It’s an exciting time for poetry. More people are reading it than ever, sales have doubled, performance poetry has brought in new audiences, and social media has made it more accessible. It has been democratised. These are ten of the most interesting modern poets working today. They share their experiences of the world with humour and insight, experimenting with language and pushing the form forward.
For writer and dancer Tishani Doshi, a poem is an act of reclamation. The title poem of her third collection, The Girls Are Coming out of the Woods, is a battle cry, a call to girls to rise up “wrapped in cloaks and hoods/ carrying iron bars and candles/ and a multitude of scars, collected/ on acres of premature grass and city/ buses, in temples and bars.” It is her most powerful collection yet. She writes about violence, ageing, memory and female bodies with language that is visceral and lyrical.
Hera Lindsay Bird
Hera Lindsay Bird has achieved that rare thing, she is as popular on Instagram as she is within the poetry community, with poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy calling her, “without doubt the most arresting and original new young poet”. Her poems are trojan horses. Take Monica, Bird’s viral poem about the character from Friends. Behind the comedic narrative is a sincere expression of what it feels like to fall in love: “I am falling in love and I don’t know what to do about it/ Throw me in a haunted wheelbarrow and set me on fire/ And don’t even get me started on Ross”.
At 26, Luke Kennard was the youngest poet ever to be shortlisted for the prestigious Forward Prize. That was in 2007 for The Harbour Beyond the Movie, and he has now published eight collections. His prose poems are experimental, irreverent, dark and above all very funny. He writes about the personal and the political with self-deprecating humour, dealing with subjects like death, envy and national identity as he tries to find “serious uses for surrealism”.
Hannah Sullivan began this year by winning the TS Eliot Prize for her debut collection, Three Poems. Each of the intimate, inventive poems are taken from a stage in her life. The first is You, Very Young in New York, about a young woman in the city, unsure about her life and unfulfilled. The second, Repeat Until Time explores repetition and art, the subject of Sullivan’s PhD, and the final poem, The Sandpit After Rain, examines the relationship between the birth of her son and her father’s death. As the prize chair, Sinéad Morrissey attests, “rarely has such a significant poet arrived so fully-formed”.
“Isn’t this love? To walk hand in hand toward the humid dark,/ enter the ghost web of the hungry, to consider some wants/ were not meant to be understood. Some women.” Safiya Sinclair’s first collection Cannibal is an exploration of postcolonial identity and The Tempest. Her writing is electric, her language rich and precise. She has won multiple awards for her poetry and her first memoir about growing up in a strict Rastafarian family has just been purchased in a seven-way auction and will be published next year.
“The shocking truth about Jay Bernard is that many people may not have heard their unique, inspiring and powerful voice, until now.” Lemn Sissay was one of the judges on last year’s Ted Hughes prize for new poetry, won by Bernard for an hour-long performance, Surge Side A. It’s a multimedia poem about the 1981 New Cross Fire in London, and the prize was confirmation that performance poetry is finally being taken seriously as an art form. Surge, Bernard’s first full poetry collection based on the performance will be published this summer.
Sophie Collins is a poet concerned with society’s attitudes to female creativity. In her debut collection Who Is Mary Sue?, she interrogates the way we devalue women writers even while consuming the abundance of work that they produce: a “woman who tries to invent in literature will fail,/ whereas a woman who succeeds in writing is believed to have done/ so to the extent that she has been able to accurately portray/ the details of her own life.” Collins is inventive and original, using a combination of poetry, prose and feminist criticism to galvanising effect.
Creator of the Emmy-award winning series Brown Girls, Fatimah Asghar’s work brings together the personal and the political. Her debut collection If They Come For Us explores colonialism and how it has affected her own family history and experiences as a Pakistani Muslim woman in America. She plays with convention – the collection includes a game of microaggression bingo – and her writing is lyrical and raw: “our names this country’s wood/ for the fire my people my people/ the long years we’ve survived the long/ years yet to come”.
Hollie McNish has had one of the bestselling poetry collections of recent years. She bypassed the gatekeepers of the poetry world and began on the spoken word scene. Her videos have now been watched millions of times. In an accessible, diary-like form, she writes about being a woman in the world, from motherhood to how she feels about her body to politics. These are intimate, honest poems that people deeply relate to, brought to life by her powerful performances.
Zaffar Kunial has been called “a guide for modern times”. His first collection Us travels from Pakistan to Stratford-upon-Avon to Orkney, as he explores his own cultural heritage through language. Kunial is interested in how two disparate elements can come together to create something new. He is more formal than many modern poets; he takes tradition seriously. His writing is subtle, thoughtful and precise, his view of the world utterly individual.