Getting started in poetry

In this anxious time of self-isolation, I’ve been finding comfort in mugs of chamomile tea and the words of some of my favorite poets. Literature – particularly poetry – is something I highly encourage everyone to get invested in. However, after years of English classes and analytical essays, it’s an understandably daunting request. To get you started, here are some poets I recommend looking into, categorized by style and subject. 

The most important question to consider before you dip your toe into poetry is: What is art to you? Is art an escape from the chaos of reality? I remember being little and up way past my bedtime, when I would curl under my thick blankets with a book and a flashlight, soaking up every word like my heartbeat depended on it. For myself and many others, creativity still acts as an outlet for inner peace, as a tool for healing. For these readers, I recommend Joy Harjo, Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson.

In a similar vein, the literary arts carry a certain magic with them. When you read a book or gaze upon a striking artwork, you don’t find yourself transported to another realm at all, but as seeing through new eyes the big world around you. You delight in works that defamiliarize the things you think you know by heart. For these readers thirsty for new perspectives, I say you must read the works of Naomi Shihab Nye, Li-Young Lee, William Carlos Williams and Elizabeth Bishop.

Perhaps you love art because it reminds you of what it means to be truly, fully alive. “Alive” not as in breathing, but as in luxuriating in experiences – experiences that make your hands tremble, your heart crack in half, and adrenaline flood through your veins. You treasure every moment, blissful or tragic, because they’re all part of the human condition. For you, I recommend Richard Siken (my personal favorite poet), Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton

Or maybe you’re the type of person who insists on transcending surface-level emotions, who hungers for meaning. You declare that art is worthless unless it extends outside of itself into society, unless it advocates for some cause beyond itself and contributes to the greater societal discourses. Art, for you, is inherently political. The poets for you are Pat Parker, June Jordan (another one of my favorites), Allen Ginsberg and Ai.

Do you enjoy being challenged? Do you seek out things that force you to think – about yourself, society, the world? You pride yourself on being someone who doesn’t believe there is one way to communicate and who doesn’t mind putting in the effort to understand something because you know the payoff will be tremendously rewarding. If this sounds like you, then e.e. cummings, Topaz Winters, and Frank O’Hara are your poets.

Poetry is a magnificent art to get interested in, but it’s also terrifyingly immense and diverse. This grandness is exactly what makes poetry so enchanting; there is something for everyone. Somewhere out there is a poetry collection waiting for you to fall in love with it.