This round-up of collections of poetry published since 2014 is sponsored by the Read Harder Journal.
Created by Book Riot, this smartly designed reading log consists of entry pages to record stats, impressions, and reviews of each book you read. Evenly interspersed among these entry pages are 12 challenges inspired by Book Riot’s annual Read Harder initiative, which began in 2015 to encourage readers to pick up passed-over books, try out new genres, and choose titles from a wider range of voices and perspectives. Indulge your inner book nerd and read a book about books, get a new perspective on current events by reading a book written by an immigrant, find a hidden gem by reading a book published by an independent press, and so much more. Each challenge includes an inspiring quotation, an explanation of why the challenge will prove to be rewarding, and five book recommendations that fulfill the challenge.
Sifting through endless rhymes? Tripping over metaphors? Running through mazes of innuendo? As a reader and writer of poetry, I’ll admit reading it can seem intimidating. In college, I spent uncountable class sessions dissecting ancient poems. Many poems published today, however, are more approachable and less restricted than those penned by Shakespeare and e.e. cummings and the like.
They still hold the power to communicate both soft beauty and hard truths in the space of a few lines, but the delivery and topics are understandable to contemporary readers. From watching love grow or die in the time of the internet, to feeling split between the country of one’s birth and the country where one has grown up, contemporary poets likely have the words for what you are going through.
Whether you are new to poetry or someone who has memorized all of Emily Dickinson’s verses, here is a guide to reading six collections of poetry published since 2014.
If you enjoy viewing Instapoetry…
Chasers of the Light: Poems from the Typewriter Series by Tyler Knott Gregson
Tyler Knott Gregson’s debut follows the aesthetic found on his Instagram poetry account: concise erasure and free verse poems typed on faded pieces of paper and receipts. He writes of love and heartbreak in a simplistic, first-person voice readers unfamiliar with poetry will find clear and easy to relate to. This collection is perfect for reading on a day when a little sunshine and peace is needed.
If you like listening to slam poetry…
Date & Time by Phil Kaye
As an award winning spoken word poet, Phil Kaye knows how to fill not only an auditorium but book pages with his words. Date & Time bears testament to the fragility and hilarity of childhood friendships and the ache of love lost. The collection is also heavily influenced by family: Kaye writes of his grandmother’s fading memories, his parent’s divorce, and the intertwining branches of his half Jewish and half Japanese family tree.
No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay
Sarah Kay’s poetry collection is set against the backdrop of the New York City skyline. As an internationally recognized slam poet and educator, Kay’s poems bring the reader on a journey of strength, vulnerability, and siblinghood. Including the vivid description of jellyfish hunting as a lesson in immortality, her poems are immersive, sensory, and fast paced.
If you want to read about The struggle to Belong…
Eye Level: Poems by Jenny Xie
Eye Level: Poems engages the imagination with gritty, colorful details. As the winner of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, Jenny Xie’s work unsurprisingly lingers in the mind long past reading. The poems transport the reader to New York, Corfu, and other locations as the poet notes how cultures clash and differ, as well as examining migration and isolation.
The January Children by Safia Elhillo
In The January Children, Safia Elhillo’s Sudanese-American heritage leads her, as well as others, to question where she belongs. Family members wonder if Elhillo has come only to visit or to stay in Sudan for good; Elhillo—fictionally and longingly—asks Egyptian singer Abdelhalim Hafez whether or not she is the girl he sang about; others question if she is Arab or African, neither or both. Interspersed through poems about dancing and song lyrics, Elhillo delivers powerful poems about family, immigration, racism, and sexism.
If you want to read about black history in America…
The Sobbing School by Joshua Bennett
Joshua Bennett introduces both the history of his upbringing as well as black history in America in The Sobbing School. Bennett’s clever use of biblical metaphors throughout the collection pushes the reader to re-frame what they know, such as when he turns the story of Samson and Delilah into a story in which Samson is in the wrong. Mentions of James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Malcolm X, and Ella Fitzgerald all find a place in Bennett’s poems as he examines what it means to be black in America.
What poetry collection have you chosen for this year’s Read Harder challenge? Let us know what you’re reading! Looking for even more poetry collections to read? Check out 50 Must-Read Poetry Collections 2019.