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Five poets to read if you hate poetry

Think you hate poetry? Writer and editor Sarah Stewart might just change your mind.

Audience: Adults, Young People

Last updated: 21 May 2021

I don’t mind when people tell me they hate poetry. I mean, I say I hate jazz music, but who knows? Maybe I’ve never been introduced to the right kind of jazz, the kind that would stop me in my tracks and make me shiver. Poetry gets a bad reputation because too many people were taught it in school in a way that made it seem stuffy and difficult. But (while I wait for someone to mansplain jazz to me) here’s a list of five brilliant poets to try if you think you hate poetry. They are all wonderful, I promise.

Claire Askew

Edinburgh–based Askew’s first full poetry collection, This Changes Things, is an absolute corker; by turns funny, sad and surprising. Try dipping into her poems about family, like the wonderful ‘Catalogue of my grandmother’s sayings(this link will open in a new window)’, or the heartrending ‘Going Next’, which describes a narrator driving home with her father after clearing out her grandfather’s house. ‘Privilege 101’ should be compulsory reading for everyone.

Kayo Chingonyi

I’ve been a huge fan of Chingonyi ever since I read his poem ‘Guide To Proper Mixtape Assembly(this link will open in a new window)’, which anyone who remembers making mixtapes will love. The Zambia-born Dylan Thomas Prize winner is the author of two pamphlets and a full collection called Kumukanda. Chingonyi is a producer and DJ as well as a poet; his poem ‘Self-Portrait as Garage Emcee’ shows us ‘south London from seventeen floors up’ and is a beautiful exploration of grief.

Kate Clanchy

Glasgow-born Clanchy deserves to be better known – she’s a technically excellent but very readable poet who cites Carol Ann Duffy as an inspiration and doesn’t shy away from writing honestly about subjects like birth and motherhood. Her poem, ‘Love(this link will open in a new window)’, is about bringing home her first baby and is delicate but powerful: ‘I didn’t know how to keep / him wrapped, I didn’t know / how to give him suck, I had / no idea about him’.

Billy Collins

Much-loved in America, but maybe not so well-known over here, Collins is often funny, frequently poignant, always entertaining. Take a look at ‘Dharma(this link will open in a new window)’ if you’re a dog lover: it opens ‘The way the dog trots out the front door / every morning / without a hat or an umbrella, / without any money / or the keys to her doghouse / never fails to fill the saucer of my heart…’

Morgan Parker

I strongly believe US poet Morgan Parker should win awards purely for the titles of her collections, first Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night, then There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. She’s a great poet, constantly surprising, with an urgency to her skilful voice. My personal favourite poem by Parker is ‘Afro(this link will open in a new window)’, which is 16 lines of sheer brilliance.