I was thinking about February, the month of love, chocolate, and honouring the history, contributions, and future of Black folks in our country, and I figured it would be a great time to feature poetry by Black writers.
(My thought process was Valentine’s Day > Love > Poetry. Hence the somewhat pun-y title, because I couldn’t resist.)
I never used to be big on reading poetry—sometimes poems (especially those assigned in school) felt a bit too esoteric or plain baffling for my taste, especially when coupled with assignments to demonstrate what the poems might be saying. But the more I read, the more I slowly fell in love with it, and even began trying my hand at writing my own poetry, some of which I’m quite proud of.
Who knows, one day I might publish a poetry collection and join the ranks of these vaunted writers. In the meantime though, I can recommend a few reads. The following is a small collection of great poetry by Black authors that you can find in our catalogue, featuring excerpts of their poems when available. I find there’s no greater hook for a reader of poetry than the content, which often resonates better than any blurb or synopsis could.
As art forms go, poetry is probably one of the most misunderstood. When you think of poetry, what comes to mind? Boring, incomprehensible gibberish? Maybe. Particularly with older versions, it’s almost impossible to appreciate without someone guiding you through it. But poetry is one of the oldest methods of artistic expression—think of Gilgamesh, an ancient Mesopotamian poem and the oldest known surviving piece of literature— and it’s still around, so it must be doing something right. April is National Poetry Month, so to honour this literary practice I want to share some current poets who might make you change your mind about poetry, and show how you can get into it yourself!
The great thing about poetry is that it’s adaptive. Some forms rely on specific structures (sonnets, haikus) while others are free verse. It doesn’t matter! A poem can be what you believe it to be, as long as it expresses some truth. One of the most popular poets working today is Brampton’s own Rupi Kaur, whose debut collection Milk and Honey sold over 2.5 million copies (as of 2017, so more by now!). Kaur’s voice and distinct style is so recognizable that it has gotten the inevitable meme treatment. She’s part of a new wave of poets dubbed, perhaps a bit disparagingly, “Instapoets”, owing to the social media channel that launched their success. An Instapoem uses the small, square image format of Instagram, resulting in quick, bite-size poems that are easy to consume. They are minimalist in design, a few lines carefully organized in an aesthetically appealing way. There is a lot of handwringing over this format, but I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss it—after all, isn’t brevity the soul of wit? If these writers are able to form a connection with readers in the span of a few seconds, why should we discredit that? Rupi Kaur has four million Instagram followers—that’s four million people her work has presumably spoken to.
In fact, Instapoetry has been described as “gateway poetry”. The fact that Kaur’s work does not translate solely into likes but also into seven-figure book sales speaks volumes; people are literally buying what she’s selling! And they’re stepping into a world that may have seemed intimidating before. As The Atlantic puts it, “Social media seem to have cracked the walls around a field that has long been seen as highbrow, exclusive, esoteric, and ruled by tradition, opening it up for young poets with broad appeal, many of whom are women and people of color.”
The world needs more Canada. Support our homegrown authors by checking out these remarkable Canadian reads.
We’re nearing the end of summer….which means it’s time to do quintessentially Canadian things like drive up to the cottage, take a boat out on a lake and curl up by a campfire. And why not grab some great Canadian reads for your last lazy hazy days of August? We’re keeping the Canada 150 celebrations going by reading a selection of CanLit! I’ll be discussing Rupi Kaur, an Indian-Canadian woman from Toronto, and Will Ferguson, an Alberta-bred Scot, for a broad scope of modern Canadian writing.