Looking for some summer poet readings to whisk you out of reality and into a world of pure romance or maybe something a bit darker? Some of our writers have come together and written why their favourite poet/spoken word artist is the best and why we should be reading their work.
Hotel Books (Cam Smith) is a spoken-word project which merges traditional spoken word with post-hardcore musical elements to create a fully renowned poetic experience. Hotel Books uses music alongside their poetry to build a picture of the poem presented, for example in ‘Wooden Floorboards’ the band play long drawn out notes on the piano to create a chilling atmosphere. This fits perfectly with the themes behind the poem which focuses on Hotel Books’ relationship with God, however, the chilling sound reveals this sooner making the track perfect for those first getting into spoken word. This raw introspective way of portraying poetry to a wider audience has led to Hotel Books spoken word albums hitting the Billboard charts.
One of my favourite albums of Hotel Books is I’m Almost Happy Here, But I Never Feel at Home. This was the record which saw Hotel Books find the perfect combination of spoken word with music and using music as another tool of understanding the message of the poems. For example, ‘Car Crash’, has a mellow slow electric guitar playing in the background but in important moments where the poem is fired with intensity, a gentle percussion joins the guitar to create a soothing but heart-breaking tone.
Unlike classical poets the themes and the story of the poems are easily understandable and is a great way to see how amazing spoken word poetry is whilst also listening to music.
Hotel Books (Cam Smith) recent album is available on Spotify.
Poetry is something which some people love whilst others hate. It’s extremely subjective and each poet and poem has something entirely different to offer. There’s Old English poetry, modernist poetry, and everything in between. The peak of poetry though, in my opinion, is Romanticism.
And the peak of Romanticism certainly falls in the hands of William Wordsworth. From longer odes like ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’ to shorter poems like ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’, there’s so much of his work to love.
Romanticism focussed much of its attention on nature, the imagination and social injustices. Wordsworth highlights all of these themes throughout but doesn’t hold back on the humour. ‘The Idiot Boy’ is one which demonstrates this, but there are a multitude which can be found if you study them hard enough.
Although he’s one of the most famous poets of all time, it’s not often that readers know more than a few of his. It’s worth reading all that he has to offer and indulge yourself in the summertime feelings they radiate.
Marianne Moore (1887-1972) is a poet who needs no introduction by literary standards and yet still somehow remains widely unknown to those who don’t read much poetry. Contemporaries of both T.S.Eliot and Sylvia Plath, Moore wrote extensively as a modernist, using her lyric-poetry often as an ironic observation of the natural world and humanities interaction with that said world. The poem ‘A Grave’ published in her second collection of poetry, Observations, captures her astute vision of the world as it expresses the haunting beauty of the sea’s depth while also using the idea of human’s fishing as a comparison to defiling a grave. A later (and lesser-known) poem named ‘The Arctic Ox (or Goat)’ which appeared in the collection O To Be A Dragon, takes an ironically harsh view on human’s need for savagery and survival as she contrasts it against the innocence of nature and its purity.
In fact, in countless poems, Moore often assumes an equivocal tone towards what it means to be human and how we treat the world we inhabit but also creates poetry that has an experience of making the reader reflect on their own experiences and practises. She’s completely enrapturing in a bleak sort of way, that makes people question their notions of morality while be guided through some of poetry’s most beautifully envisioned moments and its interactions with the real world.
Leonard Cohen, since his first poetry publication, ‘Let us Compare Mythologies’ (1956), until his death in 2016, transcended the boundaries between poetry and song. His unique blend of clever rhymes and trademark frankness makes his poetry both witty but also extremely wise. Much of his work has a particular fascination with broken and damaged things, but Cohen has never been satisfied with being consumed by these. Rather, brokenness became the means for which he could access light, find unity and get in touch with the deep emotional connections he perceived in all forms of relationships. His poem ‘The Music Crept By Us’ details his ‘watered’ down drinks, girls with ‘syphilis’, a band composed of ‘SS monsters’ and the speakers own ‘lip cancer.’ Yet in this short poem, filled with chaos and darkness, Cohen’s narrative voice still manages to ‘dance’ on New Years, seemingly embracing the destruction around him whilst contextualising the connection we have to all things around us. Highly complex relationships with religion, love and brokenness, makes Cohen’s poetry at times bittersweet and at others deeply moving; he is no doubt one of the most intriguing poets to ever live.
-Jack Nicholas Brandon
As an avid reader, my regular visits to the bookshop usually result in an ever-growing stack of books which are only ever read several months later. Yet Rupi Kaur’s milk and honey didn’t even reach my bookshelf and since reading it Rupi Kaur has become one of my favourite poets. Kaur’s poetry is beautifully simplistic whilst exploring the complexities of what it means to be a woman. When reading milk and honey it’s impossible not to be moved by the feelings and experiences that Rupi Kaur portrays across four chapters: ‘the hurting’, ‘the loving’, ‘the breaking’ and ‘the healing’. Although every single one of these poems seems personal and intimate, they all tackle universal themes such as identity, family, love and trauma. Alongside her thought-provoking illustrations, the poetry is as much awe-inspiring art as it a self-help guide; reading Rupi Kaur’s milk and honey is one of the best ways to remind me that I’m as human as anyone else, trying my best to navigate life.
The first time I ever read a Sylvia Plath poem, I was on a beach. I had heard I might be studying her for my A-Level course, so brought an anthology – something that seemed unappealing to someone who, up until that point, was definitely not a poetry fan. It was on this day that changed: ‘Spinster’, the first poem I came across, was truly transformative. The imagery Plath evokes in her poems is like no other, her emotions conveyed so vividly that it is impossible not to be transported to another world where you feel them with her. Her craving for isolation from the burden of family life in ‘Tulips’; the joy and fear of pregnancy in ‘You’re’; the pain and suffering of ‘Winter Trees’; the adrenaline and escapism of ‘Ariel’. Sixty years after they were written, the deeply personal nature of her poems still resonates today.
Her tragic marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes influenced a lot of her poetry, but it wasn’t until after her death in 1963 at the age of 30 that her fame rocketed. She received numerous accolades and became the first posthumous Pulitzer Prize winner in 1982. Although her life was cut short due to her lifelong mental health battles, the legacy of Plath’s poetry has spanned generations – she was a truly remarkable poet, and deserves to be remembered for many more.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself “I love contemplating the finality of death, but I’d love to laugh while I do it” then there is no poet better for you than the late Philip Larkin. Despite declining the laureateship the year before his death, Larkin stands to be one of the most prolific English poets, and nobody truly embodies the grim sarcasm of the British people better than he.
The master of the opening and closing line, Larkin’s craft is sombre and melancholy; telling the story of a man acutely aware of the hardships of life, with his comedy acting as the spoonful of sugar required to swallow the ghastly reality of the topics he covers. ‘Aubade’, one of Larkin’s darkest and most brazen attempts at vocalising his fear of the end, pairs perfectly with the humorous ‘Annus Mirabilis’ and it’s jovial retelling of Britain’s sexual revolution in the 60s.
Larkin’s work is a macabre comfort in dark times, and hilariously British response to life, sex and death and while by no means an easy read, his poetry is haunting and tantalisingly gripping; truly a must-read for fans of darker writing.
Federico García Lorca
In the UK, Federico García Lorca is probably best known for his now-beloved plays such as La casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba) and Bodas de sangre (Blood Weddings) which continue to be performed in both Hispanic and Anglophone countries. But it would be a mistake to only appreciate García Lorca as a dramatist, and not as a poet.
Part of the Generation of ’27 movement in Spain (which also included Salvador Dalí), García Lorca is an excellent example of the emerging genre of surrealism in the 1920s, which fought against over-structured verse, purely ornamental words and metaphors.
My personal favourite of his is Oda a Walt Whitman (Ode to Walt Whitman) from his collection Poeta en Nueva York (Poet in New York). Despite being a city of “cables and dirt”, García Lorca holds on to the hope of an angel being “concealed in its cheek.”Despite their differing backgrounds, García Lorca unites himself with Walt Whitman by not only mirroring Whitman’s free-verse style, but also by acknowledging their homosexuality, and their search for transcendental love in a world that is cruel to them.
His work is riddled with deep symbolism, magical scenarios with no caution for rationality, or (at times) linguistic consistency, which often makes his work hard to interpret, for example, Ballad of the Moon Moon (such as Romance de la luna, luna) from his collection Romancero Gitano which reflects his tendency to explore the sufferings of Andalusian gitanos.
To me, the intellectual space for the reader’s own imagination makes García Lorca a fascinating read, whether in the original Spanish or English translations.
Romanticism is my favourite poetic movement, no question. The juxtaposition of nature’s beauty with commentary on injustices in the world, writing in a time where the French Revolution was a recent political event than a history lesson.
While studying for my A levels, we covered a number of these poets and their works, but only William Blake really captured me in a way that has remained with me for years since. Songs of Innocence and of Experience is perhaps what he is most famous for, and is the author of the words sung in the hymn “Jerusalem”.
My personal favourite is “London” from the same work. Published in 1794, it features in the Songs of Experience and writes about the injustice between the rich and poor in the capital city, surrounded by rising fears from the former of a revolution similar to the French several years before.
It’s brutal and raw and full of emotion with vivid imagery that contrasted the disunity between the rich and poor, with nature being reined in by building works and man-made works. Over 200 years later, the poem itself is far more relevant than at first sight and is something that I think everyone should read.