6 modern poets you should know about, according to Nikita Gill

The author of new book The Girl and the Goddess picks her favourite contemporary poets, from Shivanee Ramlochan to Dean Atta.

Nikita Gill
Sheets of paper with faded handwriting on them, with a blue tint over the whole image.
Image: iStock

When the world brews with turmoil, I turn to poetry. In the personal and the public, poetry is a place of healing not just for me, but for thousands of people I interact with over our shared love for verse.

On social media, on apps, on websites – people are sharing poems more than ever before. If you look at the comments sections on social media forums under poems, you will find beautiful declarations about how poems have touched the reader and made them feel seen.

The versatility of poetry is that it can be both the language of fire and hope at once. These six poets shine at doing that, and have forever changed me for the better with their work.

Shivanee Ramlochan

Shivanee Ramlochan is a powerful Trinidadian poet, arts reporter and book blogger. I received Shivanee’s book Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting as a gift and was absolutely blown away by her elegant and brutal power with language. Ramalochan’s work is fertile with rich imagery from folklore and myth, and also the magic and macabre of the femme spirit.

As a poet interested in writing about myth and folklore I was instantly drawn to her stunning lyrical tales of ghosts, goddesses, devils and duennes. My favourite of her work (although it is incredibly hard to choose as all her poems are so bright and sharp with beauty) is The Red Thread Cycle, a series of poems about sexual assault that are a masterpiece of craft and voice.

Find Shivanee on Twitter @novelniche.

Sophia Thakur

Sophia Thakur is a brilliant performance poet, author and musician whose work spans performances  at Glastonbury and Tate Britain to TEDx talks.

I first came across Sophia’s beautiful poems in the form of her Ted talk 'My Boyfriend isn’t allowed to cry unfortunately' – an illuminating, moving poem that explores the demands put on young boys in the 21st Century.

All of Sophia’s work is infused with wisdom, wonder and empathy, and she brilliantly uses of accessible language to convey deeply complicated human conditions. She explores identity, relationships and loss with such tenderness and truth.

Whether through performance or in the pages of her book Somebody Give This Heart a Pen, Sophia’s work universally moves people of all ages.

You can find Sophia on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.

Dean Atta

An incredibly moving and powerful performance poet, Dean Atta contains glorious multitudes. I first came across his work when I saw him perform the beautiful poem 'I Come From', which is a powerful anthem of self love and identity. His work sears with an honesty, cadence and elegance that will leave you mesmerised.

One of my favourite books this year is his powerful verse novel The Black Flamingo, a story of a mixed race gay teen finding himself through the art of drag. It’s a book so moving you simply cannot put it down once you start reading it, and it’s filled with powerful truths; I urge everyone I know to read it.

You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.

Salena Godden

Salena Godden is an English poet, author, activist and broadcaster, whose lockdown poems kept me going in this time of great turbulence.

Funny, brilliant, visceral and hard hitting, her work thrives in all spaces – museums, radio, books, movies, art galleries, the stage. I’ve been fortunate enough to see her perform live and her dynamic stage presence coupled with her playful and elegant verse can enthrall an audience within seconds.

I love too many poems from Salena to pick just one to recommend, so I will mention 'Soup', 'Pessimism is for Lightweights', 'I saw Goody Proctor jogging with a facemask', 'No Holds Barred' (which is an Underground Poem!) and 'I Want to Be Your Wife', which all hold a special place in my heart.

I’m especially excited to read her debut novel Mrs Death Misses Death, which is out in January 2021.

You can find Salena Godden on Twitter.

Fatimah Asghar

Fatimah Asghar is a Pakistani American poet, screenwriter, educator and performer.

As a child of a family that was deeply affected by Partition, I bought Fatimah’s book If They Come For Us the moment I heard about it. The collection is outstanding in its exploration of the complicated bonds between family, generational trauma, war, racialised violence, loss and South Asian girlhood and womanhood. An urgent and brave collection, I’ve never seen Partition explored so unflinchingly with such elegant language before.

My favourite of her performances is Pluto Shits on the Universe – a poem layered with cosmic metaphors that I forever return to in times when I need to be filled with fire again. That said, every single one of her performances are brilliant and should be watched by any aspiring poets.

You can find her on Twitter.

Trista Mateer

Trista Mateer is an award winning poet and visual artist. Whether it is with her beautiful illustrated poems on Instagram or her soft and gentle books like Honeybee and When the Stars Wrote Back, Trista excels in explorations of love, sexuality, loss and girlhood. She was one of the OG poets of Tumblr that have broken the mould time and time again to give us offerings infused with modern myth like 'Aphrodite Made Me Do It' and YA verse like 'When the Stars Wrote Back'.

Her work is powerful in its accessibility and authenticity, and a true ode of what it means to be a poet living through times of crisis not just personally, but also in the current political landscape we find ourselves in today.

You can find Trista on Instagram and Twitter.

Nikita Gill is the author of Great Goddesses and the forthcoming The Girl and the Goddess, out on 1 October.

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