It’s National Poetry Month, which means you officially have an excuse to pretend you know something about poetry and attend a bunch of open mics. If you’d prefer a bookstore to the Nuyorican, I’ve compiled a list of the best contemporary poets and the reasons you should know who they are.
It’s rare to find a poet who can make you feel poetry the way that Andrea Gibson can. There are so many performances of her poems on YouTube, and each one is worth a view. She’s one of the best queer poets working, and she manages to stay in conversation with classic poets—I’m thinking of “I Sing The Body Electric, Especially When My Power’s Out”—and is in tune with current events. Her poem “Ashes” is especially worth checking out, as is “A Letter to the Playground Bully, From Andrea, Age 8 ½.”
I wasn’t aware of Sherman Alexie’s poetry until I was reading an issue of the New Yorker on a plane a couple years ago and happened across his “Facebook Sonnet,” in which he uses a traditional form to look at the growing phenomenon of social media. His poems also address Native American issues, and his “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel” is a hilarious take on Native representation. I know this isn’t relevant to this piece, but his prose, which includes novels and nonfiction, is also worth a look.
For someone as prolific as Billy Collins, it’s really surprising that more people don’t know about him. Not only is Collins a former U.S. poet laureate under Bill Clinton, he’s a hell of a writer. His poems are able to make you laugh and think, usually simultaneously. A personal favorite is “The Lanyard,” a touching, funny tribute to moms.
Given my penchant for Walt Whitman and Walt Whitman’s penchant for America, it’s refreshing to get a less gung ho (and more contemporary) view of the country. Tony Hoagland’s “America” offers an antithesis to Whitman. His other poems are also tinged with a little disillusionment and a fearlessness about calling things as they are.