5 Modern Day Poets Who Will Legit Get You Excited About Poetry

Poetry—real poetry, the sort that speaks to the human condition and moves you to tears, to applause, to sudden epiphanies alone in your room at night—is powerful stuff. A great shame of the modern anti-intellectual zeitgeist is the marginalization of poetry; the more people who experience the form, the better off the world will be. The five poets below are young, and just hitting their stride with work that is simultaneously cutting edge and classic. If you’ve never considered reading poetry before, check one of these modern-day geniuses. You might just change your mind.

Rupi Kaur (Milk and Honey)
Rupi Kaur, sometimes referred to as an “Instapoet,” never wanted to be a poet or a writer; she wanted to be an artist, and considered her poetry a hobby. Born in India, and now just 24 years old, her book Milk and Honey, originally self-published, has been on The New York Times bestsellers list for almost a year. Her work is rooted in her cultural and religious background as a Sikh woman, and confront, with brutal honesty, issues from feminism, to violence, to everyday frustrations and depression. She built a huge following online, posting her poems as she completed them. Representative quote: “your body is a museum of natural disasters can you grasp how stunning that is.”

Amber Tamblyn (Dark Sparkler)
Resist the temptation to assume Tamblyn, a famous actress whose most recent high-profile role was on Two and a Half Men, is a vanity poet, leveraging connections to get some half-baked jottings published. Tamblyn is not only serious about it, she’s well-respected in the poetry world, and her poems are insanely great. With an acidic, darkly-hilarious voice, she draws on her experiences as a young woman and an actress. Her most recent book, Dark Sparkler, is the perfect introduction to her off-kilter work. The 38 poems inside are all about dead actresses, famous or otherwise, and slowly build a very grim view of the costs of Hollywood stardom—especially on young women seeking fame and success. Representative quote: “Logline: A woman fights to save her soul. Think a young Carole Lombard meets a younger Anna Nicole. Requires an actress that will leave an audience speechless, who’s found her creative voice. Not a speaking role.”

Kei Miller (The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion)
Jamaican-born Miller writes poems that writhe and twist, pulling you along with lines that wrap into the next, never giving you a comfortable place to pause and gather your thoughts. Her focus is on moments in history, though not always the most famous or obvious ones—the poem quoted below was inspired by composer John Cage’s As Slow As Possible, a song that will take 639 years to perform if all goes as planned (that is a very real thing). He uses those moments to explore language and its evolution—the way it can illuminate and betray, sometimes all at once. The winner of the 2014 Forward Prize, you’re probably going to hear more from Miller in the coming years—and that is a very good thing. Representative quote: “The longest song begins like a comma, a rest that lasts for eighteen months. Long enough that when the first chord is heard, surprising
as an extinct bird come back to life, many cannot stop their tears.”

Sherman Alexie (Face)
Alexie draws on his Native American heritage and his own personal life for his poetry, which almost always tells a story (Alexie is a celebrated writer of those, too). His poems sketch moments from his life, moments that actually happened, and which likely came and went in a flash—but are imbued with infinite meaning and possibility once filtered through Alexie’s keyboard. This allows us to experience a point-of-view that we may not be familiar with through the reenactment of a universal experience, a dizzying perspective-shift that is powerful, beautiful, and compelling. And his self-deprecating humor is often laugh-out-loud funny. Representative Quote: “Dull and jealous, I was the smallest part
Of the whole. I know this is stupid stuff
But I felt less important than the farthest star.”

Morgan Parker (There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce)
Reading Morgan Parker’s poems is like being woken up, or dragged up to the surface after a lifetime underneath. She’s angry, smart, and perceptive, and her poems are of the moment in a way few other writers attempt, much less succeed at. As you might guess from the title of her most recent collection, she’s got pop culture on lock and uses it to address issues of racism, feminism, sexism, and just about anything else that women and minorities have to deal with today—which is everything. In some ways, Parker is the ideal poet to read right now, especially pieces like “If You Are Over Staying Woke” and “Two White Girls in the African Braid Shop on Marcy and Fulton.” Representative quote: “Bodies so black they syrup. Hair so black there are no windows. The smell of burnt rope. How long will it be. How long do you want it. I know you. I wish I were you. I want to drag my toes in something I finally own. Do you know it only gets worse from here. Cash only.”

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