Years ago, my friend and fellow poet Ann Cefola passed along to me a stack of poetry books, one of which was The Hand of the Poet, Poems and Papers in Manuscript put out by The New York Public Library, who own the massive Berg Collection of poet paraphernalia. I've had the book on my shelf for years and I finally decided to read it in October.
Judging by the packaging, I was worried the book would be pretentious or precious. But other than being an extremely hard book to hold up in bed, (and one that smarts when it topples over on you), I loved every minute of reading it. The photos of all the manuscripts (between John Donne and Julia Alvarez and 98 British and American poets in between) turned out to be the least of it. Every poet's pages included a concise and interesting overview, a drawing or photo, quotes from their contemporaries, and a sample or two of poetry.
The book serves as a fun overview of history, filling in poets you might not have come across in your travels. The samples piqued an interest in me for writers Kay Boyle and May Sarton which I hope to be digging into soon.