10 Current, Living Poets to Check Out During National Poetry Month 2018

'Cause when most people think 'poetry,' they think old, now-dead white men — let's change that.

10 Contemporary Poets to Read in 2018, Best Living Poets You Should Read in 2018

Poetry can be intimidating… and yes, maybe even a little boring and unrelatable (to which we have the perfect solution). Maybe you only read the poetry you know because it was force-fed to you in your high school English course. I get it. We all get it. And if you’re new to poetry, it’s easy to get lost in the form — there’s a lot to swim through.

So in honor of not quite simplifying the artform but making it friendly to the casual reader whose unexpected pique in poetry must be satisfied — and because April is National Poetry Month after all — here are 10 living, working non-totally-white-male poets whose verses we recommend you read right this moment.

(Or take a night to deep dive, seriously.)

10 Poets You Should Read in 2018

1. Ocean Vuong

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he serves as an Assistant Professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at Umass-Amherst. He is currently not writing anything.

Which poem to read first? On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

I’ll tell you how we’re wrong enough to be forgiven. How one night, after
mother, then taking a chainsaw to the kitchen table, my father went to kneel
in the bathroom until we heard his muffled cries through the walls.
And so I learned that a man, in climax, was the closest thing
to surrender.

10 Poets You Should Read in 2018

2. Sharon Olds

An American poet best known for her powerful, often erotic, imagery of the body and her examination of the family.

Which poem to read first?  I Go Back to May 1937

…I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

10 Poets You Should Read in 2018

3. Dorothea Lasky

A poet and the author of five full-length collections of poetry…I love to teach and make things more than I like to do anything.

Which poem to read first? Ars Poetica

There is a romantic abandon in me always
I want to feel the dread for others
I can feel it through song
Only through song am I able to sum up so many words into a few
Like when he said I am no good
I am no good
Goodness is not the point anymore
Holding on to things
Now that’s the point

10 Poets You Should Read in 2018

4. Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood’s poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the London Review of BooksTin House, and Poetry. She is the author of a memoir, Priestdaddy, and two poetry collections. She lives in Savannah, Georgia.

Which poem to read first? The Arch

     Or am I mixing it up I think I am
with another famous female statue? Born
in its shadow and shook-foil hot the facts
slid off me also. I and the Arch we burned
to the touch. “Don’t touch that Arch a boy
we know got third-degree burns from touch-
        ing that Arch,” says my mother sitting
for her statue. She is metal on a hilltop and
so sad she isn’t a Cross. She was long ago
given to us by Ireland. What an underhand
        gift for an elsewhere to give, a door
that reminds you you can leave it. She raises
        her arm to brush my hair. Oh no female
armpit lovelier than the armpit of the Arch.

10 Poets You Should Read in 2018

5. Andrew Feld

In his formal and free verse poems, he often engages themes of power, intimacy, and natural order…Feld has served as editor in chief and poetry editor for the Seattle Review at the University of Washington, where he is an associate professor and director of the creative writing program. He lives in Seattle.

Which poem to read first? The Drunk Singer

She’s gone
far beyond the limits of her cover song
-I will always love you, or some other lie,
into a quiet place where something broken
in bright scales is being disassembled
and then put back together again, word by word.

10 Poets You Should Read in 2018

6. Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle is the 2017-2019 national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and USBBY’s 2019 nominee for the Astrid Lindgren Award, the world’s largest children’s literature honor. She is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including the Newbery Honor winner, The Surrender Tree, and PEN USA Award winner, The Lightning Dreamer. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, tells the story of her childhood summers in Cuba, where she developed a deep bond with her mother’s extended family, Cuban culture, and tropical nature.

Which poem to read first? Drum Dream Girl

But everyone
on the island of music
in the city of drumbeats
believed that only boys
should play drums
so the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming

10 Poets You Should Read in 2018

7. Eve Ewing

Dr. Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist of education and a writer from Chicago. She is the author of Electric Arches, which received awards from the American Library Association and the Poetry Society of America and was named one of the year’s best books by NPR and the Chicago Tribune. She is also the author of Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side and the co-author (with Nate Marshall) of No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. She is a scholar at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and many other venues.

Which poem to read first? horror movie pitch

okay you guys are gonna love it. get this

all the black women turn invisible,
all of them

just overnight. America goes to sleep and they’re there
and they wake up and they’re not

the scary part?           stick with me
they’re not gone. YOU JUST CAN’T SEE EM
think about it
they can see each other
but you can’t see them
and they could be anywhere

10 Poets You Should Read in 2018

8. Sam Sax

Sam Sax is the author of Madness (Penguin, 2017) winner of The National Poetry Series and ‘Bury It’ (Wesleyan University Press, 2018) winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. He’s received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Lambda Literary, & the MacDowell Colony. He’s the two-time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion, author of four chapbooks & winner of the Gulf Coast Prize, The Iowa Review Award, & American Literary Award. His poems have appeared in BuzzFeed, The New York Times, Poetry Magazine, Tin House + other journals. He’s the poetry editor at BOAAT Press.

Which poem to read first? Kaddish

The official cause of death according to the autopsy report is an overdose
‘Dose’, from the Greek- diodani, to give, to give over, to give too much, to overgive
Veil in the skull lifting, flooding the brain with blood
Cocaine comes from the leaves of the coca plant, dried brittle and beaten with lime- same alkaline stuff used to quicken the decomposition of flesh

10 Poets You Should Read in 2018

9. Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; numerous video collaborations, and is the editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the MindCitizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts. She lives in California and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

Which poem to read first? “You are in the dark, in the car…” (… and everything else Citizen has to offer.)

You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.
You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay conversation to be having.
Why do you feel okay saying this to me? You wish the light would turn red or a police siren would go off so you could slam on the brakes, slam into the car ahead of you, be propelled forward so quickly both your faces would suddenly be exposed to the wind.

10 Poets You Should Read in 2018

10. Eileen Myles

Eileen Myles is a poet, novelist, performer and art journalist. Their twenty books include Afterglow (a dog memoir), a 2017 re-issue of Cool for You and I Must Be Living Twice/new and selected poems, and Chelsea Girls. Eileen is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Andy Warhol/Creative Capital Arts Writers grant, four Lambda Book Awards, and the Shelley Prize from the PSA. In 2016, Myles received a Creative Capital grant and the Clark Prize for excellence in art writing. Currently, they teach at NYU and Naropa University and live in Marfa TX and New York.

Which poem to read first? A Gift for You

I’m not particularly
into the task
of humility
at the moment
but I’m
not against

Which poets have you been clinging onto lately?

It’s National Poetry Month, so share your faves with us in the comments!

Carliann Rittman
the authorCarliann Rittman
Contributing Writer
Currently at NYU, probably feverishly reading messy memoirs about musicians.