When you think of poetry, it is likely that you recall the work of the poets that were on the Leaving Cert syllabus (or high school equivalent); you remember resentfully the hours you spent reciting the lines from the poems you were told by your teacher to have learned by heart, the planning of essays, learning the poetic techniques and providing evidence in the form of quotations. This may be the extent of your knowledge of poetry; you may think of poetry as a dying art form, perhaps; hardly an adequate profession in the days of Bishop and Plath, never mind a modern-day profession, right? Who, especially nowadays, can regard themselves as a poet?
In definition, poetry can have a few different meanings or interpretations; poetry can be strictly defined as a literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; it can be considered the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts. In this way, isn’t music poetry? The lyrics written by musicians, the music itself is poetry in that it has a quality of beauty and intensity of emotion regarded as characteristic of poems. Movies and films feature poetry, the lines that stick with us and resonate in some way, the lines we remember and make reference to. Poetry may not be an obvious or prominent profession when we think of professions such as ones like nurse, doctor, teacher, businessman etc., but poetry is by no means a dead or dying art form.
Our regard of poetry as just a part of the Leaving Cert or our schooling days, just something that we had to get through and could forget about after, has caused us to have a limited knowledge of poetry and has resulted in us maybe being narrow-minded to the idea of poetry being around us, still, in everyday life. We seem to have created a stigma that views poetry as uncool and irrelevant. Modern poets (poets that are alive, and so many of them young, and writing today) are not very well known because of this. The works of these modern-day poets are very powerful and deal with lots of different issues that are relevant to us. One does not technically have to have their work published to be considered a poet. A professional poet does, perhaps, but in reality many of us are amateur poets, or at least we all contribute to the creation of some form of poetry throughout our lives. In some small way, we are all poets; we write passionate essays, articles that feature poetic qualities, we write songs, we compose heartfelt and meaningful messages to one another to provide friends with support, guidance and advice when needed… all of these things contain an element of poetry. Poetry is not an entirely abstract form of expression. Even the simplest of communications, such as a conversation, statement, speech, even a message, can feature elements of poetic expression; reminding a friend who’s feeling self-conscious of how beautiful they are, an encouraging message to a friend suffering from anxiety of how strong and capable they are, even as simple as telling someone you love them.
I realise this may sound ridiculous, but it’s just a little something to notice, and I thought with it being close to Valentine’s day and all that this would not be an unfitting time to talk a bit about poetry. Here are just a few incredibly talented poets that you should definitely check out, and a few of the poems I recommend to start with. You might find something that hits you in some way, something that resonates with you, or you might not. That doesn’t mean there isn’t poetry out there that you would get behind; these are just some of the poets and poems that work for me.
Many of you on Instagram or Tumblr may have come across short works by Rupi Kaur in the form of pictures, some may be pictures from pages of her book. Rupi Kaur’s poetry began small, “I was writing birthday poems for friends and love poetry for crushes”, and it developed from here into something that has become a powerful voice with an important message; she deals with topics that relate to equality, ethnicity, women and touches on feminism. A short, sweet and simple, yet utterly powerful poem reads: “our backs / tell stories / no books have / the spine to / carry” (women of colour). As an immigrant from India living in Toronto, Canada, her difficulty with speaking English meant that she had a lot of time alone as a child to spend drawing and painting. As her English improved, Kaur began to focus on her passion for writing from the age of 17 on. Her poetry is uniquely marked by the use of all lower-case letters and no punctuation. This is because of her desire to keep some connection with her mother tongue, Punjabi, “to write punjabi means to use gurmukhi script. And within this script there are no uppercase or lowercase letters. all letters are treated the same. i enjoy how simple that is. how symmetrical and how absolutely straightforward. i also feel there is a level of equality this visuality brings to the work. a visual representation of what i want to see more of within the world: equalness.”. In November 2014 Rupi Kaur self-published her first collection of poetry in the form of a book entitled “milk and honey”. Rupi Kaur’s poetry is simple yet striking, and so accessible and immediately relatable, containing messages of encouragement and marvelling at the human spirit in it’s ability to flourish and heal; “and here you are living / despite it all”.
Steve Roggenbuck is best known for his videos as a YouTuber and blogger, but he is also a writer and poet with six published works, and founder of Boost House, a poetry publisher with a mission “to build culture and community at the intersection of poetry, new media, and radical politics” by publishing “books which promote critical, empowering orientations to the world” with the “aim to use new media to make poetry more exciting and accessible to young people”. This project is definitely worth taking a look at, especially if you’re interested in writing and possibly publishing your own work someday.
Patricia Lockwood has been unofficially labelled the poet laureate of Twitter. One of her most infamous tweet trends is a series of “sexts” that were inspired by the Anthony Weiner (an American politician involved in ‘sexting’) scandal. Surreal and brilliantly shocking, they poke fun at the over-sexualisation of many things in modern day life. Just scrolling through Lockwood’s twitter feed provides for an interesting and entertaining read, and I would also recommend checking out the poem that sparked the most attention when it was published on a website called “The Awl”; the poem, entitled “Rape Joke”, immediately went viral.
Here’s another interesting and very cool one: Morgan Parker has based a lot of her poetry on Beyoncé; Parker explained, in an interview for The Paris Review discussing her book “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce”, “One thing that interests me about Beyoncé is who her predecessors are, and how she’s a kind of symbol for all the different ways that black women are revered but also surveilled in a really intense way, put on display. That happens to me just walking down the street… I was interested in that line between awe or reverence—and also exploitation. Where is that line? What does it mean to be at once upheld and at the same time continually made to feel less than? All these questions belonged in the manuscript, which I think of as kind of a tome of black womanhood”. Parker is known for her use of pop-culture figures and references in her poetry which has sparked a lot of particular interest and attention, but Parker feels that this is no different to what the likes of poets such as O’Hara and Eliot did; “My first book has a lot of pop-culture references as well—Jay-Z, the Real Housewives, all kinds of media and celebrities. I write out of trying to archive and record my particular experience. It would feel false if I didn’t include all those things that really shape contemporary life… I’m using pop references, but not in a light or gimmicky way… My references may look different from someone else’s, but in my life I experience the Real Housewives more than I experience Greek myth. These are my contemporary myths and symbols”.
There are many more incredibly talented writers out there today producing brilliant poetry pieces relevant to human nature and to our modern day, 21st century world; Amber Tamblyn, Tracy K. Smith, Richard Blanco, Tina Chang, Meghan O’Rourke, Ernestine Johnson, to name just a few… “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it”; this is Ferris Bueller kindly telling you to take some time out, to give in to your soppy side for a minute, and read some poetry.
This article was originally published in the UCC Express newspaper in February 2017. It has been amended and updated for this blog post.