Powerful poetry: 7 must read contemporary poetry books

Poetry comes in all different shapes and sizes. From flowery language mixed with rhyme and rhythm, to plain speaking pages that confess something profound (and everything in between). Discover your favourite kind of poetry with these varied recommendations to get you started.

Everyone sang: a poem for every feeling by William Sieghart

This collection of writers new and old is an amazing way to find poems that connect with you. Everyone Sang is a wonderful selection of accessible poems that are arranged to help us map out our emotions. Chosen by the creator of the bestseller ‘The Poetry Pharmacy’, William Sieghart, and brought to life by illustrator Emily Sutton. The collection includes Maya Angelou to A.A. Milne, Lemn Sissay, Jackie Kay, Carol Ann Duffy, Joseph Coelho, Kae Tempest, W.B. Yeats, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, and many others.

If you’re a fan of Joeseph Coelho, you’ll love our interview with him on the Love Your Library podcast.

The actual by Inua Ellams

A symphony of personal and political fury. Sometimes probing delicately, sometimes burning with raw energy. In 55 poems that swerve and crackle with a rare music, Inua Ellams unleashes a full-throated assault on empire and its legacies of racism, injustice and toxic masculinity. In just 80 pages Ellams shows us the many faces of contemporary poetry and how we can use it to understand the world.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

While Bluets narrator sets out to construct a sort of ‘pillow book’ about her lifelong obsession with the colour blue, she ends up facing down both the painful end of an affair and the grievous injury of a dear friend. Winding its way through depression, divinity, alcohol, and desire, visiting along the way with famous blue figures, including Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, Yves Klein, Leonard Cohen and Andy Warhol.

bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward

Raised in Chorley in the north of England, Yrsa Daley-Ward’s work draws on her early life and her Jamaican and Nigerian heritage. The first collection from a ground-breaking poet, bone looks at identity, race, mental health, and femininity. With celebrity fans from Beyoncé to Florence Welch, this isn’t a collection to be missed.

Hold your own by Kae Tempest

Hold Your Own is a rhythmic retelling of the Tiresias myths set-in modern-day Britain. Kae Tempest’s first full-length collection takes a close look at class and gender in this ambitious multi-voiced work. A vastly popular and accomplished performance poet, Tempest commands a huge and dedicated following on the performance and rap circuit.

Grief is the thing with feathers by Max Porter

Part novella, part sound-poem, Max Porter’s debut depicts a wild and unruly grief embodied by the character Crow – antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. In a Nanny McPhee-like series of events, the sentimental bird visits a grieving family after the loss of their mother and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months, and the physical pain of loss gives way to memories, the family begin to heal.

Citizen: an American lyric by Claudia Rankine

Through essays, images, and poetry, Claudia Rankine’s book recounts mounting racial aggressions in 21st century daily life and in the media. The accumulative stresses that come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform and stay alive. Taking a close look at how racism has impacted the lives of Serena Williams, Zinedine Zidane, Mark Duggan and others.

Remember, there’s no wrong way to read poetry, but reading poems in different ways can be great for finding out how they can create different feelings. Why not try reading a poem as fast or as slowly as you possibly can and see whether it changes the sense of meaning you get from it? Lots of poets like to play with how words sound too, so you could even ask a friend to read a poem aloud to you. It’s a great way to discover more about poetry and share your favourite reads with those closest to you.

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

About the book

Flames and funerals, circus feats and seduction, neighbours and nakedness: a sparkling historical drama from the bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring. Uprooting from their quiet Dorset village to the carnal streets of London, young Jem Kellaway and his family feel far from home. The Kellaways struggle to find their place in a tumultuous city, alive with repercussions from the blood-splattered French Revolution. Luckily streetwise Maggie Butterfield is on hand to show Jem the ropes. Together they encounter the neighbour they’ve been warned about: radical poet and artist William Blake. Jem and Maggie’s passage from innocence to experience becomes the very stuff of poetic inspiration.

Reviewed by Goodworth Clatford Women’s Institute Reading Group:

Well researched – historically interesting. An insight into Blake was intriguing. Children were centre stage – a different perspective.

Star rating: ***

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