Poetry is the language of the soul. Through the careful arrangement of words within a limited landscape and form, the poet is able to express meaning and emotions in the most compelling of ways. Poetry is my favorite form of literature because it is endlessly expansive and its form is malleable to each unique poet. As April is National Poetry Month, read more poets, diversify your bookshelf, and take a look at these five poets of color.
Our first poet is not only one of America’s finest poets alive, she is also a musician, performer, educator, author, and playwright. Joy Harjo is the author of nine poetry collections and is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) nation. Through her experiences as an Indigenous woman, Harjo draws from the history of First Nation storytelling and history and incorporates Indigenous myths, symbols, feminism, and social activism into her poetry. In her poetry, Harjo redefines the natural world, seeking to communicate compassion, remembrance, and renewal within the limitations of language. Harjo is currently serving her second term as the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States and is the first Indigenous person to hold that position.
This next poet needs no formal introduction. Amanda Gorman is one of the world’s most recognizable young poets. After her powerful delivery of her original poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the inauguration of President Joe Biden in 2021, Gorman shot to fame with her poetry collections immediately making bestseeler lists on Amazon and The New York Times. In her poetry, Gorman focuses on the African diaspora, feminism, and race. As an activist, these issues are important to Gorman and she translates these struggles and joy through her poetry. In 2017, she became the first National Youth Poet Laureate to hold the position.
Rupi Kaur is one of the original Instagram poets and her work is credited as an influence on the modern literary sphere within the context of utilizing social media as a mode of artistic and poetic communication. Kaur’s work is simple and compelling and her utilization of space and time is intelligently well thought out. When reading her poetry, it seems as if she is making an argument for the power of minimalism and how impactful a few carefully arranged words can have on an audience. Kaur was born to a Sikh family and because of her upbringing, she was always immersed in the arts. Through her poetry, Kaur is concerned with feminism, the feminine body, time, and memory.
Ocean Vuong is a Vietnamese American poet. A T.S. Eliot Prize winner and a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, Vuong is a giant figure in the modern poetry scene. He and his family are refugees of the Vietnam War and in turn, memory, grief, and the temporality of the physical are common themes in his poetry. Reading Vuong’s work, you are immediately struck at how eloquent, intelligent, and heartbreaking it is. A personal favorite of mine, reading Vuong’s poetry takes time to read and to ruminate on its effects; you will ways leave with some sort of parting emotion after you’re done.
Ada Limón is one of the most talented poets alive. Through her narrative, Limón draws the reader into traveling her poetry alongside her and seems to be always in the midst of transformation and self-discovery. With her poetry, she carries with her incredible emotion, ruminating on the mutability of time and presence. Growing up in a Mexican-American family, her experiences influence her sense of identity and the personal and these are things that are a constant concern in her poetry. Coupled with vibrant metaphor and a sense of consistent self-invention, Limón’s work will always be poignant.
For more recommendations, take a look at this article that centers on the autistic community.