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Poetry is an art. There’s no limit to the number of stories that can be told and feelings that can be conveyed in verse. I’m personally a big fan of our Instapoets, including Rupi Kaur and Amanda Lovelace, but I’d like to share several books that fans of these massively popular modern poets will also enjoy. This list contains a mix of old and new books of poetry about love and musings on life in general.
"Complete Love Poems" by May Swenson
This collection compiles all the love poems May Swenson ever wrote; both the happy and the heartbreaking. Swenson wrote some years ago, but she had many themes in her work that were considered quite risqué at the time. Now, her work melds well with fans of modern poetry, for what was risqué in the past is now quite comfortable for today’s readers. Her choice of words is very straightforward, which makes her work easy to read and appreciate.
Swenson is a master of concrete poetry. She utilizes different visual means with patterns and specialized formatting to add additional layers of meaning to her work. One particular poem of hers, "Bleeding," featured on page 127 of this collection, is one of the most stirring and heart-wrenching poems analyzing the power imbalance between men and women. This concrete poem has very specific formatting and is a conversation between a cut and a knife; online versions of the poem don’t capture her very careful spacing and formatting with the faithfulness that this collection does. The poem has a unique execution, creates a dialogue out of an abusive relationship, and leaves the reader feelings speechless at the end. Swenson is a fantastic poet and this collection won’t disappoint.
"Milk and Honey" by Rupi Kaur
This young woman can easily be called the most successful poet of our era. With her books remaining on The New York Times bestsellers list for endlessly weeks on end, it’s hard to deny Kaur’s achievements. Her debut collection, Milk and Honey, is extremely relatable and a very good choice to read if you’re new to the world of poetry. Her language is clear and powerful, which makes the core messages in her poems ring as true as a bell. While we can read a lot of Kaur’s poetry on Instagram, the careful sequencing of the poems into sections give this collection a narrative arc from hurting to healing that makes it a fantastic read.
"The Collected Poems" by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath lived a tragic life and that was filled with emotional ups and downs. She takes that emotion and pours it into her poetry; she was a tireless editor who almost never scrapped pieces of her poetry. She would edit, revise, then edit some more, and endlessly strive to bring each poem to completion. Plath is considered more of a classical poet, but don’t be afraid to pick up a volume of her work. Her poetry is intriguing and still very digestible.
"The Princess Saves Herself in this One" by Amanda Lovelace
Amanda Lovelace is published by the same group as Rupi Kaur, Andrews McMeel Publishing, which causes these two brilliant young women to often be mentioned in the same breath. As much as I love Kaur’s work, I enjoy Lovelace’s just a little bit more. Lovelace has a similar narrative journey in her debut book of poetry, going from the deepest and most painful parts of despair to exploring healing and feminine empowerment. She also shares her work on Instagram as ladybookmad.
Lovelace writes a lot about love, but she ventures beyond simple romantic love. This is not a simple book of breakup poetry. She also writes about platonic love, familial love, and the tragedy of untimely loss. This is what makes Lovelace’s work resonate deeper with me than Kaur’s; as much as they both have fantastic debut books, the exploration of grief and the way it tears into a person is relatable in a dark but comforting way. It’s hard to be alive in this decade and not have any loved ones who haven’t been touched by cancer. The Princess Saves Herself in this One has a greater emotional resonance to me, for it branches out beyond examining the loss of lovers, but also the departure of loved ones.
"Manifest" by Cynthia Arrieu-King
Cynthia Arrieu-King has released many chapbooks of excellent poetry, but Manifest examines the good as well as the pitfalls of day to day life with beautiful words, excellent imagery, and a chilling degree of relatability. This collection came out in 2013, making it a relatively recent release. There’s a wealth of experience described with captivating word choice that will resonate with readers struggling to find purpose in their day to day lives.
The excellent juxtaposition of city life versus nature makes for intriguing poems in this collection. The core messages in many o the poems are so easy to relate to that it’s an excellent collection for readers who are looking to branch out. There are also bits of humor mixed in, which are handled in an expert manner and come as a breath of fresh air.
Appreciating the Modern and the Classic
While poetry has recently made a tremendous comeback to stand in the spotlight with Rupi Kaur, Amanda Lovelace, and other Instapoets such as r.h. Sin and Lang Leav, a poetic journey should not end with strictly modern poetry. Their works are fantastic, but if you find yourself enjoying the work of Instapoets, I’d highly recommend you explore other poets who have written in the last century. The complexity of emotion never changes and people have faced the same emotional trials all throughout history.
There is an incredible amount of poetry out there that may have been written a few decades ago, but cover many of the social issues that we’re still dealing with now. Subsequently, while some collections may seem a bit dated when we see the years that the poets lived, their work is still highly relevant. On top of that, it’s also enjoyable. Don’t be shy to expand your shelf with a mix of old and new; all you then need is something borrowed and something blue.
The rise of Instapoetry fosters a new appreciation for the art for many readers, but it’s also important to discover the wide spectrum of poetry that predates social media as a whole. While I’m not insisting that everyone goes as far back as to read the Epic of Gilgamesh, I do believe that poetry from past decades still holds merit when placed beside recent releases.