Poetry is always around but never really fore frontal in the literary community. Poetry seems to be deemed as sort of the bastard child of the writing world, and you may be thinking.. well yeh, why should folks be paying attention to poetry anyway? Here’s why: poetry is everything we do in life, the beauty, the heartbreak, the frustration, the anxiety, the ugly.. all of it, literally all of it. Poetry captures and encapsulates the human experience in whimsy and word play, in language and love. If you are adverse to poetry, ask yourself why? What turns you off to it? What makes it difficult to enter and linger and savor? Pinpoint that and push through it because the reward will be sweet stanzas of rhythm, abstraction and a retelling of the world around us in the most beautiful and complexly minimal way. Here are some dope poets to be on the lookout for as you challenge yourself to fall in love with this genre all over again or for the first time if elementary school acrostics never landed for you. These 5 contemporary poets should find their way to your hearts and minds. Spread their gospel like wildfire to hopefully begin to turn the tide to the mainstream because poetry isn’t only for poets.
- Morgan Parker
Morgan Parker is as beautiful and kind as she is brilliant. I was put on to Morgan when she dropped There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé and since have been steadily collecting all of her works. Why? Because she looks critically at popular culture and how it affects our identities and relationships. Every word she writes screams of intersectionality, relevance and finding beauty in awkwardness. I think if Insecure wasn’t a popular Netflix show and was a poem instead, it would be a Morgan Parker poem. She gives me chills when I read her poems and when I see her read in person I am comforted and warmed by her spirit. From the bio page on her website:
Morgan Parker is a poet, essayist, and novelist. She is the author of the poetry collections Magical Negro (Tin House 2019), There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House 2017), and Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (Switchback Books 2015). Her debut young adult novel Who Put This Song On? will be released by Delacorte Press on September 24, 2019. A debut book of nonfiction is forthcoming from One World. Parker is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, winner of a Pushcart Prize, and has been hailed by The New York Times as “a dynamic craftsperson” of “considerable consequence to American poetry.”
- Hanif Abdurraqib
I was introduced to Hanif Abdurraqib by the statement ‘he is probably your favorite authors favorite author.’ And well I’ll be damned, he certainly is. A sneaker and ice cream enthusiast, Hanif doesn’t need to command a room, or a stage, a mic or a page- but he does so organically with his quiet, thoughtful, rhythmic musicality. His writing is musically charged and often from a place of being an observer at venues and in love. But he is far from just a fly on the wall. He is the guy you would dream could write your biopic. He is intentional in his wall flowering. His writing skills pull the reader in and creates any scene viscerally to follow along and add your own subtext as you move through his words. What other author could write just as purposefully about Carly Rae Jepsen as he does Wu Tang? Well that dichotomy is where Hanif thrives. He is just as fluid and real about pop culture in all forms and his brilliance spills across every page he graces. From the about page on his website:
Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, and various other journals. His essays and music criticism have been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. His first full length poetry collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, was released in June 2016 from Button Poetry. It was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize, and was nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. With Big Lucks, he released a limited edition chapbook, Vintage Sadness, in summer 2017 (you cannot get it anymore and he is very sorry.) His first collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was released in winter 2017 by Two Dollar Radio and was named a book of the year by Buzzfeed, Esquire, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Paste, CBC, The Los Angeles Review, Pitchfork, and The Chicago Tribune, among others. He released Go Ahead In The Rain: Notes To A Tribe Called Quest with University of Texas press in February 2019. The book became a New York Times Bestseller, and was met with critical acclaim. His second collection of poems, A Fortune For Your Disaster, is being released by Tin House Books in September 2019.
sam sax’s writing is gritty, unforgiving, explorative and the slap in the face the 21st century needs in regards to couch surfing homosexuality and pill popping tendencies. His themes hit hard for most millennials and captures so much of the pain, happiness, misery, and loneliness that stems from medicine, love and relationships. sam uses poignant language to explore the depths of homosexuality in ways we often stray away or cringe from. He makes us look in the mirror and examine what we see. You can usually catch him with pretty sparkling nail polish and a hat that reads simply, homo. He is poetry in the human form. From sam’s website:
sam sax is a queer, jewish, poet, & educator. He’s the author of Madness (Penguin, 2017) winner of The National Poetry Series and ‘Bury It’ (Wesleyan University Press, 2018) winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. He’s received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Lambda Literary, & the MacDowell Colony. He’s the two-time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion, author of four chapbooks & winner of the Gulf Coast Prize, The Iowa Review Award, & American Literary Award. His poems have appeared in BuzzFeed, The New York Times, The Nation, Poetry Magazine + other journals. He’s the poetry editor at BOAAT Press & will be a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University this Fall.
- Ross Gay
Ross Gay literally make you feel happiness even when life is throwing a poop storm your way. His beautifully intricate, complex writing finds ways to highlight the positive by using nature, small moments and connections to emerge as our purpose and silver lining. I came across Ross in a writing workshop in college where he shared two versions of Bring Down the Shovel- one where the boy killed the dog with a shovel and the other where the boy fed the dog with the shovel. Both were chilling and complex and visceral. Ross is the poet that can take a horrible moment and remind us why life is still worth living and ultimately beautiful. He works tirelessly to find beauty in anything and that’s honestly what poetry (and life) is all about. Ross makes you want to be a better person without the guilt or heavy handedness that typically comes with that sort of ask. Cause to be real, he isn’t asking you, he just is. From Ross Gay’s about page:
Ross Gay is the author of three books of poetry: Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His collection of essays,The Book of Delights, was released by Algonquin Books in 2019.
Ross is also the co-author, with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, of the chapbook “Lace and Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens,” in addition to being co-author, with Richard Wehrenberg, Jr., of the chapbook, “River.” He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call it Ballin’, in addition to being an editor with the chapbook presses Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press. Ross is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Ross teaches at Indiana University.
- Danez Smith
Danez Smith was hands down one of my favorite poets when their first and second book dropped but has slowly been losing my fandom as they skyrocket in fame. Some authors maintain that humble, mousy space that many writers embody. While other poets have more of a stage/ performance presence and in this case Danez can sometimes eclipse themselves. Danez’s poems are undeniable and the readings are also chilling, vibrant, poignant and necessary. Tackling content around friendships, AIDs, sex, masculinity, homoesxuality and stages of love their first two books were really groundbreaking in the layout, artwork and content and while the fire has died down a bit for me, I am still holding on and extremely engaged with their moves. It’s like when your favorite underground band makes its way to the top 10 list and becomes a household name and you yearn for those days the world and the band weren’t aware of themselves. From Danez’s website bio page:
Danez Smith is a Black, Queer, Poz writer & performer from St. Paul, MN. Danez is the author of “Don’t Call Us Dead” (Graywolf Press, 2017), winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection, the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, and a finalist for the National Book Award, and “[insert] boy” (YesYes Books, 2014), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. They are the recipient of fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Montalvo Arts Center, Cave Canem, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Danez’s work has been featured widely including on Buzzfeed, The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, Best American Poetry, Poetry Magazine, and on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Danez has been featured as part of Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 list and is the winner of a Pushcart Prize. They are a member of the Dark Noise Collective and is the co-host of VS with Franny Choi, a podcast sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness. Danez’s third collection, “Homie”, will be published by Graywolf in Spring 2020.
Check these poets out, share their poems, hear their readings. Help bring poetry back into the mainstream and remind us all that we are all poetry. I promise they will never bore you or lose you. This list will help break down the stigma of stodgy old white dudes writing in metered rhyme about misogynistic, unrequited love.
Courtney Lamar Charleston
All In-text Images Via Google.
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