We humans have been creating poetry since practically the
beginning of time… or, you know, since about right around then, anyway — first
through song and chants, through images, and finally by chiseling, carving, scratching,
burning, writing it onto whatever we could get our hands on. In my mind, poetry
is one of those things that is just essential to the human experience — all human experience, no matter who you
are or where you come from, regardless of race, religion, or language, people have
always felt the desire to share the stories of their lives and to pass those
stories down through generations — which is why it is equally essential to have diverse
collections of poetry on your bookshelves. These recently published books by poets of color are a great place to start.
The writers of color on this list cover a vast spectrum of
material in their poetry — everything from motherhood and the female body, to experiences
of racism and immigration, to love and family history; they share their thoughts
on global warming, war, the solar system, religion, fairy tales, Beyoncé, and
more; and they make space to engage with other forms of art in their own writing: mediums
like music and film, painting and performance art. Their words are both
relatable and eye-opening, as funny as they are sad, as beautiful as they are
jarring. I'm obsessed with basically all of them.
What about modern womanhood isn’t explored in Morgan Parker’s
poetry collection, There Are More
Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, out in February 2017? The easy answer:
nothing. Filled with politics, pop culture, and personal poetry this collection
challenges the status quo — critiquing the modern media, current politics, and
the patriarchy, and challenging racism, sexism, and the
ideas/products/entertainment we choose to consume both individually and as a
society. Parker’s writing is soulful and in-your-face, and is exactly the best
of what modern poets have to offer their readers. If you loved Roxane Gay’s
essay collection Bad Feminist, then
you’ll love There Are More Beautiful
Things Than Beyoncé, which in many ways almost seems to be in poetic conversation
with Gay’s essays. Put this one on your pre-order list immediately.
I’m kind of obsessed with Hoa Nguyen, and here’s why: she somehow
manages to point out the serious imperfections in our modern world, in our
human history, in people and societies as a whole, while still being in utter
awe of the beautiful, the humbling, the miraculous. Her poetry in Violet Energy Ingots traverses an expansive terrain — politics and war, the economy, global warming, love and religion, the
Mayan calendar, menstruation, the solar system, the agony of the inability to
find the precise word for the exact thing you’re trying to articulate — you name
it. Nguyen’s writing is vivid and kaleidoscopic, and you’re just as apt to get
lost in her imagery as you are to be moved by her messages.
Why stop at just one poet when you can experience more than
40 of them in a single collection? Of
Poetry and Protestfeatures the poetry (and protest… and personal essays,
and images) of some of the genre’s most iconic and explosive and gorgeous and
mind-bending African American writers, all exploring the modern history of
racism and politics in America — from the Black Panther Party to the Black
Lives Matter movement and more. Each poem features a photograph and
first-person narrative about the inspirations and motivations of the poet,
making this an essential collection for poets and activists (and
poet-activists) interested in verse that transcends the page.
I read somewhere that Alysia Nicole Harris has been writing
and reciting poetry since she was 10-years-old. Now in her late-twenties,
Harris’s debut collection How Much We
Must Have Looked Like Stars to Stars won the 2015 New Women’s Voices
Chapbook Contest, and was published this year. Her poems are empowering and
spiritual, revealing and redemptive. She often writes about the human body — and
particularly the female body — in a way that is exploratory and unashamed, imperfect
and strong. Harris is definitely a poet to watch out for, and you’ll want her
on your bookshelves immediately.
Nominated for the 2016 National Book Award in Poetry, Kevin
Young’s Blue Laws: Selected and
Uncollected Poemsfeatures two decades of the writer’s best poetry, and
offers readers a number of previously-unpublished pieces as well. Young’s poetry
is personal and political, musical and infused with a sense of hometown
hospitality, and often experiments with intersections of verse and other art
forms — paintings, film noir, and blues music.
Sjohnna McCray is the child of a Korean mother and an
American father, born in the United States during the tense years of the
Vietnam War — and his debut collection of poetry, Rapture, explores exactly how that family history and the
individual histories of his parents, informed the person McCray would grow up
to become. Raptureis a journey of
identity, one that explores the different — and often desperate — spaces in which
the human experience can unfold simultaneously. Rapture is touching and lyrical, emotional and relatable.
Sun Yung Shin is the kind of poet who challenges her readers
— she never underestimates your intelligence, which means you might be doing a
bit of Googling in the midst of losing yourself completely in her poetic verse.
Shin’s poetry is as cerebral as it is beautiful, exploring the personal
experiences of race, immigration, and gender alongside academic
investigations of religion and science, philosophy and art. Her latest collection,
Unbearable Splendor, will be
published by Coffee House Press in October — so add it to your TBR list pronto.
Another of this year’s nominees for the National Book Award
in Poetry, Donika Kelly’s poetry is rhythmic, bold, and declarative, often
exploring the gendered experiences of the world. Bestiary is Kelly’s debut poetry collection, available November 1
by Graywolf Press, and tells the story of the world through creatures — great
and mythological beasts like the whale to the centaur, as well as the
less-obvious beasts that exist somewhere inside every human being as well.
Exploring the history of racism in the United States, the
racism that is still inherent in American culture, the crisis of stateless
people, and in particular the experience of Eritrean refugees who have been fleeing to
Ethiopia before trying to make their way across the Mediterranean Sea to
Europe, Aracelis Girmay’s The Black Maria
is a haunting and beautiful collection, alternating between disruption and grace,
violence and gentleness — often from one line to the next. This collection
feels somehow frenetic and methodical at the same time, and it will make you
think about whose stories get told while others are forgotten.
Another collection of poetry infused with the legacy left by
literature’s darkest fairy tales, Landscape
with Headless Mama explores the experience of motherhood — both becoming
a mother and the subsequent raising of children, the inexpressible love and
the incomprehensible exhaustion — in a way that feels equal parts earthy and
supernatural. This debut collection from Mexican-American poet Jennifer Givhan resonates
with the spirit of the arid southwest; the writing is sharp and vivid and
passionate, and feels just a little bit risky, a little bit out of control, in
all the best ways.
A third nominee for the 2016 National Book Award in Poetry,
Monica Youn is the author of three collections of poetry, including her latest:
Blackacre, which explores everything
from racial identity to infertility, and dives deep into experiences of both
wanting and not-wanting. The collection resonates with the energy of dark fairy-tales
(aka: no Disney treatment here) — it’s grim, bleak, and haunting writing, and
also beautiful. Blackacre reads like
the most private mutterings of woman lost in the forest of her own imagination.
This unique collection by poet Tyehimba Jess weaves together
fact and fiction, song, sonnet, and narrative, as it takes readers on a first-person
POV journey through the lives and performance art of ninetieth and early
twentieth century African American performers. Spanning the years from just
before the Civil War until World War I, Olio
explores how these performers — whose art has remained largely undocumented — broke rules and defied expectations in order to tell truths about the
experiences of their lives. Cool and unexpected.