Whatever you think of super-famous Instagram poet Rupi Kaur, you have to admit that she is a phenomenon. Her first poetry collection, Milk and Honey, has sold 1.6 million copies–remarkable for any debut author, but unthinkable for a poet. Her second collection, called The Sun and Her Flowers, was released on October 3rd and quickly became the book that launched a thousand thinkpieces: The Cut published a rather shady profile, and a deluge of responses followed. Kaur is famous enough to be the subject of frequent parodies of her minimalist style:
But while the Rupi Kaur debate rages on, lots of readers are discovering poetry for the very first time. And although I’m guilty of not reading enough poetry, I thought I’d direct rad-ish readers towards some of my favorite contemporary poets. They may not be outselling John Green on Amazon, but all of these writers are close to my heart.
I first heard Danez Smith on a panel at a big publishing conference in spring 2016, on a panel called “Cunty Faggots: Who Can Say Wut?”, where writers talked about reclaiming slurs and who is entitled to vernacular language. The next night they competed at Literary Death Match and I was stunned by their poems. Look for punchy, personal work about being black and queer, frequent line breaks (like Kaur), and sharp imagery with a narrative bent. Smith’s work is accessible and wildly powerful. Read an excerpt from “summer, somewhere,” but get ready to have your heart broken; then buy Smith’s new collection Don’t Call Us Dead.
Eileen Myles’s poems are funny and immediate, and often tell a story–which can be nice for readers who don’t like feeling unsure what they’re supposed to be getting out of a poem (guilty). Myles writes about sex, food, their dog, in simple and evocative poems that linger long after they’re read. Start with “Our Happiness” online and then pick from Myles’s many collections of poetry and prose, including their most recent release, Afterglow (a dog memoir).
Matthew Zapruder’s poems are narrative (look I like stories, okay, that’s like my whole deal) and dreamy. If you’re a poetry newbie, Zapruder is already trying to help you out: he’s written in the past about how reading poetry should feel straightforward and even fun, and even has a whole book to help you “get” poetry better. To me, Matthew Zapruder’s work feels patient, guiding me into an image or scene, but always entrusts me with some magical effect or reward for reading. Check out “April Snow,” to start and then get his book Sun Bear.
Who are your favorite poets? What’s your take on the Great Rupi Kaur Dilemma?
i’d love to hear
thank you for
[images from Entertainment Weekly, Know your Meme, & Poetry Foundation]