You know, I never really got on with poetry.
I dabbled with it, of course, as teenage girls – particularly teenage girls who are members of creative writing groups – are wont to do. But the results were always trite, and embarrassing. If it rhymed, it sounded childish; and if it didn’t, it sounded pretentious.
I chalked it up to some people just being born prose writers, embraced my semi-colons and descriptive run-on sentences and moved on.
It was much-missed Edinburgh spoken word promoters Rally & Broad who began the process of changing my mind. Their diverse, perfectly programmed events opened my eyes to the power of words: how lines that looked choppy on the page with their breaks in odd places could turn into proclamations and confessions, manifestos and elegies when read aloud.
My eyes – and ears – newly opened, poetry suddenly seemed to be everywhere: vital, strident, intimate and, unmistakably, female. That seemingly stuffy art form of my youthful dismissal is being embraced by a new generation of young artists who have twisted it, remixed it and are using it to share their stories as personal, political, domestic and universal art. Kate Tempest’s award-winning ability to blur the boundary between poetry and hiphop springs to mind as does the way in which Beyoncé threaded Warsan Shire’s explorations of identity, love and loss through Lemonade; but I also hear Hollie McNish on motherhood, Agnes Török’s work on feminism and happiness and the first poem that properly made me hold my breath: Leyla Josephine’s “I Think She Was a She”.
The first poem I thought to pay tribute to, when office supplies and stationery company Viking got in touch to ask me to create a piece of art to celebrate World Poetry Day, was Warsan Shire’s Home. It is, I believe, the most important piece of contemporary poetry I can think of:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
But the box of art supplies I was sent felt too delicate and pretty to do justice to Shire’s words of thunder, leaving me looking for another option.
The answer came on International Women’s Day, when a friend shared a short verse by the so-called ‘Instapoet’ Rupi Kaur. Kaur is a Toronto-based writer who shares her poems on womanhood, survival, abuse and sisterhood on Instagram, often accompanied by simple sketches. Her clear words and simple visuals are incredibly powerful and striking, and it’s no wonder that she has collected over one million followers on the platform and since published her first book.
The poem that struck me hardest came from the first section of that book, Milk and Honey, which is called The Hurting. It makes me want to be a better writer, and so I copied out the first few lines to display on my desk. Not with the calligraphy set, though: I tried, but made a terrible mess. Which is, perhaps, no better metaphor for the type of writer I want to be.
Could you share your favourite poem with me this World Poetry Day? I’d love to read it!
This post contains PR samples, but all views are my own and unbiased.