A stack of 8 poetry books against a bright red background with The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman standing on top

Whether it addresses power, feminism, race, sexuality or environmentalism, poetry is a measured and calm antidote to an often-overwhelming news agenda – and there’s perhaps no better example than when Amanda Gorman delivered her poem The Hill We Climb at Joe Biden’s inauguration, and her call for a brave future resonated with people all over the globe. Here are a few more poetry collections that offer hope, clarity and understanding in a world that needs it.

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman (2021)

In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, when Amanda delivered her inaugural poem she "spoke truth to power and embodied clear-eyed hope to a weary nation", revealing "us to ourselves". If you’re looking to understand more about contemporary America and indeed beyond, you couldn’t do much better than starting with this gorgeous special edition of The Hill We Climb.

Homie by Danez Smith (2020)

Danez Smith’s Homie is a magnificent anthem about the saving grace of friendship and is an excellent reminder that politics belong to the people. We thoroughly recommend starting with their poem ‘my president’, in which Danez recommends all the wonderful people who give them hope, from community activists and single mums to Beyoncé. 

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (2017)

Ocean Vuong’s debut collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, is a beautiful and profound exploration of war, cultural upheaval, violence, and queer love. We recommend the poem ‘Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong’, which calls for self-love and teaches the important lesson that the "most beautiful part of your body is where it’s headed / & remember, loneliness is still time spent with the world."

 

Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe (2015)

Sarah Howe was born in Hong Kong in 1983 to an English father and a Chinese mother, and moved to England as a child. In her multi-award-winning collection, Loop of Jade, she explores this dual heritage as she journeys back to Hong Kong in search of her roots. What follows is a beautiful exploration of race, language, self and place.

Surge by Jay Bernard (2019)

Surge is an extraordinary collection and a fearless examination of the New Cross Fire of 1981, a house fire at a birthday party in which 13 young black people were killed. Dubbed the ‘New Cross Massacre’, the fire was initially believed to be a racist attack, and the indifference with which the tragedy was met by the state triggered a new era of race relations in Britain. An excellent place to start would be the poem ‘Arrival’, which centres on the Windrush Generation. 

Division Street by Helen Mort (2013)

From the clashes between striking miners and the police, to the delicate conflicts in personal relationships, Helen Mort’s collection, Division Street, is the perfect book to read if you want to understand political divides. The sequence ‘Scab’ looks at the Miner’s Strike at Orgreave, 1984, which also inspired its striking jacket. 

The Perfect Nine by Ngũgĩ  Wa Thiong’o (2020)

Ngũgĩ  Wa Thiong’o has been described by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche as "one of the greatest writers of our time", and when you read The Perfect Nine it’s easy to see why. The book is a glorious epic poem about the founding of Kenya’s Gĩkũyũ people and looks at the brave women who became the matriarchs of its clans. It’s a beautiful, feminist story which sees women firmly in charge of their own narratives.  

Dearly by Margaret Atwood (2020)

Today Margaret is known as one of the world’s finest novelists, but did you know that she began her career as a poet? Her newest collection of poems, Dearly, brings all of the issues she explores in her novels into even sharper focus, from environmentalism to feminism, art and grief. You could start by reading ‘At the Translation Conference’, a poem that explores language and the ways we talk about assault and women’s rights. 

Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson (2019)

In Vertigo & Ghost, Fiona Benson explores sexual politics and gender-based violence. In a stunning sequence of poems, Benson imagines the Greek god Zeus on trial as a serial rapist. These frank poems are full of vulnerability and rage and Benson deftly explores the long (in fact ancient), dark history of misogyny.

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