Flat lay of 12 poetry collections against a bright red background.

Whether it addresses power, feminism, race, sexuality or environmentalism, poetry is a measured and calm antidote to an often-overwhelming news agenda. Here is a selection of poetry collections that offer hope, clarity and understanding in a world that needs it.

100 Queer Poems, curated by Andrew McMillan and Mary Jean Chan (2 June)

Widely-acclaimed poets Mary Jean Chan (Flèche) and Andrew McMillan (playtime) join forces to share their selection of 100 Queer Poems throughout the ages. From visionary poets of the past to thrilling contemporary voices, the anthology questions and redefinines what we mean by a ‘queer’ poem. McMillan and Chan both contribute new poems to the collection, reflecting on visibility and freedom.

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman (2021)

In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, when Amanda delivered her inaugural poem ‘The Hill We Climb’, 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 her debut collection, Call Us What We Carry.

Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong (7 April)

In this deeply intimate second poetry collection, Ocean Vuong searches for life among the aftershocks of his mother's death, embodying the paradox of sitting within grief while being determined to survive beyond it. Shifting through memory, and in concert with the themes of his novel On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong contends with personal loss, the meaning of family, and the value of joy in a perennially fractured American spirit.

 

Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar (2022)

Kaveh Akbar’s second collection takes its readers on a spiritual journey of disavowal, fiercely attendant to the presence of divinity where artifacts of self and belonging have been shed. These brilliant poems dare to exist in the empty space where song lives – resonant, revelatory, and holy. We recommend starting with ‘The Palace’: ‘There are no good kings / only burning palaces.’

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire (2022)

Warsan Shire is an award-winning Somali British poet and celebrated collaborator on Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Black Is King. Drawing from her own life and the lives of loved ones, as well as pop culture and news headlines, Shire finds vivid, unique details in the experiences of refugees and immigrants, mothers and daughters, Black women and teenage girls. 



 

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. 

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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