A lot of people think that poetry is a dying art form in the modern age, and although it’s true that it’s status in mainstream culture has slipped from previous times, it deserves more credit than it gets. It is often deemed inaccessible to those who don’t have enough knowledge of literature, but you don’t need to be an expert to appreciate the way poetic words evoke powerful emotions and give insight into other’s experiences. Your reading does not have to be limited to the classics like Sylvia Plath or T.S. Eliot either; there are many fantastic up-and-coming-poets that deserve our attention.
One of my favourite modern poets is Charly Cox who recently published her poetry collection She Must Be Mad in 2018[i]. Cox emulates the experiences of young women who struggle from social pressures and tensions. In the “she must be fat” section of the collection, she exposes the feelings behind mental illness and encapsulates the obsessive anxiety over whether our bodies are good enough. This compelling anthology provides an example of the ways poetry is constantly recreating meaning that is relevant to our current social world, and draws attention to the important issues within it.
The growing popularity of spoken-word culture has given this form an exciting performative status that reaches those who are not active readers of poetry. If you have never been to a live poetry event, I would highly recommend that you do. These events create a thrilling environment where literature is turned into a collective sharing experience, which allows for the opportunity to learn from the ideas and feelings of others.
Recently, there was a ‘Women of Colour Poetry Night’ collaboratively held by Exeter University’s Feminist Society, Creative Writing Society and Afro-Caribbean society. Although this event caused a lot of controversy where some students – mainly white and male – felt their voices were not recognised, it proudly offered a platform where performers could share their experiences of being caught between cultures, countries and religions. They addressed the issues of minority positions in society and reclaimed their identities and their bodies.[ii] Most notably, writer and activist Kendenzi read from Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé[iii], which is an intersectional feminist, sex positive collection that is definitely worth a read.
Last year, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Penguin Books’s Pride Literary Festival in Manchester where many talented LGBTQ+ writers read their work to a live audience. I especially enjoyed Ella Otomewo’s captivating performance of her poetry about the collective urban space and feminist voices. Otomewo is part of ‘Young Identity’, which is a Manchester-based queer and feminist spoken word collective. She reveres The City Vibe in appreciating “the look in someone’s eyes, the trains we ride, the universal city stride”, and calls for an open community where “we should all start carrying our life stories in our pockets” to readily share to our Neighbours. She persuasively defends Eve’s actions as she “wasn’t just tempted by a silver-tongued serpent; she led the first uprising in Eden and with it a world-wide revolution of knowledge and disobedience”[iv]. Otomewo is just one of many modern poets who argue for positive social and political change in a beautiful and compelling way.
It is a real shame that not enough people nowadays are exposed to the wonders of poetry as it is still a fundamental part of our culture and an incredible way of circulating diverse voices. Even if you don’t like any of the poets I have discussed here, there are plenty more out there that appeal to everyone’s tastes and interests, and I hope that this has inspired you to go and read more of them.
Jessica White extends her passion for poetry in her own creative writing. This can be found on her blog here.
[i] Charly Cox, She Must Be Mad. HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd, 2018.
[ii] Bethan Watson, “Why Exeter University’s Women of Colour Poetry Night was important”.
The National Student, 13 March 2019. http://www.thenationalstudent.com/Arts_and_Theatre/2019-03-13/why_exeter_university_s_women_of_colour_poetry_night_was_important.html?fbclid=IwAR0YYc8sABA0TYwjkhIWwECR97Cz-GjIKhtbreA_V67qHqOARyEio0qUQ-I.
[iii] Morgan Parker, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. Tin House Books, 2017.
[iv] Ella Otomewo, The City Vibe, Evidently Salford – Spoken Word Poetry, 2 October 2016.
—– Neighbours, Evidently Salford – Spoken Word Poetry, 6 December 2015.
—– Eve, Evidently Salford – Spoken Word Poetry, 24 August 2016.