Writer's Edit

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12 Of The Best 21st Century Poems You Should Read This Week

If there’s one thing recent times have taught us, it’s how vital human connection is.

Long bouts of isolation at home and social distancing have left many craving connections to their loved ones, their communities, and pretty much anyone.

Times like these remind us how powerful and nourishing the arts, particularly literature, can be to soothe us and help us find connection in a world of forced disconnection. Poetry is no exception.

Audre Lorde said it well when she advised: ‘Poetry is not a luxury.’

In her book of the same name, published in 1985, she goes on to say that poetry is:

“…a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.”

Poetry has the power to convey just as much in the silences between the lines as it does with the words it uses.

Whether you’re seeking connection, a moment to reflect, some inspiration for your own poems, or simply the joy of reading poetry, here’s a list of 21st century poems you can read this week to help you on your way.

1. ‘Text’ by Carol Ann Duffy

I tend the mobile now
like an injured bird

First published in Rapture (2005), Text eloquently explores one of the most twenty-first-century-esque activities: text messaging.

Presented in short, clipped lines, the poem replicates the impression of a text exchange, exploring how our communication has developed in an increasingly digital world.

Quiet and touching, it’s a reminder never to forget the importance of connecting in real life.

2. ‘When the Beloved Asks, “What Would You Do If You Woke Up and I Was a Shark?”‘ by Natalie Diaz

My lover doesn’t realize that I’ve contemplated this scenario,
fingered it like the smooth inner iridescence of a nautilus shell
in the shadow-long waters of many 2 a.m.s—drunk on the brine

Diaz’s poem is a beautiful ode to facing our fears, especially when building new relationships.

It’s an acknowledgement that we need to make conscious choices to be open and accepting of love when it is presented, despite the sharks that sometimes await us in the murky depths.

The poem is filled to the brim with metaphor and gorgeous, lyrical word pairings.

Image via Pexels

3. ‘On a New Year’s Eve’ by June Jordan

Infinity doesn’t interest me
not altogether

Published in Directed Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (2005), this piece expertly conveys how small moments and observations can lead to a sense of ‘infinity’.

Children running on the pavement outside, the stretch of a lover’s arm; snatches of moments.

In our current world, all we have are small infinities to see us through, and Jordan’s poem is an intimate portrayal of discarding known infinities for something more.

4. ‘To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall’ by Kim Addonizio

stayed up
to watch the moon eat the sun entire
ripped out the stitches in your heart
because why not if you think nothing &
no one can / listen I love you joy is coming

Addonizio’s poem is a gorgeous reminder that while there are dark days, there is also joy – and it’s always on its way.

This poem speaks to anyone who may be facing a tough time in their relationships. It’s a call to refocus on the self and those around us who fuel and lift us.

5. ‘Santiago’ by David Whyte

The road seen, then not seen, the hillside hiding
then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up

Whyte’s poetry encompasses the life and death of our existence, eloquently pulling together themes of humanity and presenting universal connections in his words.

‘Santiago’ is an intimate review of how we follow paths in life, how they’re often unseen until we traverse them, how we wander off track and find our way back with new lessons to grow and learn from.

It’s an ode to uncertainty – something most people (particularly writers) are familiar with.

6.  ‘Untitled [I talk to my inner lover]’ by Kabir

I talk to my inner lover, and I say, why such rush?
We sense that there is some sort of spirit that loves birds and animals and the ants— perhaps the same one who gave a radiance to you in your mother’s womb.

Kabir was an Indian mystic and poet, and although he may not be a 21st-century poet, some of his poems have only been translated in recent years; this is one of them.

Translated in 2o12 by Richard Bly, ‘Untitled’ calls us back to think about our relationship with ourselves and build a deeper connection with our ‘inner lover’.

This one’s for anyone holed up in isolation at home, and a welcome reminder that ultimately the best relationship we should forge is with ourselves.

21st century poems 2
Image via Pexels

7. ‘Holdfast’ by Robin Beth Schaer

We should hold each other more while we are still alive, even if it hurts.
People really die of loneliness, skin hunger the doctors call it.

A poem for our times if ever there was one, Schaer’s piece speaks deeply of connection and the importance of repairing old wounds and fractured relationships.

I love the reference to ‘skin hunger’, a term many people became intensely familiar with as social distancing went on, and our cravings for human contact intensified.

8. ‘Scientific Method’ by Paul Tran

Love, like me, is a beast no master can maim,
no dungeon can discipline. Love is at once master
and dungeon. So don’t underestimate me.
A little strange, this poem is told from a monkey’s perspective – specifically, a monkey who is the subject of Bowlby’s attachment theory experiments.
In these experiments, Bowlby interchanged the monkey’s real mother for a false one, either with a soft cloth or hard wire-framed body, testing whether they would still form an attachment despite the discomfort the ‘mother’ gave them.
It’s an observation of how love and connection are always far more complex than we anticipate.

9. ‘Eating Fried Chicken’ by Linh Dinh

I hate to admit this, brother, but there are times
When I’m eating fried chicken
When I think about nothing else but eating fried chicken,
When I utterly forget about my family, honor and country,
The various blood debts you owe me,

Possibly one of my favourites I’ve read recently, Dinh’s poem speaks to the dissonance that can often exist between our thoughts and actions, and how seemingly mundane things can lead to bigger events.

It’s a reminder of the connections that continue to exist, even when we’re not thinking about them consciously.

10. ‘In-between the Sun and the Moon’ by Pádraig Ó Tuama

In-between the sun and the moon,
I sit and watch
and make some room
for letting light and twilight mingle,
shaping hope

This piece is an ode to hope, seeking and sharing connection, and making sure we keep an open space (in-between the sun and the moon) for everything that might exist.

Ó Tuama is a celebrated Irish poet, known for his spiritually imbued words, and this poem is no exception.

Image via Unsplash

11. ‘Don’t Hesitate’ by Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be.

The call-to-arms to grab joy when it’s presented with both hands is palpable in Oliver’s words.

She reminds us that no matter what, there is always something existing or occurring in the world that could bring us down – but in equal measure, there are always moments of joy to be found.

These are the moments we should always make time to find and embrace, no matter how small they might be.

12.  ‘Psalm 150’ by Jericho Brown

And shake it like a man who’s lost and lived.
Something keeps trying, but I’m not killed yet.

The final poem on this list is from award-winning Jericho Brown. ‘Psalm 150’ hits you right between the ribcage, going deeper than the elusive optimism of hope and into something far more visceral.

Brown’s poem is about resilience and hope, but they’re traits that have been built of grit and hard decisions. They are born of the ability to keep fighting, even when the challenges seem insurmountable.

Which poems would you add to this list?

This list is by no means definitive, and there is a wonderful breadth of poetry to be found both online, in print and within literary journals.

Our current global climate has influenced my selections here, and I hope they offer some small piece of hope and joy amidst the chaos.

Are there any poems you’ve come across recently that you feel should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!


Writer’s Edit is a newsletter for novel writers looking for inspiration and advice on their creative journey.