three Words” unpacks familial ties and generational trauma. The powerful poem comes from his 2018 collection, The Undressing: Poems


Digging” by Seamus Heany

One of the best-known Irish poets in history, Seamus Heany is known for his vivid and lyrical renderings of life in Ireland. His poem, “Digging,” comes from his 1966 collection, Death of a Naturalist. In this poem, the speaker sees his father digging up potatoes in the garden. The smells, sounds, and sights remind the speaker of his grandfather. While the speaker feels a sense of warmth and familiarity with the men, he also describes a sense of distance from them because, rather than holding a spade to dig potatoes, he holds a pen. 


Mother” by Sharon Olds

A leading voice in contemporary poetry, Sharon Olds is known for a remarkable self-awareness and candor in her work, which often centers around relationships with her children and her parents. The poem “Mother” brings nature into the relationship between mother and child. Through nature, the speaker remains connected to her mother even after death. Motherhood is a theme explored often through poetry. If you’re looking for more, explore these poems for motherhood or poems for mother-daughter relationships


I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party” by Chen Chen

The award-winning poet and essayist Chen Chen centers his work around Asian American histories and futures, family, queer friendship, and multilingualism. His poem “I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party” tells the story of a speaker struggling to forge a connection between his parents and his same-sex partner. “This poem doesn’t depict an ideal situation where the relationship is completely healed; it examines the often slow and frustrating reality while leaving things open for some surprise,” said Chen Chen


Human Family” by Maya Angelou

The iconic Maya Angelou beautifully captures the many nuances that exist within the human race in her poem “Human Family.” The speaker acknowledges the many different ways people can look, the many ways they can communicate with one another, and the many places they can exist. In the end, though, Angelou reminds us that all humans are connected. “We are more alike, my friends, / than we are unalike,” she writes.