Worlds crash over me and collapse at the tip of my head, and poetry helps me make sense of them all.
Audre Lorde wrote: “…poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”
The tangible action that our days are usually filled with is being limited by the current circumstances. Poetry can also create more space, if not in the physical dimension, for our spirit to wander without us leaving the confines of our homes.
Here are a few poetry collections and verse novels that can introduce you to the sea of poetry and help your mind leave the shore:
Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns by Andrea Gibson
This collection is gut-wrenching with its heavy imagery reminding you to help people around you carry the weight. It also makes you feel the joy and light of love.
“Hey, are you a boy or a — never mind, can I have a push on the swing?” And some day, y’all, when we grow up, it’s all gonna be that simple.”
(themes: LGBTQ+, war, love, history)
Salt by Nayyirah Waheed
Nayyirah Waheed’s poetry calls for our deepest emotions with carefully chosen words. It illustrates the concept of ‘less is more’ with lines that make you think and help you heal.
“there have been so many times
i have seen a man wanting to weep
beat his heart until it was unconscious.”
(themes: feminism, race, relationships, healing)
Mouthful of Forevers by Clementine Von Radics
This collection captures what it’s like to be young and uncertain yet fierce and brave. The honesty leaves you astonished and the gentleness leaves you comforted.
you and I
are not about poems or
other sentimental bullshit
but I have to tell you
even the way
you drink your coffee
knocks me the fuck out.”
(themes: femininity, love, uncertainty, loss)
Helium by Rudy Francisco
Rudy Francisco’s voice is unique with its honesty, earnestness and representation. The poems are carefully crafted making us smile, nod, realize and empathize.
“perhaps we should love ourselves so fiercely,
that when others see us
they know exactly how it should be done.”
(themes: race, love, masculinity, privilege)
No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay
This collection feels like a celebration of everything we sometimes forget to hold dear. Filled with wisdom and enthusiasm, the words feel like a journey you take with the poet.
“How strange, that when you are away, I reach for
my cell phone’s buzz as if it were your hand. Each
shiver in my pocket, a way to find you.”
(themes: love, family, gratitude, history)
Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn
Neil Hilborn writes and recites unabashedly about mental health and the impact it has. He uses humor and observation to show us the world through his lens.
“It is impossible to imagine a color
you have not seen. Instead of dying,
the jellyfish simply ceases
to move. I complete five crosswords
a day because it stops
the panic. Trucks are downshifting
on Main Street. Hair is partially
composed of cyanide. Napalm
is just gasoline and plastic. I am just
carbon and bad timing.”
(themes: mental health, privilege, love)
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
The prose poetry format in which it’s written takes a gripping story and gives it an air of elegance. The reader takes the journey of passion, intention, uncertainty and struggle with 15-year old Xiomara as she navigates her sexuality, religion, family, and love for slam poetry.
“Although Twin and I are super different,
people find it strange how much we share.
We shared the same womb, the same cradle,
and our whole lives the same room.
Mami wanted to find a bigger apartment,
told Papi we should move to Queens,
or somewhere far from Harlem,
where we could each have our own room.
But apparently, although Papi had changed
he still stood unmoved.
Said everything we could want was here.
And sharing a room wouldn’t kill us.
And it hasn’t.
Except. I once heard a rumor
that goldfish have an evolutionary gene
where they’ll only develop as big as the tank they’re put into.
They need space to stretch. And I wonder if
Twin and I are keeping each other small.
Taking up the space that would have let the other grow.”
(themes: slam poetry, race, religion, family, passion)
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
A story written in verse, this book gives voice to very real challenges that teenagers in black neighborhoods face. It urges us to hold back our judgement and extend understanding.
“but if blood inside you is on the inside of someone else,
you never want to see it on the outside of them”
(themes: race, gun violence, grief)