People read poetry for one reason: it is pleasurable. Since as early as the 18th century, people have written and appreciated poetry. Poetry is not just the cursive letters of white men who have been dead for hundreds of years. There are plenty of living writers producing excellent work. Here are five contemporary poets worthy of your time and attention:
Maggie Nelson is a professor, philosopher, and writer. She is the author of the book Bluets, a poetry prose-hybrid all about the color blue. Nelson has published several other poetry books, including Something Bright, Then Holes, The Latest Winter, and Shiner. Nelson writes on love, grief, friendship and nature. In her book Jane, Nelson poetically strings together diary entries from her late aunt Jane, who was brutally murdered, alongside news reports and other accounts of the tragedy. Fans of Nelson should also check out here work autotheory (autobiography mixed with critical theory) The Argonauts, the story of her relationship with her partner, artist Harry Dodge, or one of her other critical works like On Freedom, The Art of Cruelty, The Red Parts, Women, The New York School and Other Abstractions, and others.
Anne Carson is a poet, essayist, translator, and professor. Carson wrote two novels completely in verse: The Autobiography of Red and Red Doc. Her books The Beauty of the Husband and Men in the Off Hours are both poem and essay – like much of her work is. In these two works, Carson offers a collection of poems, essays, and operas: Decreation and Glass, Irony, and God. Among Carson’s best, most heartbreaking pieces is The Glass Essay – a meditation on the pain of losing the person you love, combined with a critical take on Emily Bronte.
Poet, essayist, and novelist, Vuong is best known for his debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, and his bestselling poetry book Time is a Mother. Vuong writes about desire, transformation, loss, and the struggles of being an immigrant. In On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong beautifully writes, “Say surrender. Say alabaster. Switchblade. / Honeysuckle. Goldenrod. Say autumn.”
Jericho Brown is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and poet. His published works include The Tradition, The New Testament, and Please. Brown writes on police brutality, desire, love, child abuse, and the human experience. Brown is also an eloquent speaker, and you must listen to him recite his work to fully appreciate his work.
Frank Bidart is a scholar, poet, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. His most notable works include Golden State, Desire, Star Dust, and Metaphysical Dog. Half-light, Bidart’s collected poems, includes all his work up until 2017, and he later released a volume of poetry called Against Silence in 2021. Bidart writes about guilt and desire, but also presents dramatic monologues through various characters. In “The Enterprise is Abandoned,” he writes, “when a lover / dies, it takes / two years. Then it lifts.”
Vievee Francis is a writer and professor. Her poetry collections include Forest Primeval, Blue-tail fly, Horse in the Dark and The Shared World. She writes on the legacy of slavery, revelations, love, landscape, and abusive relationships. Vievee Francis, in Forest Primeval, writes, “sometimes the bull gets through, and you lose the woman you loved or the man you loved or both, point being–there is always someone willing to take what’s yours.”
Jacqui Donaldson is an American writer and teacher. Her work has been published in The Vehicle, Loud Coffee Press, Across the Margin and others. Connect with Jacqui on Instagram and Twitter @Jacquiverse.