For those of you who haven’t gathered by now, yes. I am a poetry junkie. And in being one, have accumulated a couple of favorite poets over the length of my love affair with this craft. I know that for someone looking to get more into poetry, figuring out whose work to start with can be daunting. So I’ve compiled a list of artists that have moved and shaped me as a writer and performer that I feel embody the best of what the poetry world currently has to offer. Get into it.
1. Alysia Harris
I would be remiss to not start this list with the very poet that sparked my passion for writing and performing, because it hasn’t stopped burning since. Alysia Harris is a poet from Alexandria, VA. She received her MFA in poetry from NYU in 2014 and is currently a PhD candidate in linguistics at Yale University where she is a Bouchet Honor Society Graduate Fellow. So in short, she is superwoman. Many know her from a viral video of her performing her piece titled “That Girl” on the HBO documentary: Brave New Voices. But since then, her work has blossomed into the gorgeous, thought provoking, skin penetrating dream that it is. Her accomplishments as a writer, performer, scholar, and author make up a healthy list, but the way I am left feeling after hearing any of her work is why she will always be a personal fave.
Explore her work here: http://alysiaharris.com/
2. Yrsa Daley-Ward
I first discovered the greatness that is Yrsa Daley-Ward after purchasing her latest book, Bone. She is a poet of Jamaican and Nigerian heritage who was raised by her devout Seventh Day Adventist grandparents in a small town in England. This made so much sense to me after finding myself somewhere in every piece of hers that I read. The way that Bone explored the many facets of her identity in such a delicate and honest fashion left me in complete awe. Yrsa has built up a following touring internationally as a spoken word poet in conjunction with the British Council and has produced works that have gained plenty of praise. Her poetry explores what it means and how it feels to be black, woman, queer, and honest all at the same time.
Purchase her latest book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/bone-Yrsa-Daley-Ward/dp/1499170718/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496019415&sr=8-1&keywords=yrsa+daley-ward
3. Danez Smith
Now I do not use the term “edge-snatching” lightly, but after reading their book [Insert] Boy, I quickly realized the irrefutable fact that Danez Smith was sent here to this very earth to snatch us all bald. I could go on rants for days about why I find this to be the most perfect collection of poetry I have come across thus far, but instead, I will advise you to read it for yourself and experience it in all its glory first hand. Danez is a black queer writer and performer from St. Paul, MN. They are the recipient of fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, and is a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. Their work has been featured on Buzzfeed, Blavity, PBS NewsHour, and on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. They are a 2-time Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, 3-time Rustbelt Poetry Slam champion, and a founding member of the Dark Noise Collective. In short, Danez does this. And well.
Explore their work here: http://www.danezsmithpoet.com/
4. Kai Davis
Like many others, I was introduced to the powerhouse that is Kai Davis via a viral video of her performing her piece titled “Fuck I Look Like.” But since then, I have been entranced by the multilayered and hard hitting works that she has shared and performed all across the country. I had the honor of witnessing her group piece performance with teammates Nayo Jones and Jasmine Combs of a poem titled “Sandra Bland” on final stage at CUPSI 2016. To this day, I have never come across a poem more personally soul snatching, brilliantly thought out, and brutally honest. She is a writer and performer from Philadelphia who has been featured at the San Francisco Opera House, The Kimmel Center, TEDX Philly, on CNN, BET, PBS, and NPR. She is a two-time international grand slam champion, winning Brave New Voices in 2011 and The College Union Poetry Slam Invitational in 2016. Currently, she is 1/3 of The Philly Pigeon Collective, a group of poets who host an award winning poetry slam in Philly. She personally directed their first multidisciplinary production titled “How to Take Space” this past February. If you are looking for a queer black woman poet that pulls no punches when it comes to calling out social injustice, then look no further than this incredible force of nature.
Explore her work here: http://www.kaidavispoetry.com/
5. Chrysanthemum Tran
Chrysanthemum Tran is a Vietnamese American queer trans woman poet and teaching artist from Oklahoma City. She became the first trans woman finalist of the Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2016. A three-time semifinalist at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, Chrysanthemum won “Best Poet” and “Best Poem” in 2016, and “Pushing the Art Forward” in 2015. A 2016 Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam champion and Pink Door Fellow, Chrysanthemum is a two-time member of the Providence national slam team and coaches the Providence youth slam team. I was first captivated by her beautiful work via one of my many Button poetry binges. Her poems give a very important voice of power and honesty to women who struggle to just be. I would highly recommend seeking solace in this poet’s truth.
Follow this poet on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/chrystran?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor
6. Ariana Brown
Ariana is an Afromexicana poet from San Antonio, Texas, with a B.A. in African Diaspora Studies and Mexican American Studies. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize, a 2014 national collegiate poetry slam champion, and is currently working on her first manuscript. A friend of mine recommended her to me a while back, and I was immediately hooked on her work. It’s always comforting to be cradled by the gentle honesty and power of a woman poet standing in her truth, and Ariana provides exactly that. Her poems are laced with all parts of her heritage and identity and what it means to be all of them at once.
Explore her work here: http://www.arianabrown.com/home.html
7. Sanam Sheriff
While competing in a slam a few months ago, I saw this girl step to the mic, take a deep breath, and ruin me within the first stanza with the most soothing human voice I have ever heard. Sanam is an award-winning poet from Bangalore, India who currently resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her work has been featured on Button Poetry, All Def Poetry and The Academy of American Poets. Her passion for language stems from a constant pursuit of truth and fierce, fierce love. Not many performance poets are able to captivate an audience with words alone, but she has mastered that very challenge. With a calm, even tone, this poet is able to bring entire crowds to tears with her gorgeous imagery and soul snatching content. Upon experiencing a single poem of hers, I was an instant fan, and believe that she is most definitely a poet to look out for.
Explore her work here: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=sanam+sheriff
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
8. Safia Elhillo
I experienced my first taste of this poet’s power sobbing next to my teammate at CUPSI finals in 2016. Safia is a Sudanese poet residing in Washington, DC. She received her BA from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and an MFA in poetry at the New School. Safia is a Pushcart Prize nominee, co-winner of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize, and winner of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. Her work has been translated into Arabic, Japanese, Estonian, and Greek. With Fatimah Asghar, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me. And currently works as a teaching artist with Split This Rock. She has been featured through numerous channels for her amazing work and no list of poets to know would be complete without this emerging powerhouse.
Explore her work here: http://safia-mafia.com/tagged/main