Happy #NationalPoetryDay! Poetry happens all year round, to many people’s disgust, but as a courtesy to them we – the poets – have decided to allow ourselves just one day a year when it’s acceptable to plaster poetry all over social media, paint it in vivid green on the ceiling of your mind and watch it run down the walls of your heart. Or something like that. So I’d like to share with you a few of my favourite poems or almost-poems or poetry-like things. This is by no means an exhaustive list of ‘stuff I like’, but it’s a good place to start if you’re poetry-curious. Don’t be shy…
- If I have a favourite spoken-word poem – if you had a gun to my head – then it’s probably this, by the wonderful Bohdan Piasecki. A beautiful poet and a wonderful man. You don’t have a gun to my head (thank you), so we can all enjoy this poem without the feeling of imminent danger:
- Another huge favourite is this, by Ken Arkind. Ken is one-half of the reason I was first inspired to pursue poetry professionally (the other half is Jon Sands). This poem is a kind of angry-embittered-but-still-love-letter to Los Angeles, and it’s magical:
I know I like these poems for the right reasons, too, because the quality of the recordings is fairly average. It’s THE WORDS and THE SPEAKING OF THE WORDS that does it.
- National Poetry Day is all about me tenuously claiming that EVERYTHING is poetry, but 1) Dizraeli is a spoken-word artist as well as a rapper, 2) He’s a genre-fucking wizard who deserves your ears and your love (and actually a bit of your money too), and 3) It’s amazing, so who cares what shelf it’s on in the WH Smiths of your soul:
And this, selected almost at random because everything he produces is fantastic, is called ‘Rise’. It’s more conventionally hip-hop, which is definitely still sort of poetry:
- My favourite collection so far this year is Andrew McMillan‘s stunning, stark, beautiful, curious and investigative debut ‘Physical’. Also well worth your time are 2015 Forward Prize winners Claudia Rankine and Mona Arshi, with ‘Citizen’ and ‘Small Hands’ respectively. I haven’t read either of them in their entirety yet, but the extracts I have heard are stunning and humble and I fully intend to buy the books as soon as my bank balance feels the same burning passion for new poetry as I do.
- I didn’t write on NPD 2014, so I want to also mention two of my favourite collections from the last few years (and, indeed, ever): ‘Division Street’ by Helen Mort and ‘Black Country’ by Liz Berry. They are wonderful books, and not just because I feel a deep geographical and cultural affinity with both of them, but because they have so much to say about language and community and literal/figurative landscapes in a global way, not just a local one.
- Finally, if you’ll indulge me on this day of celebration, a couple of my own. ‘Gravity’, live from the Roundhouse Poetry Slam in 2013. It very nearly has 100,000 views on YouTube, which is pretty ridiculous. It’d be fitting if today was the day it crossed that almost totally meaningless digital threshold:
‘Funeral Arrangements for Uncle John’ was written for my uncle after he passed away in January and, of the poems of mine that appear online, is probably the one of which I’m most proud:
I have gigs coming up in Bristol – where I’m sharing a bill with the fabulous Vanessa Kisuule, from whose work alone I could have compiled another NPD recommendation list – and Birmingham, if anyone wants poetry to happen to them LIVE!
So, explore! Go out and find poetry and wade around in it and smother your arms and face and belly in it. Then tomorrow you can shower, safe in the knowledge that probably no one will bother you with it again for another 365-ish days. But you might find that you want to be smothered in it over and over, much more often than once annually. In which case you know where to find us. In a cupboard, hiding, apologising. Whispering human truths (and things like ‘help me, I can’t really breathe’). Holding hands. Holding yours, if you want.