So. You’ve probably heard the news by now, but just in case you haven’t, lemme fill ya in: poetry is back.
Okay, okay, okay! So poetry was never actually gone, but what I mean is that recently (as in, in the past few years), poetry has made a resurgence as a form of popular literature. With the rise of so-called “Insta-poets” such as Rupi Kaur and Atticus, poetry has caught the public’s attention and returned to its place in the spotlight. Of course, modern poetry—in particular, the kind poets tend to share on social media sites like Instagram and Tumblr—has its critics, but nevertheless, no one can deny that poetry has risen once again (arguably in part thanks to social media).
Because poetry is such an ancient art form but hasn’t been massively popular with the general public for so long, I see a lot of people wanting to get into poetry but wondering where to begin. At Shakespeare? Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance?? Cummings, perhaps??? Maybe with Kaur???? Or do we need to head back to the epics of old????? Oh my, where to start truly is quite a dizzying quandary!
My advice? First off, if you can, start with what you know. Most secondary schools have some kind of poetry unit. So, chances are, you’ve read at least some poetry. And you either liked it or didn’t. Which means you have a bit of an advantage in that you know at least one style to either look further into or to stay away from. If you like a certain poet, research the years their poetry was published and then find a few of their contemporaries. Poetry, like other forms of literature, has progressed in stylistic eras in which certain styles of technique became massively popular (in poetry’s case, these eras and their various methods are called “schools” of poetry).
But if you really have no clue where to start? My advice would be to start from modern poetry (i.e. poetry circa the 2010s) and work your way back, as opposed to the reverse method. There’s a few key reasons why.
First off, modern poetry is accessible and, oftentimes, free. With the rise of the usage of social media sites as publication platforms, poetry can now be accessed anytime, anywhere, and by anyone, free of charge. While popular poems by notable poets of previous eras are generally available online for free, works of more obscure poets or of poets whose estates still hold the rights to the poets’ works may not be available online and/or for free.
Second off, modern poetry uses modern language (I know, what a shock!). This means that it’s accessible in that it’s generally recognizable and easy to read for those of all educational backgrounds, so long as you are able to read.
Third off, (and this may also seem obvious) modern poetry is oftentimes about a) the specific struggles of modern day life or b) “eternal themes of literature” (i.e. love, death, happiness, pain, philosophy, etc.) as they relate to modern life. Technology has greatly increased the speed of “social evolution” and literature remains a popular way to keep a “snapshot” of a very specific moment in time as that moment quickly fades and becomes history. Modern poetry captures this snapshot well, by definition covering the struggles of modern life, making it far more relatable to modern readers.
And fourth off, because modern poetry is so accessible via social media and because the poets are often still living, reading modern poetry can often be a more social and/or interactive experience. With modern poetry, you can get the experience of discussing poetry in a community which still involves the actual poet. Yes, you can definitely still have a meaningful poetry discussions about the works of long gone poets, but I think there’s something special about being able to actually speak with the artist whose work you’re admiring. This kind of access can allow you much more insight into the background of a poem and the mind of its author and that’s something magical!
So, now that we’ve covered where I think you might find it easiest to start with poetry—modern poetry—let’s take a look at some modern poets who I think are great options!
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MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT…
- Ariel Bissett’s short documentary on modern poetry and social media
- Amber’s annual series of poet interviews
- Krysta’s recommendations for poets who might surprise you (even if you’r not a poetry fan)
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SPILL THE BEANS, FRIENDS!
- Are you a poetry fan?
- Do you have a favorite poem or poet?
- If you’re not a fan of poetry, are you looking to become one?