Hello there readers! So, its been a while since I wrote a post here, what with final year hand-ins. More importantly, following hand-ins I made the decision to take nearly two weeks away from IG and blogging, because on Sunday I leave Newcastle forever (only joking, I’ll be back), and move home to Yorkshire to begin life as a working girl (that’s right, I’ve signed my life away starting in September). The weeks I had left, I understandably wanted to spend with my amazing friends, who are also all buggering off home in a few days. What else have I been up to? Well, if you read this blog often you’ll know that my degree was English Literature with Creative Writing, that I specialise in poetry, and that I always have a book on me. For the past few weeks I’ve been living in a bubble of coffee, reading, and poetry writing (lots of book reviews coming soon). And much as I knew I should be getting some recipes up here, I also knew I didn’t have any ingredients for what I wanted to make -I’m winding down my cupboards so won’t be buying anything in until I reach Bradford. All I wanted to do was read and write. And then I realised: this is my bloody blog and I’ll write what I want. And so today we are talking poetry, and recipes are on hold until I get home.
A lot of people hate poetry. But, poetry is one of the most powerful literary forms out there. Poetry is dangerous. Look at the Romantic era radicals and their poetry. Look at poetry of witness now, and political or spoken work poetry. One of my lecturers once said that poetry holds us in a little bubble of the present; it’s more alive than prose because you experience things so much more vividly for being held in one moment. You’re carried along in that little bubble, and things don’t have to be 100% clear in poems- its about a feeling you get from them. You have to leave a good poem or collection changed in some way. I’ll write a whole post on this at some point. Today, I want to introduce you to some collections, and some poets I think you will love. Some are classic, some are modern, some are to be spoken, some are to be read, some are female, some are male. I hope you find at least one you like.
Rupi Kaur- Milk & Honey
A fellow poetry student recommended this to me, and I fell in love with it. I read it cover to cover in one sitting. I love collections that tell a story, and this definitely does that. Each poem is short and I’m sure you will find at least one that resonates with you. If you’re a feminist, get yourself a copy asap and thank me lat.
Andrew McMillan- Physical
This was the first poetry collection that made me want to be a poet. I fell head over heels for this collection. Its about a homosexual relationship and the male body. It is beautiful. It is painful. It is a must-read. I met Macmillan at a reading in Leeds and actually forgot how to speak for a good five minutes. Its also a novelty to hear poetry in a Yorkshire accent, if you fancy listening to his readings online.
Staying Alive anthology (numerous poets)
If you want to read a few different poets in one purchase, then I can’t recommend this enough. If you’re new to poetry then you can flick through and find poets you like to follow up on a bit more. This anthology is published by Bloodaxe, and its contemporary poems on the reality of living in unreal times.
Burns’s poems are a mixture of hilarious bawdiness and social critique. Part of my family is Scottish and so I had a head start on reading this in the Scottish dialect, but most anthologies come with translations of various non-English words. Try these to begin: ‘Epistle to J. Lapraik’ , ‘The Mouse’, ‘The Louse’, and ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’. I really recommend ‘Holy Willie’ for a laugh. Reading this work alongside some criticism- if you’re really keen- makes it all the funnier, as you “get” the hidden jokes, double meanings, and background to the poems (Burns was one hell of a ladies man, put it that way).
I’ve only recently found Nikita Gill and have yet to buy a collection of her work. I recommend the poems ’93 Percent Stardust’ and ‘The Truth About Monsters’ though. You can easily find them online. These are great poems to begin with if you’re really unfamiliar with poetry, as they’re so accessible, which is why I include them.
Modern Poetry in Translation: The Great Flight, Refugee Focus
(Issue no.1 2016; numerous poets)
This collection is astonishing. Its poems written by refugees and those who have experienced diaspora. Its very raw and real, but also very beautiful. I feel privileged that someone translated these poems, so that those of us who aren’t bilingual can experience them. You may be able to buy this online, and if you can get your hands on it, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Blake isn’t maybe the person to start on with poetry, because he’s a bit nuts. The one collection I really recommend though, if you do want to start here, is A Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Think questioning what is good and bad, free thought, and breaking the chains of society.
Forché was a HUGE influence in my third year submission. She writes Poetry of Witness, and is a self-proclaimed accidental political poet. I attended a talk by her and Shami Chakrabarti back in May 2016 and it blew my mind. I highly recommend you read the poem ‘The Colonel’, if you read nothing else on this list. Hopefully this will also demonstrate that poems don’t need to be in sonnet form- they can even look like prose.
Ever heard the line ‘Ye are many, they are few’? Yep, that’s Shelley. I recommend ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ and ‘Ozymandias’. If you’re into politics and power struggles in the current day, these should resonate with you. I was pleasantly surprised just how much Shelley’s work relates to the present day, and how radical it is. ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ is quite long, whereas ‘Ozymandias’ is a matter of just a few lines. Perhaps YouTube these, and listen to them- I won’t link them to specific videos as I think you have to find a voice you like listening to when it comes to poetry, and it comes down to personal taste.
Byron’s ‘Don Juan ‘
Intro, Cantos I, Cantos II
This is more of a fun- though lengthy- read. These can be accessed online. I can only recommend the above sections of Don Juan as those are the ones I have read, but I will get around to reading the rest, so hopefully we’ll be reading at the same time! Think sex, shipwrecks, cannibals, sex, political digs, sex, broken homes, controlling mothers, oh and sex. It follows Don Juan as he hops around being seduced and seducing, being shipwrecked, and “becoming a man”. Its a good laugh.
For one of the next collections of poetry I write, because I am not stopping at my third year submission, I have been researching LGBTQ poets. Andrea Gibson is an amazing spoken word poet, and I highly recommend you YouTube her piece Maybe I Need You. If you find you aren’t good at reading poetry, then listen to it. Poetry is meant to be spoken and listen to, as well as seen on a page. If you aren’t confident in reading aloud, then let someone else do it.
Another spoken word poet, and Smith’s work is something I highly recommend to access how poetry functions as a political tool at its finest. He’s an American poet, whose poem ‘Dear White America’ is eloquent, powerful, and fiery. Poetry on race and the sad reality of white privilege doesn’t get much better than this, and I felt this was a pretty inspiring slap in the face.
I had to throw Keats in there, though he isn’t one of my absolute favourites. However, he did write one of my favourite poems: ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. It isn’t in French, don’t worry guys. You can find it online, and its a strange fantasy narrative, very short, about a knight seduced by a beautiful supernatural lady, and seeing ghosts of those who have gone before him. Keats’s poetry isn’t all as easily readable as this one piece; its what most people’s idea of poetry is. Very flowery. But, if you’re into this kind of poetry, then I recommend ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ as well (think Romeo and Juliet-ish, but a happier ending. We assume). I prefer the more modern poets above, but I am a sucker for fantasy narratives.
There you go- just a few poets you may want to check out. Perhaps in the future I will make another list for you, but I don’t want to overwhelm you too many poets right now. However, if you have a poet for me to read, comment below, because I am ALWAYS excited to find more poems to fill my bookshelves…