Poems You Need For Inspiration and Guidance in Life

How old were you when you first read a line of poetry? Was it a famous verse from Shakespeare, Robert Frost, or Edgar Allen Poe? Was it Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, the book that shook the shelves and Instagram feeds alike? Regardless, you’ve undoubtedly come across this form of art at some point in your life. But poetry is a form of art that I find to be vastly underappreciated by so many people, simply for the reason that it often provides so many lessons in such few words. I don’t claim to be an expert on poetry by any means, but here are a few selections from my favorite poets that I keep in mind for times when life gets really tough, or I’m just looking for a little enlightenment.

Milk and Honey was one of Rupi Kaur’s first books to really skyrocket into fame, and I think it’s safe to say it brought many once non-poets into the realm of poetry. This is for good reason, of course; it’s a book overflowing with relatability and touching empathy. Kaur knows your heart, and she writes its beats onto her pages; all the stories of love, loss, healing, breaking, and femininity amongst abuse:

“you tell me

i am not like most girls…

something about the phrase

how i have to be unlike the women

i call sisters in order to be wanted

makes me want to spit your tongue out”

Kaur gets the reader to face off with the ugly parts of themselves. She puts you in front of a mirror and forces you to acknowledge the darkness you are submerging yourself in.

All the same, Milk and Honey trails the broken shards of relationships scattered in the graveyard with understanding and justification. Kaur gifts the reader with self-revelations that everyone should hear:

“i didn’t leave because

i stopped loving you

i left because the longer

i stayed the less

i loved myself”

“do not bother holding on to

that thing that does not want you

…you cannot make it stay”

“how you love yourself is

how you teach others

to love you.”

In 2018, Elizabeth Acevedo released her novel The Poet X, a story told purely through poems. It was one of the books that brought me back to poetry after a long hiatus from it. Acevedo writes the journey of Xiomara Batista, a hispanic teen growing up in Harlem. Although the story is bilingual, the message is universal.

Acevedo writes about the struggles experienced by every woman, although her case study centers around the experience of growing up as a minority. The blending of hispanic culture with universal female oppression brings to light a unique unification of women regardless of color, while appreciating the Dominican household in Harlem.

“‘Cuero,’ she calls me to my face.

The Dominican word for ho.

This is what a cuero looks like:

A regular girl. Pocket-less jeans

that draw grown men’s eyes…

A spectacular girl. With too much ass.

Too much lip. Too much sass.

Hips that look like water waiting

to be spilled into the hands

of thirsty boys. A plain girl.

With nothing llamativo—nothing

that calls attention. A forgotten girl.

One who parts her hair down the middle.

Who doesn’t have cleavage.” (205)

Not only does The Poet X ferociously enlighten the growing young woman’s struggle, but Acevedo herself strikes with structure throughout the book. In the excerpt below, Xiomara is dragged to their household altar of the Virgin Mary. Her mother found out she kissed a boy on the train, and holds her to strict religious standards by coercing an apology. Each word is written like a dagger, poking and prodding at the reader, conveying the tension and tightness that must be within Xiomara’s chest:

When Xiomara’s mother finds her book of poetry, she sets it on fire. Watching her only form of solace and escape burn before her eyes, Xiomara confides:

“If I were on fire

who could I count on

to water me down?

 

If I were a pile of ashes

who could I count on

to gather me in a pretty urn?

 

If I were nothing but dust

would anyone chase the wind

trying to piece me back together?”

 

In January of this year, Billy Chapata released his book, Chameleon Aura. It stands out as an exquisite collection of words that work like hymns to heal the soul, it’s a masterclass of self-love. This is a book for the times when you feel you are in a pit and need to morph into a new kind of you to climb out. It’s a book that builds you into your own metamorphosis. Take “Learning me” as an example:

“i’m still learning my wounds. i’m learning that healing comes in

stages. i’m learning that wounds need air to heal. i’m learning to

release fear and welcome growth. these wounds will be flowers

someday. i affirm it.”

In “Peace,” Chapata enforces the idea of forgiveness as one of the most critical tools we have within ourselves to set us free:

And in “False,” the same idea is echoed, only in the sense that you hold the power to your own emancipation:

“the universe has no opinion of you.

the universe only reacts off the energy you give it.

your actions and thoughts are keys and shackles.”

In times necessary of strength, Chapata writes, “the strongest ones bleed in silence.” This line has sat with me for two months since I first got the book in my hands after pre-ordering it. It is the idea that, although we dance on a planet amongst seven billion other people, we have no one but ourselves to confide in at the end of the day. There are days when no one else will be there for you, and so you must learn to “bleed in silence,” to harvest your wounds and build them into beautiful flowers on your own.

As one of his final notes, building into the final metamorphosis the reader can achieve each time they revisit the book, Chapata reminds the reader of acceptance with an affirmation in “emancipation:”

“realizing that i’m not for everyone,

was the most beautiful thing i ever learned.

realizing that i’m not for everyone,

emancipated me and took the handcuffs off my spirit.”

 

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