When we are released from the clutches of a chaotic semester at school and go to the library for the break, I think most of us can admit that we don’t automatically gravitate towards to the poetry section. To those of us who were introduced to poetry in middle school with classic lines like “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” and “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” poetry can seem boring, intimidating or simply irrelevant. But believe it or not, contemporary poetry has so much to offer in terms of relatability and representation, and has become a beautiful vehicle for activism and the expression of historically-suppressed narratives. But it can be hard to know where to start if all you know is what you’ve learned in school. So here’s a list of four poets whose writing is accessible and empowering, and two of them are even from our very own H-town!
1. Warsan Shire
Warsan Shire is a poet and activist telling stories that need to be heard. She’s the daughter of Somali parents, was born in Kenya, and then immigrated to London, where she became the city’s first ever poet laureate. She writes about her experiences of being a woman of color and an immigrant, about war and mother-daughter relationships, all in a beautiful language. I first discovered her by stumbling across her reading of her poem “For Women Who Are ‘Difficult’ To Love,” which is an entirely powerful and emotional experience. She also has a number of books published, including Warsan vs. Melancholy, Her Blue Body, Our Men Do Not Belong to Us, and one I particularly enjoyed, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth. I’ve found that local libraries often do not carry her work, so the Poetry Foundation has supplied us with a link on their website to an abridged version of Our Men Do Not Belong to Us, which you can access here.
If you want to listen to the recording of “For Women Who Are ‘Difficult’ To Love,” check it out here. Also, rumor has it, that her Twitter is positively lit!
2. Kate Tempest
The first time I heard of Kate Tempest, a rather drunk Scottish man was telling me that she single-handedly made spoken word poetry cool again. And while this statement might be a bit of a hyperbole, there’s no denying that her work is positively electric. She grew up in London, left school at 16, and since then has written books of poetry, novels, plays, albums of hip-hop and poetry, and specializes in mixing every form of media to hit all of your senses. Just look at her website, for proof: It’s insanely aesthetic. She speaks out about women’s issues, about her own queer community, and addresses a range of social issues that have touched a youth growing up in poverty, who are trying to understand what it means to love and to survive. But beyond this, she tackles universal questions like the nature of isolation and the loss of innocence.
You can find a recording of her performing newest album, Let Them Eat Chaos, on Spotify or a live performance on YouTube for free. Or if you want a break from all this poetry, I personally would recommend her book The Bricks That Built the Houses. It’s lyrical, powerful, and there are no words for how much I loved it.
3. Traci Lavois Thiebaud
“Traci Lavois Thiebaud is a poet because she has to be,” according to her Facebook bio. Traci is possibly one of the coolest people who has ever graced this planet, and we’re lucky enough to have her in Houston! I ran into her at an art show where she was set up with a big fur coat and a typewriter, giving out poems for trade, barter or sale. She busks frequently around the Houston scene, so if you snoop around enough, chances are you’ll run into her! Across the board, her poetry is both beautiful and celebratory, but also indignant and addresses the distressing political climate. She writes about being a feminist, about women’s rights, about queer rights, about her non-binary identity, and so much more. She also runs her own local printing press called Whatever, Mom, which aims to make publishing more accessible and less corporatized. She is the definition of making art a form of activism, and her performance poetry is enough to send shivers down your spine.
Check out her chapbook, Camp Big Stick: someone poisoned the humans here on the Whatever, Mom website or search her on YouTube to find recordings of her readings.
4. Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton
Last but not least is Houston’s very own poet laureate, who was once ranked the second best female poet in the world! She’s a poet, singer, an internationally acclaimed slam poet and coach, and an awe-inspiring performer. Her presence in a room is larger than life and she speaks about the importance of sharing stories: hers as well as those of people she has never met. She writes for herself, for her children and husband, and for women who have not been given a voice. Listening to her poetry is basically an act of radical self-care. It’s about empowerment and strength and vulnerability and it’s hard for even the most stoic listeners to not be moved.
This list is by no means the end-all be-all, but a starting point for those of you wanting to experience the voices empowering women and female-identifying individuals in poetry. So if you find yourself in an eggnog-induced haze and you’re not sure what to do with yourself this break, consider spending some time getting to know these lovely writers!