I first discovered Sarah Kay when I was 18. My friend dragged me to one of her readings when she visited my university’s campus. I had never been much of a fan of poetry, and I was dreading it thinking to myself, “Great. This is going to be a night of listening to somebody rhyme random words all night while people act impressed.” I could not have been more wrong. Kay opened me up to a whole new genre of spoken word poetry and spoke with such passion that afterward I immediately looked up every poem she had ever written. Her poems are filled with vivid imagery where she finds a way to make the most mundane objects seem special, and you feel the love, hurt, confusion or joy in every poem. I would recommend watching her viral TED talk where she performed her poem “B: If I should ever have a daughter…” for any woman who is considering motherhood. I will forever be thankful to Kay for sparking my love of poetry.
Amanda Gorman is probably the most popular American poet at the moment. She gained international notoriety by speaking at President Joe Biden’s inauguration; and she was the youngest poet to ever do so. She delivered her poem “The Hill We Climb” where she addressed the need to have unity among the American people. Her message was so powerful, that after her reading two of her unreleased books moved to best-seller lists and she gained over two million followers in one day. Gorman was so well received that she was asked to compose an original poem titled “Chorus of the Captains” to recite at the Super Bowl, the biggest sporting event in the United States. A collection of her poems including the “The Hill We Climb” are being released in September, and I cannot wait to see how she continues to be a voice for equality and justice.
Anybody who has seen Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade” will recognize the name Warsan Shire. In a voice-over, Beyoncé quotes Shire’s poem “the unbearable weight of staying – the end of the relationship).” It’s no coincidence Shire’s work was chosen since she focuses on feminist, political and racial issues. Shire, who was born in Kenya to Somali parents but raised in London, writes of longing for a place to call home and oftentimes uses experiences and memories of her family and friends to evoke the feelings of displacement that happens when you’re an immigrant in a new land. It’s rare to find somebody who can express so perfectly and eloquently the emotions and struggles of others in poetry. But what is so special about Shire is that along with being an amazing poet, she is an activist. Her activism reaches through into her poetry when she writes about war and refugees. She tells the stories of real people and gives them an outlet to share their stories through powerful prose. Trust Beyoncé. Read Warsan Shire.
Patricia Lockwood is the perfect example of how poetry does not always need to be serious and that sometimes the way people cope with trauma is through humour. She is curt, crude and not afraid to merge the abstract with reality, like when she writes a poem about a deer becoming a porn star. If you are looking to read poetry that is safe and lighthearted, her work is not for you. While the majority of her poetry leans towards the obscure, she became a viral sensation with her autobiographical poem “Rape Joke” where, through humour, she incites a scathing attack of society’s thoughts on rape and rape jokes; you do not know whether to laugh or to be appalled. It needs to be read by every woman.
No list of modern female poets can be complete without Rupi Kaur. The first time I read milk and honey I cried. The raw vulnerability she expresses when recalling her sexual abuse and how it still affects her is something that will sit with you days after reading her books. Born in India and raised in Canada, she stylizes her poems to honour the Punjabi language. She also dedicates many poems to both the confusion of growing up Indian in a mainly white area and the beauty of being Indian. She is not afraid of “taboo” subjects such as menstruation, body hair and the female orgasm because she recognizes these are all a part of being a woman and being a woman is beautiful. Her most recent collection home body - that she partially wrote while in lockdown - perfectly encapsulates the feeling of isolation, loneliness and helplessness that almost everybody has felt in the last year; but ends it on a note of hope that we all need. You will cry, you will be heartbroken, you will feel love, but most importantly her work will make you celebrate being a woman.