For lots of people, poetry seems to have been relegated to the land of the ‘scary and inaccessible’ or the ‘cheesy and unappealing’. I think it’s because for the most part, poetry seems to fall off the reading radar after school, once you’ve finished wrangling with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, or (in some extreme cases) battling with Beowulf. But in applying those same feelings you had in the classroom – the fear that you won’t understand it, won’t ‘get it’ and therefore won’t enjoy it – you’re missing out on a whole host of moving, meaningful, hilarious, uplifting and inspiring reading experiences.
Poetry today is thriving. We are worlds away from the ‘te tum te tum te tum te tum’ stuff that might have had you clawing your eyes out at school (sidebar, I’m not dissing the classics here, not by any stretch. Sammy T Coleridge and his Eolian Harp remain good friends of mine!). The point is there are poets and poems out there that will connect with you and the way you view the world as it is now, 100% guaranteed.
Finding a poem that comforts you, or one that lifts you up and makes you grin, or one that puts something into words that you’ve been struggling to express for ages… it’s like finding a little talisman that you can carry around with you.
So if you’re dipping your toe into the poetry pool and wondering how best to find something you’ll love, here are some tips on where to start.
Anthologies are collections of poems in a whole range of different styles, but usually (although not always) themed around a similar subject. They’re an easy way to dip in and out of poets of all ages, backgrounds and writing styles, and a great way to hone that gut instinct and zone in on what you like and what you don’t. Like hitting up a buffet and coming back for seconds of only your favourites (three cupcakes and a load of gooey cheese and crackers…? No? Just me?)
There are hundreds of anthologies out there, and a quick Google will land you with some of the big hitters and ‘best’ poems of the last 100 years etc etc. But here are some of my favourites:
I really love Ana’s style as an anthologist. Each of her books blends classic well-known poets with modern and up-and-coming voices, and she writes beautifully warm, funny and down to earth introductions to them that further bring the poems alive.
Check out She is Fierce for a collection of courageous and dazzling poems by women through the ages; Night Feeds & Morning Songs for poems about motherhood that are powerful, beautiful and relatable (I’ve sobbed multiple times reading this one!); or Wonder – a new anthology in collaboration with London’s Natural History Museum. This one is top of my Christmas list!
The Forward Prize Anthologies
The Forward Prizes are arguably the biggest and most sought after awards in UK poetry today. Judged annually and awarded for best single poem, best collection and best first collection, the accompanying anthology rounds up some of the shortlisted entries and guarantees a fresh, vibrant overview of poets writing today.
Offering tiny, beautifully put together poetry pamphlets that serve instead of greetings cards, Candlestick Press’s innovative offerings make for the perfect poetry taster! These mini anthologies contain around 10 themed poems, and come with an envelope and a bookmark for you to write your message. Brilliant! With Christmas around the corner there are loads of festive wintry options to choose from: Why not try Christmas Lights – Ten Poems for Dark Winter Nights, Christmas Spirit – Ten Poems to Warm The Heart, or Christmas Movies – A Double Bill of Festive Poems? (Poetry about Die Hard is a winner in my book!).
Getting poetry traditionally published is a notoriously tricky business, and Instagram has become a thriving space for poets to share their work. It can also be the start of a sky-rocketing career – just look at the likes of Rupi Kaur or Nikita Gill, who began their poetic lives as self-published ‘insta-poets’.
I’ve found the instagram poetry community to be really inspiring, supportive and packed with genuine talent. The next time you’re scrolling the ‘gram, try searching some of these poetry hashtags and see what you stumble upon (and if you fancy giving my poetry account a follow, you can find me @the_colourofhope).
#poetrycommunity #poetrylovers #apoemaday #poetryofinstagram #poetryisnotdead #napowrimo
POETRY IN REAL LIFE
Reading poetry on the page is often a totally different experience to hearing it aloud. As the world starts opening up again, get thee to a poetry reading! Whether a dedicated all-singing all-dancing poetry festival, such as Ledbury or Aldeburgh, a curated night of readings at a performance venue near you, or an open mic night at a local café, an evening of spoken word is a fantastic way to help you approach the poems in a different way, and find out which styles speak directly to you. (Here you can see me out poeting in the wild, reading some of my work on National Poetry Day for an event by The Mum Poem Press).
So, what are you waiting for?
Here’s the thing: you can’t fail at reading poetry. There’s no such thing as getting it wrong. If you take something from a poem that wasn’t the author’s original intention – who cares? That’s part of the joy of it! When reading a poem, you’re almost as actively involved in it as the poet is. You get to decide what it means to you, and how it makes you feel. And that is something pretty special if you ask me!
To chat all things poety, learn about my publications or nab yourself a personalised poem written just for you, get in touch and say hello. I’d love to hear from you.