It’s National Poetry Month, which means it’s time to dive into a form that can be incredibly fun—but, for the uninitiated, quite intimidating (or a bit too much like schoolwork).
While teens will undoubtedly love Mary Oliver, reading poetry can be easier to access by beginning with more modern poets: names teens might recognize, writing about topics they’ll immediately connect with. We all know about Rupi Kaur, but where do you go next? Here are six places to start.
Required reading favorites like Robert Frost, whose work explores abstract concepts through natural imagery, might not appeal to a reader looking for something more concrete. Claudia Rankine’s unflinching examinations of our culture will hit home with many teens, especially those who are already huge fans of Angie Thomas or Jason Reynolds. Her iconic collection Citizen: An American Lyric may have been a National Book Award finalist for best poetry collection, but it stands out even more for how the collection ends: with a list of black men killed by police, updated with more names with every reprint. It’s not an easy read, but it is a powerful one, and one that teens will devour.
Amanda Lovelace’s poetry is short, affirming, and accessible—both in delivery and in tone—so it’s no surprise that she’s become a favorite among teen readers. The latest collection from the Goodreads Choice Award winner is to make monsters of girls, which describes the aftereffects of an abusive relationship in her simple but fantastical trademark style. Much like her “women are some kind of magic” poetry series, the explorations are ultimately uplifting and reenforces her readers’ sense of their own inherent strength.
Readers who spend a lot of time on Instagram will recognize the work of Nikita Gill. Her poetry is popular in its full form and in shareable, bite-sized pick-me-ups that make the rounds on social media. Gill’s most recent collection reimagines fairytales in modern, feminist style; Fierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul changes male saviors to fearless princesses and wolves who protect their own rather than hunt the innocent. A beautiful touch, especially for reluctant readers, are the hand-drawn illustrations from Gill woven throughout the collection.
Know a teen who refuses to touch any poet except Rupi Kaur? Give them Ky Robinson’s work. Her collection The Chaos of Longing goes from difficult starts to hopeful futures in four sections: inception, longing, chaos, and epiphany. This exploration of desire—of all types—allows teens to explore different kinds of wanting, and what it means to want when society tells you to focus on other things. With a narrative story woven throughout the poems and their sections, it will be easy for teens to hook into Robinson’s work and keep reading.
Malawian poet Upile Chisala explores dozens of ideas in her work, including gender, blackness, spirituality, and survival. Her latest collection soft magic is exactly what the title describes: poetry in small, digestible snippets, both soft and encouraging. I have various poems from this collection pinned to my wall for when I need a quick pick-me-up. For teens who want to try poetry but are worried about the time commitment, this slim volume with its bite-sized poems is a must.
If you know Sarah Kay’s name, it’s likely for her slam poetry. Kay is the the founder of Project V.O.I.C.E., which encourages the use of spoken word as an educational and creative tool—but reading her poetry is as much a joy. Kay has many beautiful poems scattered across books and videos and collections, but her latest volume All Our Wild Wonder is a particularly perfect graduation gift for teens heading off to college. Fully illustrated by Sophia Janowitz, All Our Wild Wonder celebrates education and chasing down the curious, something many teens heading into the so-called real world will have weighing on their minds.