One of the best ways to build a poetry collection is to frequent used-book sales at local libraries. You can almost always find something good at those, and for my money, the real treasure is always the really old stuff, like this:
That’s a volume of English and Scottish ballads, printed in 1904. It’s in a bit of rough shape, but it’s still a joy to own. I’ve picked up a bunch of other old poetry collections in this way. Not only are books like this a pleasure since they just don’t make ’em like this anymore, they’re also nice because–in the case of collections like, say, old editions of The Oxford Book of English Verse–the contents will vary wildly with the contemporary editions, the farther back you go. Very old anthologies of poetry will include poets who are almost (or entirely) forgotten today, and I’m always a big fan of keeping artists of yesteryear from vanishing into total obscurity as much as I can.
Lots of times these old collections were schoolbooks, and the students of the past signed them. I looked this man up, and all I was able to find out was that he graduated high school in Abingdon, PA in 1921. A young man was reading from this book over a hundred years ago…and now it’s on my shelf.
And here’s the man who assembled this collection. This volume appears to be a reissue, and it notes that this editor had already died by this point.
This particular book obviously features ballads, the narrative poems of English and the Scottish tongues, which were a prime medium for storytelling several hundred years ago. As such, a lot of these ballads were kept alive in oral traditions and authorial information, to the extent there ever were any actual “authors”, is long gone. Many of the poems in this book unfold over quite a few pages, but here’s a single short one, with no author given. It’s a grim tale with a sad end…but there’s never any guarantee with these things, is there? I imagine this tale is sadly realistic for its time.
Additional information on this ballad, with one of many alternates, here.