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Poetry in the Spotlight

12 Fresh Voices in Verse

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • February 15, 2021

For there is always light.
If only we are brave enough to see it.
If only we are brave enough to be it. –Amanda Gorman

On a bright, cold day last month, a young poet stood at a podium, recited her most recent composition, and became an instant celebrity. Amanda Gorman's pending collections aren't available just yet, but her spellbinding spoken-word performances have people thinking about the power and immediacy of this age-old art form. And she's not alone. Popular Instagram poet Kate Baer's bestselling debut collection, What Kind of Woman, celebrates the beauty and hardships in being a mother, a wife, and a woman.

When life throws you a bag of sorrow, hold out your hands
Little by little, mountains are climbed. –Kate Baer

Here we shine a light on ten more fresh new voices in verse, from social media poets to the newest literary darlings.

Insta Poets

Instagram has been said to have saved poetry, but it has also been accused of denigrating the genre. We tend to think that any platform that supports self expression is a good one. Here are five notable Instagram poets.

Maggie Smith, @maggiesmithpoet

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I've shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways

The title poem in Smith's poem Good Bones, excerpted above and included in this eponymous collection, went viral in 2016. She has published four books and three prizewinning chapbooks.

Morgan Parker, @morganapple0

Sometimes I go to the sink for water and I come back with a jar full of wine. Every second I breathe, I forgive.

Her most recent collection is Magical Negro. Time Magazine called it, "a riveting testimony to everyday blackness . . . It is wry and atmospheric, an epic work of aural pleasures and personifications that demands to be read."

Tyler Knott Gregson, @tylerknott

You
are the poem
I never knew
how to write
and this life
is the story
I have always
wanted
to tell.

While browsing in an antique store, the author stumbled upon a vintage typewriter for sale and typed his first poem on the spot. His Chasers of the Light is a striking collection of his poems typed onto found scraps of paper.

Deborah Landau, @landaudeborah

More and more it's deliciousness I want
but all the time there's less of it.

Her award-winning fourth collection, Soft Targets, examines life's uncanny ability to transform ordinary places—subways, cafes, street corners—into sites of intense significance that weigh heavily on the modern mind.

Rupi Kaur, @rupikaur_

Our backs tell stories
no books have the spine to carry

Arguably the most well-known instagram poet, Kaur's first collection, milk & honey, has been translated into 40 languages and has sold 3.5 million copies. Her newest volume is called home body.

Literary Lyricists

As we have all experienced, literature has the power to expand our world, opening our eyes and our hearts to perspectives and realities beyond our own. Poetry, in particular, offers an immediacy and intimacy to this experience.

From the New York Times list of Notable Books of 2020, Felon is a collection of fierce, dazzling poems by Reginald Dwayne Betts telling the story of incarceration. "There is no name for this thing that you've become," he writes: "Convict, prisoner, inmate, lifer, yardbird, all fail."

Also included in the NYT Notable Books list is Obit. After the death of her mother, Victoria Chang refused to write an elegy. Instead she turned to the form of obituaries. Her resulting collection channels a serene acceptance of loss.

In her second collection, American Book Award-winner Natalie Diaz takes on big themes like erotic love, environmentalism, mental illness, and racism. Postcolonial Love Poem unravels notions of American goodness and creates something deeply impactful.

In an era of freshly emboldened white supremacy, Nathan Marshall's Finna asks crucial questions about erasure and violence, uses hip hop as a critical lens, and celebrates Black vernacular as a language of resilience, community, and hope.

Anaïs Mitchell is the creator of the Tony Award–winning musical Hadestown. In Working on a Song, she offers an intimate glimpse into her decades-long process of writing the hit musical, a modern telling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

The Power of the Poet

A humble little composition of our own to express what we love about these artisans of language.

Getting to the root of it all
Distills, purifies, and sings
So much truth in something so small

Revealing light from deep below
Glimmers, glows, and gleams
Unearthing what we don't know we know

Infusing words with life and zeal
Frightens, charms, and sears
The mighty poet manifests all the feels

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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