Things I Do to Stay Sane: Read Poetry (Lots of It)


     One of the things I’ve been most surprised by, as I enter in to the world of professional poetry and writing in general, is how little beginner writers tend to actually read. Especially poets. A lot of the times when I go to poetry groups, clubs, or readings and I’m talking to people afterwards, it’s hard for me to get an answer to the question: who is your favorite modern poet? 

       I’ve got to admit, I was definitely one of these kinds of poets when I was in high school. I read only the poetry assigned, as I believed that all modern poetry was just a bunch of hokey, beat-style hooey that could never recapture the magic of seventeenth-century poetry while being able to relate to modern sensibilities. I decided that only I, with my passionate sixteen-year-old soul, could write the poetry of my generation. 

     Which was absolutely ridiculous, of course- but I didn’t know that until I actually decided to suck it up and read some modern poetry, dang it. (And of course, by modern, I meant anything written after Shakespeare’s time in my mind). Sure, there was some of that beat poetry that I didn’t like, and the abstract modern poetry that I still don’t like because it’s too pointlessly obtuse. But there were other things too- there was sprung rhymes, spoken word slam, new ways to play with line breaks that read more like a conversation between souls than just a normal conversation. There was poetry from the point of view of refugees, minorities, people with different physical and mental disabilities, from different genders, sexualities and cultures. There was so much beauty to be admired in these new, modern words that I could have never even imagined! 

       To think I had once thought myself alone! Some times, the sheer amount of wonderful modern poetry made me doubt my own abilities. Could I ever become as good as these people? But then, reading more poetry has made me much more capable of recognizing the individuality of the poets- to celebrate the places that they are coming from, the insights that they bring, without feeling that my own talent or career or wellbeing is at stake just because I can see theirs! Even with the small moments of stress professionally, it still is overall much more beneficial for me to be well read in poetry. I love being able to try out new trends (or old forgotten trends) in my own writing, to see what new or old topics are being talked about by other poets, to see where I fit in not just as some individual, unique artist, but as one artist in a sea of talented people creating an ocean of emotion and creativity. It keeps me grounded, it keeps me lifted, and it keeps me going.

     Some of my personal favorites recently include Warsan Shire’s Teaching my Mother to Give Birth, Nayyirah Waheed’s salt., Kathleen Norris’ Little Girls in Church, Joanna Kurowska’s The Wall and Beyond, Lang Leav’s Love and Misadventure, anything by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and SETH’s Black Odyssey, and Simon Ortiz’s from Sand Creek. What are some of your own personal favorite modern poets? 

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2 thoughts on “Things I Do to Stay Sane: Read Poetry (Lots of It)

  1. This is very well said and all too true. Too many folks who write poetry don’t actually buy the work of other poets. A few of my favorite living/contemporary poets include: Wendy Videlock and David J. Rothman (both from Colorado), Stephen Dunn, Charles Simic, Alicia Stallings, Marge Piercy, Kay Ryan, John Sibley Williams, Dana Gioia, Don Patterson, and Sarah E. Colona.

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