Before I started university poetry scared me. This may have been a result of many school english lessons, where the poems were too hard for younger me to pick apart (I spent a lot of time on BBC Bitesize,) and back then, poetry just wasn’t ‘cool.’ In my second year of uni I had a 3 month poetry module which I was dreading. At the start of the first seminar I sat with my course mates, who all seemed to share my dread.
However, by the end of the 2 hour session, we were all excited for the course ahead! Each week from then on I had to write a poem which was then peer-reviewed and could be a contender for my final portfolio. I am still surprised with how much I enjoyed this module, and looking back now it was one of the most varied and exciting modules of my whole university course.
I was influenced by a lot of different poets and styles while writing my portfolio, as well as after I graduated, so I am going to talk through my favourites!
- Egghead by Bo Burnham
I first came across Burnham in his famous vines and funny tweets, so when I found out he had published a poetry book I bought it straight away. This collection showed me a completely new side of poetry that I didn’t know could exist, never mind be so effective. Egghead proved to me that poetry could be hilarious and whimsical without losing the underlining aim or moral that poems typically have. One specific poem that stood out to me was ‘Magic,’ which directly addresses the reader and toys with the voice in your head that appears when you read something. “NOW MAKE THIS PART LOUD! SCREAM IT IN YOUR MIND!…Now, hear a whisper. A tiny whisper.” (Burnham, 2013) This poem struck me as powerful in its use of language and display on the page, as well as clever and witty as it is something that the reader can truly relate to and experience.
This poem inspired me to write my poem, ‘Freak show’ which described a circus act. With this poem I wanted to address the reader to highlight the dark thoughts people sometimes think while watching something as dangerous as sword swallowing or a circus performance. This poem later went on to be published in my university’s literature anthology and I also adapted it into a short story which I used in my final dissertation!
2. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
This poetry collection was recommended to me last year after I graduated, and because I had seen Kaur’s poems floating around the internet I bought it. Straight away I was drawn in by the surface simplicity of the poems, upon first look it seems like an easy read, but the content of each poem is so much deeper and meaningful. Milk and Honey is a raw collection of prose and poetry about the author’s survival and loss. As well as creating an honest and, to most I assume, relatable book, Kaur has also constructed an amazing experience of femininity. The reader follows the poet through chapters of her life and stages of the best and worst times of her life.
I can honestly say that a collection of poems has never made me feel the emotions I felt while reading this, and although I cannot relate to a lot of the issues raised, I know that Rupi Kaur would have helped a lot of people with her words.
3. The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy
I fell in love with this collection while I was at college and my group looked at the poem ‘Little Red-cap.’ Before this, I was familiar with Duffy as her work had been on the school syllabus for years, but this poem really sold her to me. This re-writing of the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood tells the tale of a woman coming out of adolescence and essentially losing her innocence. The character meets an older wolf who seduces her with his knowledge of poetry and his lair filled with walls of books (dreamboat.)
I was drawn in by this poem and collection because Duffy gives a voice to the unheard women who are in the shadows of the men they are in connection with. The women in question narrate the poems from a female perspective and often in a controversial way. Such as the wife of the bell-ringer Quasimodo, who upon realising her husband has feelings for someone else, voices her body insecurities before taking revenge on him; “I squatted down among the murdered music of the bells / And pissed.” (Duffy, 1999) This outrageous and ‘unladylike’ ending to the poem is refreshing to me, as it goes against the conventions of poetry that I previously thought were set in stone.
There are still poems that scare me, those I cannot even begin to try to analyse, but to know that there are collections out there that I can relate to is reassuring. I would never call myself a poet, no matter how much my tutors used to encourage, but when I have these poets to revisit every now and then, I’m okay with that.