This is not going to be a blog post where I talk about how much I dislike Rupi Kaur’s poetry. Hell, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want a writing career similar to Rupi’s. Do I particularly like her poetry? Well, the short answer is no. However, I can understand why her work is so widely appreciated: it’s accessible, it’s relatable, and she really manages to hit her reader right in the feels. But my idea surrounding this post is that there’s so much amazing poetry outside of what is just being circulated widely on Instagram. I whole heartedly believe that there’s something out there for everybody, whether you’ve read a popular poets work and are looking for something new, or it wasn’t your cup of tea and you’re looking for a different poet to crush on hard. That said, it can also be hard to know where to start if you aren’t familiar with the genre, which is where I hope this list comes in handy!
I really don’t think that poetry has to be just for Instagram captions or sweater-vested elite; it also doesn’t have to be confusing or intimidating, as it’s often portrayed. So whether you’re a poetry newbie or an old pro, I hope you find something that resonates with you.
1. Whylah Falls by George Elliott Clarke
This has long been one of my favourite books of poetry, and for good reason. To give you a small summary of the book, Whylah Falls is set in the fictional town of, you guessed it, Whylah Falls, in Nova Scotia. It centers around a Black Canadian community in the ‘30s, as told through several free verse poems, haiku’s, newspaper excerpts, and sermons. Let me tell ya, my synopsis does not do it justice. This book is wildly beautiful and immersive, and very digestible. I especially love the poems between X and Shelley, two star crossed lovers.
An excerpt from “The Wisdom of Shelley” by George Elliott Clarke
You come down, after
Five winters, X,
Bristlin’ with roses
and words words words,
brazen as brass.
Like a late blizzard,
You bust in our door,
talkin’ April and snow and rain,
Litterin’ the table
with poems —
as if we could trust them!
2. World of Made and Unmade by Jane Mead
Another of my favourites is World of Made and Unmade by Jane Mead, a collection of poems that came out in 2016. The book around the death of the speaker’s mother, who owns a large pecan orchard. Part elegy, part history, this collection is heartbreaking in all the best ways. It follows the speaker as they try to come to terms with their mother’s death, capturing the mundane attempt to organize her belongings and exist in her space—like finding a dead rodent behind a filing cabinet.
An excerpt from “How will you spend your courage” in part two by Jane Mead
. . .
How will you spend your courage,
her life asks my life.
No courage spent of—
bloodshot/ gunshot/ taproot/ eye.
How will you spend
your courage, how
will you spend your life.
Bloodshot, gunshot, taproot, eye—
and the mind
on its slow push through the world—
3. I have to live. by aisha sasha john
If you do happen to be a big Rupi Kaur fan, then I would definitely recommend I have to live by aisha sasha john. Although the two poets have two completely different voices and tones, they both happen to use quite plain, spare language throughout their collections, which really sets off this book. It begins with the question: “What would I write if I were going to live?” and launches into themes of identity, relationships, love, personal history, and death. It’s an incredibly intimate collection and definitely worth a read. If you’re someone who is worried about wading through complicated language, this book is a great example of the effectiveness of keeping it simple.
“I told you.” by aisha sasha john
The water is my special place.
I’ve been to the ocean and
I’ve been to the sea.
At the shore, the water greets me with its
I look it in the wave.
And know forever love.
4. Jabbering with Bing Bong by Kevin Spenst
I randomly picked up this book one day because I liked the cover (a rendition of who I believe may be Bing Bong himself) and was very pleasantly surprised! In fact, I would say that this is one of the most read and re-read books of poetry I own. Jabbering with Bing Bong is a coming-of-age narrative about growing up in the suburbs of Surrey, British Columbia. Spenst’s poems are riddled with pop culture references and the observations of a young man who is trying to understand family dynamics, religion, and awkward adolescence. I truly cherish my dog-eared copy.
“Voice-Over as Prayer” by Kevin Spenst
My three sisters are the Brady girls in
contract negotiations. My mom is the maid
who’s taken us away from my father who
is Jim from Taxi, scruffily psychotic. He exists
mostly in flashbacks. He drives by to ask
if we need a lift, but we keep walking with friends,
change the subject. Behind the scenes
he suffers the ups and downs of schizophrenia
in New West, Delta, Richmond, moving
between Riverview and any Samaritan of a landlord
who’ll take him on. I read the Bible nightly
to find my character, but I’m none of the begats.
For a season I’m intrigued by The Wonder
Years: Kevin narrating his life from some safe future.
5. Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences by Jan Zwicky
Last and certainly not least is this collection of poems by Jan Zwicky! If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might remember that I mentioned it in my “A Little Light Reading” post, all about what books and articles I had been digging into. I could honestly read this collection over and over, it is so special. It’s almost a meditation on the small moments of everyday life, of observing quiet moments, and Zwicky does such an amazing job of capturing these moments in these short poems, which she calls songs and silences. Another great example of how concise language can be so meaningful.
“Small Song: Moonlight” by Jan Zwicky
has taken off
her silk shirt and turned it
might step into the clearing,
take my hand—
the two of us, then,
wandering out into the dappled night . . .
And there you have it! I realize that this is an incredibly niche list of poetry (mostly Canadian), but these are truly some of my favourites. I hope you found something that you like and want to dabble in, and if not, perhaps I will write an entirely new list down the line once my favourites change.
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