Five Poetry Collections you should read for National Poetry Month
As many college students know, April is the penultimate month of the academic semester. But a more importantly and less commonly known fact is that April is National Poetry Month. National Poetry Month was first created in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets in order to increase appreciation for poetry. So without further ado, here are five poetry collections I would recommend reading for National Poetry Month.
“No Matter the Wreckage” by Sarah Kay
In this beautiful collection, Sarah Kay writes about a wide yet brilliant variety of topics, including first love, her kindergarten principal, hands and her brother. Kay has an eloquent way with words that always leaves me feeling a little bit more optimistic about life. One of my favorite poems in this collection is “B,” which Kay wrote as a piece of advice for her future daughter, reminding her that “This life will hit you hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up, just so it can kick you in the stomach, but getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.” This kind of hopeful wisdom is what keeps me coming back to “No Matter the Wreckage” time and time again.
“Date and Time” by Phil Kaye
In this short and sweet collection from Phil Kaye, he talks about how time and stories aren’t always linear, explaining that “a great story has a beginning, middle & end / but not necessarily in that order / we are all great stories.” In a calming yet resonant voice, Kaye talks about love, his childhood best friend, his family, self-portraits and more. In a poem entitled “Before the Internet,” Kaye describes falling out of a tree as a child by saying “& I am bleeding from my arm but it is just a scrape / & it means that I am human / & alive.” Kaye has a subtle yet nuanced tone that adds a welcome level of gravity to all of his words.
“New American Best Friend” by Olivia Gatwood
Olivia Gatwood’s work is absolutely stunning. With an incredibly hard-hitting and vulnerable voice, Gatwood writes about her experiences as a young girl, her queerness, and unlearning shame. Through her audacious storytelling, Gatwood makes it clear that individual experiences often have much more significance than one may initially think. In “Alternate Universe in Which I Am Unfazed by the Men Who Do Not Love Me,” Gatwood boldly tells of an alternative reality where she is unaffected by men’s actions. She ends the poem by listing off how this universe is healthier for her, explaining “i do not beg. i do not ask for forgiveness. i do not hold my breath while he finishes. the man tells me he does not love me, and he does not love me. i have so much beautiful time.” Olivia Gatwood’s body of work is one readers won’t soon forget.
“Peluda” by Melissa Lozada-Oliva
With uniquely and refreshing intimacy, Melissa Lozada-Oliva gives readers a glimpse into her navigation of her identity as both a Latinx woman and the child of an immigrant living in America. “Peluda” means “hairy” in Spanish, and the ramifications of having an abundance of body hair are also mentioned throughout her collection in a surprisingly nuanced manner. In “You Use Your Hands So Much When You Talk,” Lozada-Oliva uses roundabout language to discuss her working class family and ponders about an “alternate universe where! daughters of immigrants are not overwhelmed by all that they are.” Though not always linear, “Peluda” is a wonderful collection of work to read, and it is clear how important Lozada-Oliva’s identity is to her.
“The Crown Ain’t Worth Much” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is possibly one of the best writers of his time. In “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much,” Willis-Abdurraqib writes about his childhood and adolescence in a low-income neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio. Much of Willis-Abdurraqib’s work centers on his experiences as an African-American, his fear of death and losing his loved ones and his love of pop culture, and his command of the pen is absolutely mind-blowing. Willis-Abdurraqib’s poem “On Jukeboxes” is a lengthy run-on sentence in which he works through the life he and his peers lead in their neighborhood, at one point saying “& we go to the quik mart to buy some quarter water that don’t quench anything except our desire to be black & young & spend the money we earned with our own sweat & I think something about that is also black.” This style of writing is very compelling and also adds a sense of magnitude to all of Willis-Abdurraqib’s words. Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib writes pieces that are unrealistically impressive, and I would highly recommend not only “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much,” but any material by him.