It’s not all mists and mellow fruitfulness, you know
Words Sarah Shaffi
Regardless of what you’ve been led to believe, poetry is not about sitting in stuffy classrooms analysing the words of dead white men.
No, poetry is about fire and passion. Poetry is about feeling the words on the page, even without knowing why every letter has been placed where it has. Poetry is about interpreting something your way, and finding your own meaning in a verse.
October 3 marks National Poetry Day in the UK, a country-wide celebration of the form. Here are five fresh poetry collections which tackle everything from feminism to sexuality and race, and which all fit into this year’s National Poetry Day theme of Truth.
Great Goddesses: Life Lessons from Myths and Monsters by Nikita Gill
British poet Gill has made a career out of speaking up as a woman, and her latest collection gives a voice to the Greek goddesses, from Hera to Athena and Nyx. Although the focus is on characters from thousands of years ago, Gill’s poems and stories discuss everything from toxic masculinity to leaving abusive relationships and sexual abuse by powerful men (Zeus, After has echoes of Harvey Weinstein). This collection is powerful and poignant.
Set Me On Fire: A Poem for Every Feeling compiled by Ella Risbridger
Poetry can help soothe, inspire and comfort, and this collection compiled by Ridbridger is all about emotion. The book is organised by feeling, with topics including ‘Happy’, ‘Hungry’, ‘You Might As Well Live’, and ‘The End of the World’. Featuring classic poets including WH Auden and John Donne alongside fresh voices such as Kayo Chingonyi, Warsan Shire and Momtaza Mehri, this is a collection for anyone who wants to feel like they’re not alone in what they’re going through, be that a break up or a bereavement.
Magical Negro by Morgan Parker
Parker’s first collection was the brilliantly titled There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce, and her second book Magical Negro is no less of a gut punch. Looking at what it means to be black in America today, Parker’s poetry tackles politics of both the body and society, loneliness, displacement, grief and objectification. Parker’s wit and subtlety make this collection all the more powerful.
Let Me Tell You This by Nadine Aisha Jassat
Jassat is a brilliant performance poet (see her performing ‘A Recipe for Finding Place’ here) and her debut collection, Let Me Tell You This, is no less powerful for being on the page. Jassat explores belonging – the first section is titled ‘Life in the UK’ and features the searing poems ‘Paki Hands’ and ‘Conversations as Girls’ – family and more in poems which are accessible, wise and full of depth.
If They Come For Us by Fatima Asghar
The creator of the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls, Asghar is also a poet who makes her mark with her debut collection. Orphaned as a child, Asghar captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America, one who is grappling with questions of sexuality and race. Full of anguish, grief and the occasional bout of anger, Asghar’s poetry covers both the very personal, as well as the political.
Sarah Shaffi is a freelance literary journalist and event chair, editor-at-large for the independent children’s publisher Little Tiger Group, and co-founder of BAME in Publishing.