During a recent interview with author Nico Tortorella, I asked them about poetry’s place today, in a world where every type of content imaginable is at the public’s fingertips. Nico assured me that, amidst all that mess, poetry is making its way back mainstream—thanks largely to poet Rupi Kaur, who, incidentally, used that “mess” to her advantage. Before her debut poetry collection, Milk and Honey, which she self-published in 2014, became an international bestseller, her works actually first appeared through social media platforms Tumblr and Instagram, where she gained a large following. Her type of poetry: short, simplistic verses with sparse lines, and no formal structure, dominantly evoking feminist imagery, signaled a new literary paradigm.
Though Rupi in no way invented that type of poetry, she did popularize it. Gone are the days when poetry basically means you have to spend a 50-page term paper trying to unlock each stanza’s meaning (without ever really being sure, TBH). This new breed of poetry is simple and more straightforward. Not everyone is convinced though. Some view this type of writing as lazy, unskilled, and lacking in depth. Rupi, along with other poets and their followers, however, stressed the value of it being more accessible to the masses, especially to people who do not speak English as a first language. Regardless if you’re a fan or not, you can’t argue about Rupi’s role on poetry’s comeback. Although she’s currently the most popular poet around, there are other poets today, who deserve as much praise as her. If you love Rupi’s literary style, make sure to check out these other contemporary poetry books, too.
Nayyirah Waheed is a poet whom Rupi cited as an inspiration, so you can see similarities in terms of style. Salt is an honest and powerful collection that tackles issues on race, culture, love, loss, and femaleness. Like Rupi, Nayyirah’s voice hits hard with just a few simple lines.
Excerpt: I am a black wave / in / a white sea. / always seen / and / unseen. / -the difference
Sarah Kay is perhaps best known for her spoken word performances and as the founder of Project Voice. No Matter the Wreckage is her debut poetry collection and features work from the first decade of her career. She also presents readers with new, equally-inspiring poetry that celebrates family, love, travel, and other curious topics such as the unlikely romance between inanimate objects.
Excerpt: “Oh, Brother. No matter your wreckage. There will be someone to find you beautiful, despite the cruddy metal. Your ruin is not to be hidden behind paint and canvas. Let them see the cracks.”
You probably already heard of Warsan Shire without even knowing. Remember Beyoncé’s Lemonade? Yup, those poems Beyonce recited in her visual album were written by her. She is a Kenyan-born Somali poet who lives in London, and became the first Young Poet Laureate of London. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth was also cited as one of the inspirations for Milk and Honey.
Excerpt: “I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing.”
This collection’s popularity shot up almost overnight after a video of Sabrina Benaim performing one of her poems,”Explaining My Depression to My Mother” was shared online. Her poems effectively capture difficult yet important themes such as mental health. Warning: it could be triggering.
Excerpt: “my heart has developed a kind of amnesia, where it remembers everything but itself.”
Divided in four sections—Inception, Longing, Chaos, and Epiphany—K.Y. Robinson’s debut prose and poetry collection is one survivor’s raw and honest outpouring, and takes on themes such as trauma, love and sexuality, toxic relationships, injustice, and mental illness, and finally, healing.
Excerpt: “you foolishly stay and collect dust until a nostalgic craving rises in his bones.”
Like “Milk and Honey,” this collection by Amanda Lovelace was self-published. It also explores similar themes such as female empowerment. Here, Amanda tells the story of four different women: The princess, the damsel, the queen, and the reader. Each part is a raw and honest reflection on different parts of her life.
Excerpt: “i had a / big smile / on my face / as i burned / the bridges / to all the things / i could not / repair / -does the smoke still choke you?”
Art by Marian Hukom
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Amanda Lovelace, books, culture, Depression and Other Magic Tricks, K.Y. Robinson, Milk and Honey, Nayyirah Waheed, No Matter the Wreckage, poems, poetry, Rupi Kaur, Sabrina Benaim, salt, Sarah Kay, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, The Chaos of Longing, The Princess Saves Herself in this One, Warsan Shire