15 Protest Poets You Should Be Reading During National Poetry Month
One could make the argument that the mere writing of poetry — especially in the face of global violence, political turmoil, poverty, illness, death, personal heartache, and more — is an act of protest itself. To respond to the world through verse is, at least in some ways, a rejection of all the ways we’ve become used to responding to the world: through violence, through thoughtless language, through meaningless consumption, through willful ignorance, through social media... just to name a few. Poetry, whether the writing itself is explicitly political or not, always seeks a better way to respond, to think, to live.
For over the past two decades, the Academy of American Poets has recognized April as National Poetry Month: an annual celebration of the verse being written and put out into the world. With events like Poem In Your Pocket Day and educational opportunities like the Dear Poet project, National Poetry Month is the perfect time to add some more verse to your own bookshelves, and to share the collections you’re already loving, with others. And, with everything from the poetry infiltrating Instagram to the poems going viral in response to the current White House administration, you definitely want to jump on the poetry bandwagon yourself this year (if you’re not riding alongside us already.)
Check out these 15 protest poets to read during National Poetry Month.
Brian Clements, Alexandra Teague and Dean Rader, editors of ‘Bullets Into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence’
As one of the — if not the single-most — urgent issue of our current moment, gun violence and mass-shootings have been making some serious headlines (as have the young activists protesting the accessibility of guns in America.) In Bullets Into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, verse by some of the best poets writing today is paired with the words of gun violence prevention activists, political figures, survivors, and others, in a timely and clobbering collection.
Terrance Hayes, author of ‘American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin’
Reading like an encyclopedia of literary references, and inspired by iconic poet Wanda Coleman, National Book Award-winning poet Terrance Hayes’s American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin was written during the first 200 days of the Trump presidency and looks at America’s past and present racial tensions; filled with fresh, explosive language and themes of race, violence, music, love, and more. Pre-order it this National Poetry Month, before it lands in bookstores in June.
Anne Waldman, author of ‘Trickster Feminism’
Anne Waldman is a poet whose body of work I have been obsessed with for practically as long as I’ve been a reader of poetry, and so the fact that she’s got a new collection coming out this year (though not quite in time for National Poetry Month, so do yourself a favor and pre-order now) is completely rocking my bookish world. Trickster Feminism looks at contemporary understandings of gender, feminism, and activism, as well as how poetry is capable of responding to all three.
Jeff Latosik, author of ‘Dreampad’
Published just last month, Dreampad by Jeff Latosik is a poetry collection that explores — and often protests against — our ever-increasing relationship to and dependency on technology: asking whether or not the fast pace and constant updating of all things online is damaging to the human psyche and our innate need for stability.
Amanda Lovelace, author of ‘The Witch Doesn't Burn in this One’
Edgy and unafraid of female rage, Amanda Lovelace's The Witch Doesn't Burn in this One is a poetry collection for the #MeToo Movement. The collection is the second installment of Lovelace’s 2016 Goodreads Choice Award-winning Women Are Some Kind of Magic series that takes some of the most recognized female archetypes (first princess, now witch) and retells their narratives in a modern, feminist, empowered way.
Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, author of ‘Beast Meridian’
A bilingual collection that looks at violence against women as intimately connected to violence against the earth itself, the poems in Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s Beast Meridian are earthy and ethereal, grounded and expansive, musical in their language and often harsh in their imagery, as they explore what it means to live in a body, on a planet, filled with equal parts beauty and pain.
Khadijah Queen, author of ‘I'm So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On’
Critiquing the patriarchal (and celebrity-obsessed) climate we live in, poet Khadijah Queen’s I'm So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On is as fierce as it is cheeky, looking at the gendered nature of our everyday interactions and celebrating the power of women to keep fighting our way through the world.
Tracy K. Smith, author of 'Wade in the Water'
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith’s first collection since being named Poet Laureate of the United States last September, Wade in the Water meditates on modern American life and our cultural and political history: protesting against everything from slavery and racism to pollution, violence, wealth inequality, and more.
Martha Collins, author of ‘Night Unto Night’
This is one of those collections that is not explicitly political, but which somehow still seems to be directly protesting against the violence, the cruelty, the waste, the impermanence, the loss so present in our world. Paired with her previous collection, Day Unto Day, Martha Collins’s Night Unto Night looks at the ways we crash and clash and repeat the same mistakes over and over again, as well as the redemption available in the human experience.
Simone John, author of 'Testify'
Simone John’s debut collection of documentary poetics, Testify, was published last year and protests against an issue that we’ve unfortunately seen no progress on since its publication: the murder of black men and women, boys and girls, by America’s criminal justice system. In Testify, John looks at official state documents of the Trayvon Martin trial and Sandra Bland’s arrest, pairing and contrasting the words of the state with her own writing.
Ada Limón, author of ‘The Carrying: Poems’
From exploring the history that America ignores to growing tomato plants and trying to conceive a baby in the face of global terrorist attacks, The Carrying: Poems by Ada Limón protests against death and the inability to carry life, while realizing the poignant inevitability of both.
Chinua Achebe, author of ‘Collected Poems'
A writer dearly missed in this world, Chinua Achebe’s Collected Poems features some of the very best of what the novelist, poet, and educator had to offer his readers. Achebe writes about politics and morality, violence and compassion, in a way that only a writer who has witnessed generations of political upheaval and recovery could.
Annie Chagnot and Emi Ikkanda, editors of ‘How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times’
Compiled as a voice of hope for readers feeling distraught after the 2016 election, How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times is a celebration of poetry as an act of protest, one that responds not only to the immediacy of our political moment, but also to the experiences of anyone who, throughout history and across cultures, has felt alienated or abandoned by their communities, governments, and leaders.
Javier Zamora, author of ‘Unaccompanied’
With a resurgence of buzz about “the wall” (and you know I’m not talking about Pink Floyd here) poet Javier Zamora’s 2017 debut, Unaccompanied, is a must read. The poet himself was only nine-years-old himself when he traveled from El Salvador to the United States, alone, and in this collection he explores and protests against the fraught and violent territory of the U.S./Mexico border wall, and the alienating and silencing of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. — especially by the current White House administration.
Sophie Collins, author of 'Who Is Mary Sue?'
While this cover alone says it all, the debut collection by award-winning poet Sophie Collins definitely responds to current national and global conversations about women’s voices, and/or the silencing of them. Who Is Mary Sue? looks specifically at women writers and women in the arts, illuminating the cultural assumptions and stereotypes that have worked against women artists, writers, and makers — and any woman interested in having her voice heard — historically and today.