In a new media age, everyone defines poetry in their own way like any other art. Some adhere to tradition and classics, but sometimes traditions are meant to be broken. If you’re new to the world of poetry and looking for somewhere to start, here are some influential poets on our TBR list. Poetry teaches us that art is best when it’s accessible and when it can freely express your identity and emotions. You might even feel inspired to write some poetry.
Commonly known as the mother or queen of “Insta poets,” Rupi Kaur has made a name for herself in the poetry world all on her own. The Canadian poet, illustrator, photographer, and the author was born in Punjab, India. After emigrating with her family, Kaur attended the University of Waterloo. While there, she studied Rhetoric and Professional Writing. Kaur submitted several of her poems to magazines and columns. However, like most poets, she found no luck. With what seemed like the world against her, Rupi used her writing skills and knowledge of graphic design to self-publish her first poetry collection, Milk and Honey. As social media began to rise with the release of Instagram in 2010, Kaur took action. She started posting her poems on the platform and soon became an internet poetry sensation.
Poetry became an accessible art for the masses. In her poems, Kaur explores intimate themes of love, loss, and trauma. Her words read like a tight hug as she emphasizes that we are not alone in our experiences. Additionally, she comments on societal expectations of femininity and the internal struggles with migration. Since her self-published book, she has released two more collections, The Sun & Her Flowers and Home Body. The collections have sold over 10 million copies and translated into over 42 languages. Thus, it’s no surprise that her most recent, Home Body, debuted #1 on the bestsellers list across the world. Rupi Kaur’s work is a great introduction to poetry. Her journey has inspired a new age of poets to self-publish and make poetry more accessible to people all over the world.
Lang Leav brings tenderness to poetry. Leav was born in a refugee camp when her family fled the Khmer Rouge Regime. During her early childhood, Leav spent most of her time in the migrant town of Cabramatta, in Sydney, Australia. She has since become an international best-selling New Zealand novelist and poet. While other poets may dwell in the pain of heartbreak, Leav opens up those wounds to reveal the magic that’s been there all along. Hence, romantic love and self-love have been the leading themes in many of her works. That may be why her first book, Love & Misadventures, is noted as a breakout success.
Similar to Kaur, Leav knows the power of social media with a combined following of two million. She utilized the massive internet crowd by sharing much of her poetry online. Her second poetry book, Lullabies, won her the Goodreads Choice Award in Best Poetry. Since then, all of her books have been international bestsellers. In 2016, Leav stepped into fiction with the release of her debut novel, Sad Girls. The book went to #1 on the Straits Times and many other international bestsellers lists. Among her various achievements, the best may be her ability to turn heartbreak and healing into a universal feeling.
Alok Vaid-Menon, also known as ALOK, is an internationally acclaimed writer, performance artist, and media personality. Alok is gender non-conforming and transfeminine. Throughout their writings, Alok explores themes of trauma, belonging, identity, and the human condition. They are widely known for being an inspiring advocate for bodily diversity, gender neutrality, and self-determination. They displayed their creative work at more than 600 venues in over 40 countries. Through poetry, Alok highlights how challenging the gender binary is in its restrictions on human behavior and expression. Alok has written three poetry collections that require your full attention. Their first poetry book, Beyond the Gender Binary (Pocket Change Collective), provides space for readers to see gender as a creative form of expression. Not everything is black and white, especially gender. Alok describes how we can imagine better futures for non-binary individuals and teaches us to let go of the limits we inherently put on ourselves.
In addition to being a poet, Alok is also the creator of the #DeGenderFashion: a movement to degender fashion and beauty industries. Recently, Alok self-published two poetry collections, Your Wound, My Garden (2021) and Femme in Public (2021). They have also been honored as one of HuffPo’s Culture Shifters, NBC’s Pride 50, and Business Insider’s Doers. Alok has created space for more gender non-conforming people to vocalize their feelings and live a life they have always intended to.
Raquel Salas Rivera
Philadelphia’s previous Poet Laureate, Raquel Salas Rivera, is a Puerto Rican poet, translator, and editor. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and received a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory. Now, Rivera teaches at the University of Puerto Rico. In addition to teaching, he serves as investigator and head of the translation team for The Puerto Rican Literature Project (PRLP), which allows access for anyone to learn about Puerto Rican poetry. The non-binary poet writes in both English and Spanish to depict differences in identity and experience while also displaying the power of language. Along with Poet Laureate, Rivera has been awarded the New Voices Award from the Festival de la Palabra, the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry, the inaugural Ambroggio Prize. In addition, he’s received the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship to translate the poetry of his grandfather, Sotero Rivera Avilés.
Rivera has written six poetry books. Among these books, some fan favorites include while they sleep (under the bed is another country), lo terciario / the tertiary, and x/ex/exis: poemas para la nación. The poems in x/ex/exis: poemas para la nación comment on important issues that promote a world of violence through national binaries. He explores gender expression through poetic conversation in a world that attempts to hold it back. Rivera’s newest poetry collection, antes que isla es volcán / before island is volcano, is now available for preorder and expected to release on April 5th, 2022. Get ahead of the game and order it while you still can.
Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith received one of the highest honors in poetry when she was named U.S. poet laureate in June 2017. She is one poet you don’t want to miss. Smith was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Northern California. After high school, she attended Harvard University for her bachelor’s degree. From there, she got her masters in creative writing at Colombia University. Smith is an idolized American poet and author who now teaches English and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Through her work, the poet has explored rough themes of grief and loss, adulthood, and the roles of race and family. Smith uses allusion, in this case, references to pop culture and personal descriptions to capture intimate moments.
The incredible poet has written four books of poetry. Some worldwide favorites include Life on Mars , Wade in the Water, and Such Color: New and Selected Poems. In 2012, Smith the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her third collection, Life on Mars. The awarded poetry collection reads like an elegy to her father, who was a scientist who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. Her ambition to combine a picture-perfect sci-fi future with the newfound fear of one’s simple realities makes this collection an honorary read. In addition to her achievements, readers recognize Smith as the best poet of her generation.
Arielle Twist is creating poetic worlds to reclaim her ancestral spirit and memories. Twist is a Nehiyaw poet, originally from George Gordon First Nation, Saskatchewan. She is a Two-Spirit, Trans Woman currently studying for her MA at OCAD University. Her debut poetry collection, Disintegrate/Dissociate, won the Indigenous Voices Award for English poetry in 2020. The collection was also a finalist for the Publishing Triangle Awards for Trans and Gender Variant Literature.
Her anticipated debut revealed the immense power behind her words. The collection, Disintegrate/Dissociate, allows Twist to reclaim her image. Not only does she reclaim herself as a writer but also as an Indigenous trans woman. She portrays the complexity of human relationships after death and metamorphosis in her poetry. The poet balances pain with power in her poems, something not many writers can do. She explores rage and tenderness, grief, trauma, and the complexity of identity. Twist encourages readers to examine the emotions we often ignore.
Ryka Aoki is a Japanese-American professor, composer, and poet. She is also a trans-woman that has dedicated her life to LGBTQ activism by writing about the transgender experience. In addition to her activism, Aoki currently teaches English at Santa Monica College and gender studies at Antioch University. Many queer and mainstream publications feature her work. Along with being a celebrated poet, Aoki composed two songs for the American Association of Hiroshima Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors. Soon after, the organization adopted her songs as the official “songs of peace.” Aoki never limits herself when it comes to art and its role in activism which is quite admiring.
Although she spends most of her time teaching, Aoki wrote two inspiring poetry collections, Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul and Seasonal Velocities. She also released a novel, Light From Uncommon Stars, in September 2021. Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul is a collection dedicated to poetry that unravels the losses we experience in the world and how it transforms us. Such losses are expressed through identity, way of life, selfhood, and home. It is a book you won’t be able to put down. Whereas, Seasonal Velocities is a collection of essays, poems, and stories that unfold like a fragility. It is a book determined to help you discover, challenge, and inform yourself. If there is a building block to poetry, Aoki’s collections may be the first step.
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