If you've uttered the words, "I just don't get poetry," you're not the only reader feeling this way. Though one of the most ancient literary genres, poetry can be frustrating to read with its extensive metaphors, confusing formations, and intimidating--some may say convoluted--expression.
On top of this, our introduction to poetry is often the most dense, far-from-modern works: Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, John Milton's Paradise Lost, William Shakespeare's many sonnets . . . think anything you read in high school and thought, This is taking so much of my brain power to understand. Yes, these are powerful, beautiful poems, but they usually don't intrigue us enough to start reading poetry on our free time.
However, like music, there are several different types of poetic themes, styles, and subgenres. You just have to find the one right for you. To make it easier, I have created this list of 8 modern-day poets and their engaging collections that every poetry beginner should check out before swearing off poetry for good.
1. Terrance Hayes
A southern poet from South Carolina, Terrance Hayes is the talent behind the emotional (and political) collection, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins. Don't be intimidated by the word "sonnets." They're nothing like what you read in high school. Hayes's poems are smoothly rhythmic, boldly resolute, and rich with images and discussions relevant to the Black American experience, specifically relating to today's political climate. Although each poem is uniquely powerful, they're all titled the same as the collection, allowing for a continuous reading flow.
2. Tracy K. Smith
If Science Fiction is your genre of choice, add Tracy K. Smith's Life on Mars to your must-read list. Written as an elegy to her father, an engineer who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, Life on Mars is wistful, wonderful, and woeful, drawing alluring imagery and posing illuminating questions about life, love, and loss. My favorite part of Smith's collection is her inquiries based on Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." If you ponder the vastness of the universe, like Kubrick and Smith, then this is the poetry collection to get started on.
Read Life on Mars
3. Brenda Shaughnessy
You haven't read an apocalyptic story that balances absurdity and reality as brilliantly as Brenda Shaughnessy's The Octopus Museum. This outrageous, imaginative collection merges real world fears of today with an insane dystopia of octopuses becoming overlords of the earth. Crazy, I know! The strange, comical tone intensifies the entire read, entertaining the reader the whole way through. Before you re-read Brave New World or 1984, crack open a page from The Octopus Museum.
4. Joshua Bennett
The first time I read Joshua Bennett, I was blown away by how genuine his poetry felt. A celebratory and witty collection, Bennett's Owed --a play on the word "ode"--brings light and magic to the places, spaces, and things some may be quick to deem insignificant. With a deep appreciation for Black culture, Bennett writes odes to objects crucial to his upbringing, such as do-rags, long johns, and ankle weights, as well as abstract concepts like race, education, and history. If you're looking to feel connection through reading, this is the collection for you.
5. Sharon Olds
For fans of nonfiction, Sharon Olds's gripping narrative style is the perfect transition into poetry. Stag's Leap, one of her many collections, is an intimate expression of a wife's ending marriage of thirty years. Heavy, I know. Filled to the brim with love, sorrow, and brutal honesty, Olds's poems hold her readers in place with their vivid imagery and deep contemplation. This collection wowed me from start to finish. Open it on any random page and you will feel the vulnerability Olds shares.
Read Stag's Leap
6. Michael Dickman
As you can probably tell by the title and cover, Michael Dickman's Flies is a grim, gloomy, and very human collection of poems. It is a gritty fortress of absurd images, lonely stories, and brief expressions of sorrow. Based on the isolation of Dickman's childhood and the loss of his older brother, Flies will shock you and charm you at the same time. I love to pick up this book when I am feeling alone and I want to feel related to. In an odd way, it's my comfort read.
7. Kevin Young
For music connoisseurs, it is essential that you read Kevin Young's Brown. Rich with hearty rhythm and an abundance of hip-hop song lyrics and jazzy musical references, Brown takes readers on an adventure through Young's youth, sharing a wisdom about the importance of Black-American culture to his boyhood and manhood. Maybe you haven't loved reading poetry in the past, but maybe you like listening to it. Well, this is the collection your ears will thank you for. For an even more thrilling auditory experience, read the poems out loud to yourself.
Read Brown: Poems
8. Claudia Rankine
Enjoy reading essays? Do you prefer prose over poetic forms? Looking to get lost in something captivating? I promise you won't be disappointed by Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric. This book is a jaw-dropping book-length lyric poem that examines racism in the U.S. From pop culture to personal accounts, this discussion on racial aggressions coupled with the poem's provocative tone and complimentary visuals makes it difficult to put the book down once you've begun reading it.
Read Citizen: An American Lyric
The are thousands of more poetry collections out there waiting to be discovered. Once you find the collection that opens up your mind, heart, or soul, you will have a whole new literary world to explore. On your search for your gateway collection, remember that poetry is a tricky genre. Be patient and enjoy the journey of finding the poems that make you fall in love with poetry.
Desirée Brown is a writer, poet, and content writer. She received her B.A. in English from University of North Carolina-Charlotte and her M.F.A. from New York University. Her work has been featured in Hedge Apple Magazine, Woven Tale Press, Sanskrit Literary-Arts Magazine, and more. She has worked with poets Ishion Hutchinson, Nick Laird, Catherine Barnett, and Matthew Rohrer. She is the founder and executive director of the Young Eager Writers Association. Today, Desirée lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Get in touch with her at her website, https://www.desireebrown.com/