Rupi Kaur is a name that I hear very often when I talk to people about poetry. She’s usually the first poet that comes to mind for them when we get onto the subject. ‘Omg have you heard of Rupi Kaur? She’s my favourite poet ever.’
Probably. but perhaps only because you’ve not looked any further than Milk & Honey, or her latest collection The Sun and her Flowers. Kaur, and British poets Hollie McNish and Kate Tempest have recently been at the centre of a rehashing of the elitist argument about popular performance poetry versus the artistic and often inaccessible world of the page. While I stand with Hollie’s response to the PN Review article and am pleased to see poetry becoming more popular, I am a little exasperated at having to answer that Rupi Kaur is not my favourite poet and I don’t own any of her books, and then having to explain why. For starters, poetry is objective and I have read a lot, since I was a kid. I completely appreciate what she creates, her art is provoking and she represents a dislocated youth and a non-white narrative that is essential and widely enjoyed. Props to you for engaging.
But Kaur does not represent an exclusive way in to the modern poetry world. In fact, she has arrived in to a very rich and varying field where many have come before her, and still more will come after. Just as you are not the first person to discover poetry and you won’t be the last as performance, slam, stand up and spoken word becomes a vital part of our cultural climate. It pains me a little that American slam poetry has become so popular here or that big publishers like Penguin are republishing modern poetry from anywhere apart from it’s own doorstep. I’m here to take you through the gateway Kaur has opened for you and share a few collections that you might like to read next. If you can’t afford them then let me know, you can borrow my copies. I’d like to start sharing what I have with people.
A Recipe for Sorcery – Vanessa Kisuule (Burning Eye Books)
This brand new collection is blinding brilliant. Vanessa is, in my opinion, one of the strongest poets on the scene at the moment, climbing higher and higher in popularity with young feminist audiences. She is bold, funny and her poems are crafted snippets of wider ideas surrounding feminism, race, identity and modernity.
Darling – Jackie Kay (Bloodaxe Books)
If you are interested in reading poetry much more than hearing it, I’d look no further than Darling by Jackie Kay. The Scottish poet has written numerous volumes of poetry, and Darling compiles some selected poems from four out of five of her award winning collections including Other Lovers and The Adoption Papers. It’s a really great book to introduce you to her work as a whole. Kay works through her shifting ideas on identity and family. I think I like her so much because although written for the page it is not lumbered with metaphor with an understanding that is hard to see. It is welcoming and warm. My favourites are ones about Bessie Smith.
To Sweeten Bitter – Raymond Antrobus (Out-Spoken Press)
Ray Antrobus was one of the first poets I ever saw perform, I remember his poems about strawberries, his words about his grandmother, and meeting a man in Whetherspoons.
Not many poets are that memorable, but his gentle way made an impression. When his second collection To Sweeten Bitter came out, it was eagerly awaited by the poetry world and as equally loved. Writing about being deaf, about family and self reflection, this chapbook is a beautifully crafted image of what it is to belong to more than one island.
Beautiful Girls – Melissa Lee-Houghton (Penned in the Margins)
Mental health is being slayed in performance poetry, younger writers see poetry as therapy, and it can be very therapeutic but the audience should not have to take all that raw, untapped emotional trauma in on themselves, it comes at a cost to the writer too if they chose to recount those stories time and time again. Everyone has to protect themselves when writing and performing and it can be a shedding of something for some. For Melissa Lee Houghton, who reads with such frankness, it is living a life that is both detached and involved, that the audience is haunted, but not beaten down. Beautiful Girls is one of the most uncomfortable books I have ever read. It is so honest, and so unlike others on the same topic. There are truths there to be picked at like scabs and although it is a tough read, it is unforgettable.
Paisley – Rakhshan Rizwan (The Emma Press)
I’m a bit fan of the poetry pamphlet. Small, concise collections. (Pamphlets are around 30 – 40 pages long with about 20 or so poems.) Paisley is a piece of art as well as a impressive debut. There is a ferociousness there that is equalled with a grace of writing belittling the hypocrisies and structures it aims to take down. The cover is beautiful too!
Songs My Enemy Taught Me – Joelle Taylor (Out-Spoken Press)
Joelle Taylor a rockstar of the UK poetry world. She has been performing and writing for longer than I’ve been alive (not in a depressing way, in a prolific and cool way). She has the energy and time that most people should have when injected themselves into the poetry community. She works tirelessly to help unheard voices get their stories out, to heal creatively and to find a place for everyone. Songs My Enemy Taught Me is a brilliant collection that can teach so much about how to write about another’s experiences and how we juggle our own trauma with activism. Joelle’s book is mindful, constructive and compelling. I urge you to take a peek.
She Grrrowls Anthology ed. by Carmina Masoliver (Burning Eye Books)
A beginners guide to British feminist poetry, She Grrrowls compiles ten poets who have featured as headliners at this it’s monthly event in London. I type-set this book and know it quite well. If you are looking to read more feminist poetry I would directly first to this. Not only is it a generous anthology, with a good selection from each of the ten poets, but it is also accompanied by beautiful illustrations and a thoughtful introduction from Carmina. The poets included in this anthology are Jasmin Cooray, Bridget Minamore, Sabrina Mahfouz, Joelle Taylor, Ester Poyer, Selina Nwulu, Rachel Long, Sophie Fenella, Natalie Cooper, Rowena Knight and Belinda Zawi.
Requite – Malaika Kegode (Burning Eye Books)
Malaika is an extremely hard working poet based in Bristol, if you’ve ever been to Milk Poetry, or a Raise the Bar spotlight, or even read anything about Bristol spoken word, Malaika had a hand in it. Her honest debut is all about growing, fitting it, running away, loss and dislocation. It is beautifully accessible, with delicate imagery and a gentleness that will cause you to pull the pages around yourself and sink into her life as though it were a hot bath.
if you’d like to get your hands on any of the above and you live in the UK, I’d be happy to lend them to you for 30 days at a time per book. Email me for details.