6 Contemporary Poets That Will Change Your Mind [And Life]


Zahra Hasan Books

For those of you who just want to fall into springtime with some gloriously thought-provoking poems, we bring you a handful of important contemporary poets that will have you yearning, loving, and deeply reflecting:

Wole Soyinka

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Nigerian playwright and poet born in 1931, is a key name in African literature, having won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. His work features plenty of political commentary and social criticism, and he manages to describe feelings and atmospheres with palpable & cutting precision – and is one of the best I have ever read. Make sure you read In The Small Hours and Dedication for Moremi (1963). Here’s a teasing glimpse of ‘In the small hours’:

Blue diaphane, tobacco smoke
Serpentine on wet film and wood glaze,
Mutes chrome, wreathes velvet drapes,
Dims the cave of mirrors. Ghost fingers
Comb seaweed hair, stroke acquamarine veins
Of marooned mariners, captives
Of Circe’s sultry notes. The barman
Dispenses igneous potions 
Somnabulist, the band plays on.

Read the rest at Shigeku [here].

Thomas Sayers Ellis

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Ellis is a poet, photographer and professor born in Washington, D.C. whose poems make you look at words under a microscope. His poem Or is catchy –yes, catchy – and instantly sends you into a tailspin of deep thought. This is a definitely a poet everyone needs to read at least once in their lives. Tempted? This might help lure you [ From A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop]:

All those
    Liquid love affairs,
Blind swimmers
    Trusting rumps.
We wiggled,
     Imagining water.
Wet, where was
     The One?
Nevermind Atlantis
    And the promise
Of moving pictures,
    A lit candle
In the window
    Of our conscious minds.
Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

Tracy K. Smith

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Smith is an American poet and educator born in Massachusetts, who studied at the infamous Harvard University. She has won plenty of notable awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2012. Make sure you read My God It’s Full of Stars from the collection of poems titled Life on Mars. Her description of life as an alien is haunting, and strangely nostalgic. The beauty of well-written poetry is that it’s somehow relatable to everyone’s lives and makes the reader go “Wow, this poet gets my life better than I do”. Proof? Here it is [from Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes]:

That someone was there squinting through the dust,
Saying nothing is lost, that everything lives on waiting only
To be wanted back badly enough? Would you go then,
Even for a few nights, into that other life where you
And that first she loved, blind to the future once, and happy?
Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

Catherine Smith

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Award-winning poet and fiction writer Catherine Smith has released several poetry books. Her poems discuss women’s experiences such as motherhood, love and breakups – but with a deeply dark yet playful imagination. She reads like the Bridget Jones of poetry. Her poem Heckmondwicke, published in her book Lip is one of her best (at least I think so), especially because it tells a story and encapsulates all of the elements of it within a short, well versed poem. Here’s a verse from Merlot:

Sad about my ex-lover
I open a decent bottle of Merlot,
 fill a glass almost to the top
and within minutes
 he’s up to his knees in a dark red lake
sloshing around comically
 wind-milling his arms.

Read more on this poetry blog.

Nick Drake

This British poet, born in 1961, has won several accolades for his work and is undoubtedly the only Drake I like (ha). Again, he is one of those detail oriented and humorous poets who writes about weighty issues with a very English, far-removed poise. He often adopts the persona of a historical explorer and writes poems about the various locations he spends time in. His book The Farewell Glacier is focused on the Arctic and perfectly, bone-chillingly explores it. Drake is exceptional, and has won my heart especially with his subtle themes of climate change.

Jose Luis Hidalgo

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This Spanish poet and painter who died in 1947 brings us poetry with a punch. His poetry can be described as intense – although short, the poems deal with tough issues of existentialism and transcendent metaphysics. He perfectly conveys deep emotion as well as deep thought. Hidalgo was an avid reader of the philosophers Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Unamo, among others. His poem Muerte (the Death) is his most famous and deals with several complex themes, dichotomies and leave you thinking for hours on end. I will leave you with my favourite verse by Hidalgo,

Sir: you have everything; one world of darkness

and another of light, bright, sky-blue.

But tell me: those who have died,

is it the night or the day that they inherit?

Beautiful is a word we use a lot, but in its truest and most wholesome interpretations, it happens to be the only word that can aptly describe the poets above. Keep reading!